In my job, I have certain responsibilities for which I have to follow specific governmental and company policies. As a result, I’m obliged to take certain kinds of training on a regular basis. While some of these are pretty straightforward, and a quick refresher course can be helpful, there is one that takes something like 5 hours, and repeats every year. I’m tempted to say (in my best 4-year-old voice), “Why do I need this yet again?” Still, I take the course regularly, and probably learn (or am reminded of) important things when I do so.
Within the books of Hebrews and Romans in the Bible (both of which seem to have been written to Jewish followers of Jesus), it seems like the author(s) of these books make one point a lot. (In fact, I’ve almost had to apologize for repeating this point while teaching it in class, although there’s really no need to apologize for what the Bible says. If the Bible says something more than once, that might be because we need some help to really understand it!)
As an example, Paul emphasizes this point in Romans 3: that having the law (or just “law”) doesn’t make his readers righteous.
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.
Romans 3:19-20 NIV
As a side note, observe that Paul does give the law some credit for something that is important, which we might miss in light of other things in this chapter: The law makes us aware of sin. And, if we weren’t conscious of our sin, why would we ever seek a savior? The law is good; it just couldn’t – it can’t – save us. I like what the Lookout (the lesson plan that suggests the weekly Bible passages for many of my lessons) says about the law, “A flashlight cannot solve a problem, it can only reveal a problem.”
Getting back to the original point though, what about you? In your studies, do you feel like the Bible makes this point a lot: that there is no way for us to be good enough to become righteous before God, but that we can be saved by God’s grace, if we have faith in Him?
In fact, I think that the Bible does say this in different ways and contexts, probably because it is so important!
Having said that, we still live in a world where some people – Christians and non-Christians alike – continue to emphasize behavior over faith for salvation, and make a bigger deal about good works than they do about God’s grace.
More than that, though, I realize that even I (despite having read through these passages for years) still worry about whether my sins have been properly confessed and repented of before God, not necessarily because I care about my relationship with God, but because I worry about my sins (which are, in fact, already covered by Jesus’ blood) keeping me out of Heaven.
Now, of course, there are steps that God has outlined for us to follow in order to receive salvation. And, good works are expected from followers of Jesus, and show evidence of that decision. A commentator wrote, “We are not under law as a way of salvation (6:14), but we are always under law as a way of life.” [Cottrell, p.273].
Contrary to those who see following Jesus as somehow offering freedom from an obligation to live in righteousness, confession of our sins and repentance from them is expected of us and is healthy for us, both in our relationships with God and with each other, and for our own well-being as human beings, living the way that God created us to.
When we start with God’s grace, though, living for Him can become a result of His love, and not a means to obtain it. It is a much greater freedom to begin – and remain – in God’s grace, where our salvation is secured, and our actions are the result of love, and not fear. I sincerely hope that you can live in that freedom today.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for February 6, 2022
- The Lookout, February 6, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, Romans, Volume 1, by Jack Cottrell. College Press Publishing Company, © 1996.