Let Us Be Gifted With Grace (Ephesians 2:1-10)
Take a guess: how many religions would you say are in the world today? According to some estimates, around 4200! (Were you even close?) Religions, which have a public aspect, are distinguished from personal belief systems, worldviews, and cultural systems, so you can only imagine how many personal belief systems there are. Probably around 7.6 billion, which is the world’s current population. Every person views the world a bit differently, so every belief system is somewhat personalized by the believer. What about people who say they don’t believe in anything? That’s a belief system, too!
When we’re talking about major religions, most of us envision the “big five”: Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Of these, only three feature a single God, and there’s quite a bit of discussion about whether the Christian God is the same as the Jewish God and the Muslim Allah. Although these three theistic religions have some commonalities, they also have some significant differences. The biggest and most important difference is that of the three, only one offers salvation through no effort by the believer but only as a gift from God: Christianity.
In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul reminded these early Christians that they were dead in their sins. Way back at the very beginning of mankind, God laid down the law: the penalty for sin was death. Eternal separation from the light and love that are God. And for generations, the Jewish people tried to remain in good standing with God by bringing the priests agricultural products and animals to sacrifice on the altar to atone for their sins. Unfortunately, because people, being human, kept on sinning, they had to keep on atoning through their sacrifices. It was an endless cycle. But God had a better plan in mind, and he even hinted at it to the first man and woman as they were being expelled from the garden after their sin: the offspring of the woman would crush the head of the offspring of the serpent. Jesus Christ would destroy Satan, and sin and death would be forever extinguished. So, Paul wrote to the Ephesians, these Christ followers were dead in their sin, but “because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”
The other theistic religions rely on the good works of their adherents to earn their salvation. But, as Paul says, “it is the gift of God—not by works” that we are saved, “so that no one can boast.” God’s favor, which rested on his son, Jesus, also rests on all who confess their sins, accept the free gift of grace through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, and repent, or turn away from a life of sin and, in gratitude for this lifesaving gift, allow God through his Spirit to redeem and sanctify their lives. He has good works for us to do, but first comes salvation. Arrogance has no place in the Christian belief system because we are undeserving of salvation and incapable of saving ourselves. Only God, who loves us, pursues us, and reaches out to us, can save us. Our gratitude and humble obedience are the only appropriate response.
This grace is a mystery. Why would God, holiest of holies, even want a relationship with the likes of us sinners? Paul said it: God is rich in mercy, full of kindness, and generous in love. We are the work of his hands, the vessels for his Spirit. He formed us from flesh in his own image, and if we accept his gift of salvation through faith, he will remake us, reclaim us, redeem us. His grace is the only path to the restoration of full relationship with our creator and all of creation and to the life everlasting. Amazing grace, indeed.