Grace Is Enough

Author: Tim Ahlman

During Reformation and Confirmation week at Christ Greenfield, we recall the return of the church to the Solas. We are saved sola fide (by faith alone), sola Scriptura (by scripture alone), and sola gratia (by grace alone). Not by our works! No one can boast. Grace is enough.

Luther beat himself up with the Law before his Gospel epiphany in connection with Romans 1:17 (“The righteous shall live by faith.”) in 1517. Literally, it is called flagellate. He beat his own back with a whip over his sin. Despite his penances, he couldn't satisfy his conscience that his sins were forgiven.

Penance was a practice started by a 3rd-century church leader named Cyprian. In the early days of Christianity, many Christians renounced their faith in order to avoid death. We might all do the same if it meant saving our families and ourselves. Several of these Christians sought to return to the church after the persecution period. That is when Cyprian developed penance (prayers, fasting, pilgrimages, etc.) as a method of proving yourself worthy to re-enter the church. At that time, the Office of Bishop was installed to judge whether or not someone was repentant.

We do not have that type of penance in our church. Or, maybe our penance just looks different. What is modern-day Christian penance? Does our shame-filled conscience impose a type of penance to satisfy the righteous requirements of God? Do some of you struggle with overwhelming guilt and shame from something you’ve done or said? Are you super hard on yourself, thinking words about yourself that you’d never say to others? This is like saying, “Jesus, I don’t know if your grace is enough to help me stop beating myself up…”

Recently, I have been thinking about the wider Christian church in America and have a question I am wrestling with. Is a deep understanding of the Law and Gospel attractive to American Christians? A materialistic and individualistic culture draws us to make ourselves the hero of the story or live in shame because we aren't. In addition, we have deep tribalism in America. We want to be connected to the winning political party and be a part of a trendy church where all of our ministry needs are met. But the man of flesh must be killed by the Law so that the Holy Spirit can revive us through Word and Sacrament, centered in the person and work of Jesus. Grace is enough.

All of life is confession and absolution. Confession and absolution are a gift to the church - where you individually hear that grace is enough. The Apostle Paul needed absolution given his past of persecuting the church and the suspicion of other Christians because of his radical conversion. Some scholars theorize that Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was the shame and guilt of his prior persecution of Christians. When Jesus came to Paul, Paul’s life was deeply transformed. This led Paul to search the Old Testament to see the line of grace from the beginning, through Israel, and now for the nations.

I encourage you to meditate on Romans 11:1-6 and discover how grace is enough for you.