For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.
Grace is the unearned, undeserved favor that God bestows upon us out of His love for His creation. It is a gift that offers us absolution from our sins and admission to the family of God. How have you experienced grace in your life? How have you sought to share God’s grace with other people?
One of the challenges of understanding grace comes in the simple fact that it is something that we cannot earn or obtain of our own volition. This fact leaves many people feeling as though they are undeserving of grace, since it is something that cannot be earned, and most of us have a natural tendency to not be able to truly understand a gift of this nature.
The Israelites believed that forgiveness of sins could only be obtained by participating in the temple sacrificial system, wherein the priests would offer sacrifices that would wipe out the blood debt that they would owe God due to their sins. This system is very foreign to us, though similar beliefs permeated the pre-Christian worldview.
While the Christian Church has always rejected the need for a blood sacrifice as a way of wiping out sin, for many years, the Church did believe that people should offer a sacrifice to atone for their sins. These sacrifices could take the form of financial contributions, reciting special prayers, or undergoing other acts that would require that a person give up a large amount of their time, talent, or treasure.
Martin Luther’s reading of this passage of Ephesians led him to believe that people attempting to earn their forgiveness from sin took away the power of God by removing his grace from the equation. Since grace is not something that can be earned, only something that can be freely offered, all of the good works and sacrifices that we can offer do not aid us in our attempts to be forgiven.
The last phrase in this passage from Ephesians is “so that no one can boast.” For Paul, as well as for Luther, a deep concern existed that people would grow prideful over their ability to earn their salvation. This concept has been mostly lost in modern Christianity, though traces of it can still exist when we tend to either discount our own wrongdoings or compare ourselves to other people, especially with phrases such as “those people” or “non-Christians.”
God of Grace, You have offered us forgiveness, not due to anything that we have said or done, but purely because You have desired to do so. Open our hearts and minds to the immensity of this gift that You have given to us. Help us to be thankful for Your grace and your mercy that is truly beyond our understanding to even begin to comprehend. Form and reform our hearts, by the power of Your Holy Spirit, that we might know You more deeply as we seek to see Your works of grace in our lives. In Christ’s Name, we pray; amen.
On October 31, 1517, a young monk and professor posted a list of interesting discussion topics to the local social media of his day, the door of the church. Today, we recognize Martin Luther’s “95 Theses” as a hinge on which all of history turned. What really happened 500 years ago? Why does it matter? Is the Reformation still going on now?