Thursday, February 06, 2014

So, You Wanna Get To Heaven?

_1KN3600“We are saved by grace through faith, apart from works of law.”  As Lutherans, we get a little choked up when we hear those words, you’ll just have to excuse us. 

Martin Luther lifted this little gem from Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans, and it became the lynchpin of the Lutheran Reformation.

For the benefit of the non-Lutherans out there (and probably more than a couple of Lutherans too), Lutherans have always taken this to mean that we don’t earn our salvation by doing good deeds (works of law), or even by being good.

Salvation is ours purely out of the grace of God.   Furthermore, God’s grace becomes real in our lives by faith, which is just another way of saying, by trusting it.

Powerful stuff.  And, just a bit counter-intuitive.  Even Santa Claus knows if you’ve been bad or good.  And ever since we ran to our stockings on Christmas morning and breathed a sigh of relief—no coal—we’ve been taught through a system of external punishments and rewards.

Justice is when actions and consequences match up the way they’re supposed to.  Injustice (and grace too ironically) is when they don’t.

Grace is being rewarded when we don’t deserve it.   Injustice is being punished when we don’t deserve it.

This kind of “grace-talk” makes people, and institutions, very nervous.  Grace means institutions lose their leverage and grace means we do too.  Institutions will build elaborate schemes to channel grace and make it behave.  So do we, because trusting grace feels like leaving an awful lot to chance.  Very risky.  We'd rather hedge our bet with a couple of good deeds.

If actions and consequences are out the window when it comes to the most important question any of us will face—where will we spend eternity—then what?   Why be good if there is no payoff?   Why not be rotten to the core if there is no punishment?   Either way, I’m going to heaven!?!

I’m not sure I want to go to Disney World if the losing team gets to go too.

But that’s the whole point!  Saved by grace is not about going to heaven.  It’s about how we’re going to live right now!

You want to win a million dollars?  Here, it’s yours!  Now what are you going to do?

You want to be loved despite how broken and unlovable you feel most times?  Here, you’re loved! Unequivocally and absolutely!  Now, what are you going to do?

You want to get to heaven?  Here, you’re going!  Now what are you going to do?  

Saved by grace, through faith is really just another way of saying, “ball’s in your court, now what?”

People who get that and trust God’s grace,  behave in life affirming ways for the same reasons lottery winners buy new cars.

Grace-led people open their hearts to those who are different, they take big risks, they fail more times than not, and find its true, its all true.  Heaven isn’t some far off thing.  Heaven begins here.  Trusting God’s grace means living with one foot inside the Pearly Gates right now!

Or, to put it another way.  Salvation isn’t so much God’s plan to get you to Heaven when you die some day.  Salvation is God’s plan to get Heaven to you today, so you can live!

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