Grace and Promise

Gracious people believe in promises. They acknowledge that the present is broken, but they believe that brokenness is not the end of the story. They believe that things can and will get better.

Because of this belief in promises, gracious people are often dismissed. They seem naïve, innocent and blind to the facts. They seem oblivious to ‘real life’ in which people routinely make and break their promises. They seem vulnerable to a harsh world that preys on childish optimism.

But real grace, biblical grace is not dissuaded by broken human promises. When God created the world, He made a promise:

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them.” Genesis 1:27-28a (ESV)

God made a commitment to these human creatures, that He would bless them, because they are made in His image. Even after they rebelled, the promise remains. To Noah, He says:

“But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.” Genesis 6:18 (ESV)

And when Noah’s line rebels, God renews the promise again with Abraham, saying “…in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:3 (ESV) Then, from Genesis onward, we see this cycle repeat itself. God renews His promise, the people respond but then rebel. Then judgment happens, and God begins all over again, renewing the promise and re-creating a people.

God has not changed, and His promise has not changed. Through the apostle Paul we learn that,

“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” Romans 8:29 (NIV, 2011)

In Jesus the promise of creation is renewed. In Jesus we will again receive the blessing of God, because we re-made in the image of God. Male and female, we are His re-created children.

Gracious people believe promises because they know that God has made a promise, and we know that He does not give up on it. We know that He does not give up on us. We know that people fail, but we believe that God will not fail. God will get what God wants, a healed, holy and united people worshipping Him eternally. Trusting this promise is not foolishness on our part. It is the only wise path left to a struggling, failing world, a world which God still loves.

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Grace and Peace

When writers of the New Testament open their letters, they are quick to pray that their readers experience both grace and peace. The Apostles Paul and Peter open each of their letters with this prayer, and the Apostle John opens both 2 John and Revelation with it. On three occasions, the word, “mercy” is added to this prayer (1 & 2 Timothy, 2 John). Given this convincing recital, we may have here one of our earliest fixed, liturgical traditions. These two or three key words establish a foundation, preserve a center point, define an essential for us.

Peace, we understand. Peace with others, peace within ourselves. Outwardly, we desire the end of hostility, the absence of harm, freedom from attack. Peace treaties promise the end of fighting about things upon which we have now reached a compromise. This outward peace, however, cannot truly be accomplished without inner peace. We must be “at peace” with whatever compromises we accept. If we regret our compromise, our lack of inner peace will eventually spill into our interaction with others. Peace treaties will be broken and hostilities, renewed.

The writers of the New Testament remind us that there will be no peace without grace. Grace and peace must occur together. Grace addresses inner peace so it can address outer peace.

In his commentary on Galatians, Martin Luther says:

“Grace and peace—these two words embrace the whole of Christianity. Grace forgives sin, and peace stills the conscience.” (Luther’s Works, 26:6)

Inner peace comes when we are at peace with a Holy God. When He affirms us as children, His beloved, then we no longer fear His condemnation. Grace removes this fear. We know we fail. We sin, We are weak. We mess up. In grace, however, God views our sin as condemned entirely in the death of Jesus. We therefore commune with God as innocent children, clothed, protected and cleansed by the perfect righteousness of Jesus.

This inner peace with God informs our life within a broken and judged world. On one level, we know that another’s judgment of us will not stand. In their eyes, we are guilty, and therefore we deserve condemnation, punishment or even death. In God eyes, however, we may in fact be guilty apart from Him, but, in Him, we are forgiven, healed and restored. Our sense of peace comes from His view of us, quite apart from their view of us.

When we have this inner peace with God, our interaction with world’s hostilities can change. Grace becomes an option for us. We can overcome fear because:

“The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” (Psalm 118:6, NIV 2011)

We can also release our anger, because:

“It is mine to avenge; I will repay. In due time their foot will slip….” Deuteronomy 32:35 NIV 2011).

My enemy’s judgment is an affair that they themselves must address with God. They must realize the same inner peace that I have discovered.

In all of this, we remain confident that sin has been severely judged. We have neither minimized sin nor ignored its effect. In grace, God has severely judged sin through the death of His Son. Someone has in fact died for both our sin and everyone else’s sin. When we extend grace to enemies, therefore, we are simply acknowledging that Jesus is already sacrificed for their sin, the same way that He died for our sin. The only difference between us and them is that we have believed the message that this death is not the end. New life has arisen from our death, in the power of the resurrected Jesus.

The grace of this death and resurrection delivers peace to us, and we want others to experience it as well. So, we pray for them, rather than attack them. We repeat the ancient prayer of the apostles:

“Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Thessalonians 1:2)

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