Grace versus works

I have a playlist of Christian songs for anytime I’m on the road, and the opening lyrics to a Matt Redman song took on deeper meaning as I’ve been going through Paul’s epistle to the Christians in Rome:


Who O Lord could save themselves?

Their own soul could heal?


(Produced by Robert Marvin, 2009 under Sparrow/Sixsteps; Matt Redman)


To me, the question posed by Redman is obvious. In fact it’s beyond obvious: Of course I cannot save myself or heal my own soul. Neither can anyone else. And this is Paul’s point in chapter 3 of his epistle.


For the person who thinks that they’re doing okay by moral standards, Romans chapter 3 is like a finger poke to a raw wound. Without thinking we tend to measure ourselves against other human beings who are far more ethically questionable than we are, thereby finding ourselves more superior on the moral continuum.


We should measure ourselves against God’s standard of righteousness. I know what some people may be thinking…how do we know what His standards are? So many religions, so many Christian denominations. The waters could get muddy.


Paul presents evidence from the Scriptures that no one measures up:


The Law, the Prophets, the Psalms all testify that no one is righteous. Our posture towards Him stinks, our words condemn us, our works condemn us. We’re like that guy walking down the street who sees someone he despises, pretends he didn’t notice and then proceeds to cross the street and duck into a side road. Arrogant nose still in the air. We are masters at refusing to see the obvious and avoiding facing tough questions.


What about those who didn’t have the Law? God isn’t unfair, where the Law wasn’t available for the pagan, the law was hard-wired as it were, in the human heart. Perhaps not the ceremonial particulars of not eating shellfish or pork, but the biggies certainly were. Ten Commandments are easily programmed into the moral centre of the human being.


We have something to go on that tells us how we ought to live, but the main point is that we don’t live up to it. That’s what Paul is getting at. The whole world is accountable and the law silences our defence. Our excuses, our rationalisations, our legal arguments don’t measure up. They’re the logical equivalent of the guy accused of assaulting another man whose defence is that the victim ran into his fist repeatedly.


No one is declared righteous by observing the law, primarily because we are not able to obey the law.


Before, I wrote that the question was beyond obvious: no one can save themselves or heal what is wrong with their soul. Yet it’s a persistent idea. Almost a zombie idea: although it’s proven time and time again ad nauseum ad infinitum that no one can measure up to a moral code, the collective human race keep trying to do it. The idea should be dead, but it keeps coming back like a rotten corpse of a zombie that it is.


I know something about both Islam and Scientology, having been exposed in past working environments to both ideologies. Outwardly, they identify vastly different explanations for life and its meaning, and how to solve moral failings. Fundamentally, they share the common idea that one has to work for salvation.


To work for salvation means that you need to take sole responsibility for reaching the goal of your belief system; in the case of Islam, Jannah; in the case of Scientology, becoming an Operating Thetan (OT).


Religion: your goal isn’t the rope in front of you, its 30 thousand feet at altitude, and you’re out of airplanes.


It makes little difference whether you work your way repeatedly through five pillars or in steps across the ‘Bridge to Total Freedom’, the salient point is that no matter what your goal is, you will never reach it. It struck me this week that the followers of both religions must be exhausted (instead of refreshed).


We can’t do it on our own, and as Paul points out, our Heavenly Father doesn’t intend for us to. Simple faith will give us access to salvation.

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