Sunday, November 30, 2014

Grace in all the universe

Ever since the creation of the world, his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.  Romans 1:20 (NRSV)

Anthropologists have recognized that religion has played a significant role in the story of man.  God originally created man to have fellowship with Him here on earth, and that implies that man could recognize God from an earthly viewpoint.  Then man lost his innocence and became knowledgeable about good and evil, and he seemed to lose some of his sensitivity to the divine proclamation of God through nature.

Scientists are constantly learning more and more about our universe, and the more they learn, the more the enormity of the universe expands.  This is another way that God extends His grace to us.  He allows us to know and begin to understand Him through His creation.

When I read or hear about a scientific discovery or a new theory, I am awed at the way that God proves, yet again, that He is, was, and forever will be in control of everything.  Think of it!  God can hold, in his hand, a creation that consists of an untold number of galaxies, and yet, with His eye, can see and count the number of atoms in every molecule of hydrogen that the universe holds.
I am continuing to learn that science and God's word are not at odds with each other.  Whether scientists recognize it or not, the universe was created to speak of God's glory, and each new thing we learn is more opportunity for God's glory and grace to be revealed!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Grace from first to last

For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.” Romans 1:16-17 (NRSV)

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” Romans 1:16-17 (NIV)

Study bibles often put headings before sections of scripture to help the reader grasp the intent of the passage. In the New Revised Standard Version, the scripture verses above comprise an entire section that is headed, "The Power of the Gospel." Paul clearly tells us what this power is--"it is for salvation to everyone who has faith."

Paul is exclaiming to the Roman Jews and Gentiles that it is God who brings salvation to everyone. Verse 16 seems to be aimed more at the Gentiles. Any questions that the Roman Jews and Gentiles may have about who is able to receive God's grace is cleared up in this statement. Everyone is the specific individual meaning of all. God's power is so great that it must include each and every one. Paul's next statement seems to contradict the first statement, but it actually only clarifies it. First is an ordinal word. Grace was given to the Jews first only because they came first, much like we love our firstborn child first because he or she came first. First and more are not the same thing, and the Gentiles need to know this. Just because they are second to receive the gospel, they are loved in the same family.

Next, verse 17 seems to be directed more toward the Jewish Christians. The NIV gives a wonderful translation of Paul's idea that it is those who live by faith who will be rendered righteous. And Paul makes it clear to the Jews that it was like this from the beginning, "from first to last"--another ordinal statement. Next, Paul quotes Habakkuk, which would have been familiar to the Jews, and reminds them that righteousness is not by religious ritual, which is only for the privileged Jew, but by faith, which is for every one. In the original Greek, Paul uses a passive progressive tense throughout the verses to remind us that God's salvation through grace is a continual work. This progressive verbiage strengthens the ordinal idea that there is a first and second that is part of the all. This grace continues to work in each generation, and it continues to work in each of our lives.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Grace is good news, in spite of sin!

“And now, as a captive to the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me. But I do not count my life of any value to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God’s grace.” Acts 20:22-24 (NRSV)

As I continue to study God's word and write devotionals, I find myself writing "in spite of" often. The definition of this phrase, in Merriam-Webster's online dictionary is:

“: in defiance or contempt of : without being prevented by <succeeded in spite of their opposition>."

I am going to use the phrase again because this is exactly how God's grace works. In the scripture passage above, Paul is making a speech to the elders in the Ephesus church. He is bidding them farewell because he knows that he will never see them again, and he wants to encourage them to keep the faith--to "keep on keeping on." Paul is telling the elders that he knows that he is going to be persecuted, but instead of asking for prayer for his own safety, Paul testifies to "the good news of God's grace." In spite of persecutions, God's grace is good news.

The elders at Ephesus were Christians. They had received the good news that Jesus had died for their sins, and they were saved. We too have heard this good news. However, can information that we have heard repeatedly still be considered news? According to Paul, the answer is yes. Each time we sin, each time we fail, each time we suffer trials, there is the good news of God's grace that testifies to us. Grace is new each moment of our lives. Grace is always new, in spite of old sin and in spite of old trials.