Romans 4:4-5 Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.
Language can be tricky, which is why a translator’s job is so demanding. Where the NIV says “gift,” the Japanese says “grace.” The underlying thoughts are the same, that is, “something not earned,” but the the nuance isn’t, necessarily. The underlying Greek is, I’m sure, charis, which is listed in lexicons as “grace,” or “grace gift.” It all comes back to the reality that we have a hard time with grace, either wanting to earn everything for ourselves or being totally passive. Neither is appropriate. That’s why Paul follows up his definitive statement on salvation by grace through faith with, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10) All this talk of not working doesn’t mean we are to be idle, much less lazy. Likewise, it doesn’t mean that what we do in obedience to God won’t be rewarded. As it says in Hebrews, “So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.” (Hebrews 10:35-36) We get all confused, thinking either that we have to work to earn God’s acceptance, or that what we do simply doesn’t matter, and neither is true. I think it comes back to failing to understand God’s character, and that is often linked to our physical father. A father should love his children because they are his children, period, but at the same time discipline them and reward them appropriately for their actions. That is one place where I disagree with Dennis Prager, who says that we have to earn love. He has a point, up to a point, but he doesn’t really grasp grace.
I had the huge blessing of being raised by parents who practiced, even exemplified, the grace of God. I think as a result, I certainly wasn’t “the perfect child,” but I didn’t go so far “off the rails,” so to speak. The thing is, I knew that no matter what I did my parents would love me, which made me not want to hurt or disappoint them. I agree that sometimes people’s misbehavior, especially as children but sometimes as adults, is crying out, “Do you really love me?” The appropriate response, which we need to learn from God, is appropriate discipline coupled with assurance of love. In my opinion, a “time out” is a more cruel punishment than a well-placed whack, because it in a sense denies love, placing space, a barrier, between the child and the parent. In Jesus’ famous parable of the Prodigal Son, (Luke 15) all the son needed to do was acknowledge his wrong and return to the father. That is a perfect illustration of God’s grace. As a pastor, I need to help people understand that they can never do anything that would make God not love them, but they can certainly do things that cut them off from receiving that love. I need to help them grasp the reality, the magnitude, of God’s love and grace, so that they may respond with total gratitude and obedience to Him.
Father, I’m still growing in this myself. Thank You for using imperfect vessels! Help me be an open, effective channel of Your grace on every level, so that as many as will may receive that grace in repentance and faith, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!