I love the Bible. I consider it to be the infallible, inspired Word of God. All of it, even the most difficult parts of the Old Testament, contain things that God wants us to know. As the things He wants me to know are made known through the power of the Holy Spirit, that which seemed so difficult suddenly makes sense.
That said, I must confess that some parts are “more fun” to read than others and can offer to me [as the reader] points of immediate identification. Some parts are certainly more comforting and reassuring. Such can be said of Paul’s letter to the Romans.
Paul is certainly somebody who understood the value of grace. As a former persecutor of Christians, he caused much pain and suffering among early believers and was on his way to do more harm when he encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus. Once he knew the living Lord firsthand, his heart surrendered to the tremendous love and power of our Lord. Suddenly, he was convicted of his wrongdoing and was made aware that nothing but the infinite grace of God could save him.
1And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest,
2And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.
3And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:
4And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?
5And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
6And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.
7And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.
8And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus.
9And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink. – Acts 9:1-9
He went on to write this: There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. – Romans 8:1-4
One of my favorite Bible verses comes from his writing in 1 Corinthians 15:10: But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. Here’s another that anybody who has been a Christian for even a short amount of time has probably read or heard: For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9
Having come from a somewhat ‘legalistic’ background of salvation through works (some in the Lutheran Church I was raised in actually put forth the teaching that infants who died before baptism were doomed to eternal hell). So they practiced infant baptism (an act which somehow was supposed to save). Such teaching is in my opinion a confusion of grace, to say the least – and I doubt it was really an official position of the Lutheran Church, either. I doubt many Lutherans (conservative or otherwise) agree anymore with such a teaching. Nevertheless, it was widely-believed in my youth by members of the church I attended and was ‘confirmed’ in. I’m sure some in other denominations held [or maybe hold] similar ideas. Baptism is a wonderful act of declaring faith and testimony to the saving of love of Jesus, but not a means in itself to salvation. I am quite sure that Catholicism also requires a certain amount of work to enter the kingdom. (Since I’m not Catholic, I really can’t speak with any authority on their beliefs). I do think that there are those in the Catholic Church who truly love Jesus and are every bit as Christian as anybody else could be. For myself, I’m grateful to have my salvation without needing the approval of other people’s traditions; grace gives me the assurance I need as evidenced by the death and resurrection of my Savior Jesus. Some of the more fundamental Baptists I have encountered hold to a rigid set of “dos and don’ts” of their own that left me desperately hoping I could measure up. I am not saying that any of these folks don’t love Jesus or aren’t Christian, but I do believe they miss out on some of the finer parts of knowing and living in Jesus. And, sadly, I think they can sometimes help to deny others from discovering all that grace has to offer.
I attend a conservative, evangelical church that is big on teaching the Bible and not the traditions of humanity. Everyone is welcomed there. Love is the operative word – the love of Jesus. Grace is the means by which we can receive that love. It took me a long time to come to terms with what it really means to know and love Jesus — to experience the reality of unconditional love. Remember what Paul said when he wrote to the Ephesians: salvation is a gift from God. We don’t earn it. The ‘works’ come when we come to know and love Jesus. When we accept Jesus as our Savior and the Holy Spirit comes to live and work in us, we find ourselves wanting to do the right thing. The ‘work’ is no longer unattainable, but becomes the fruit of the Spirit.