September 16

September 16
by Pastor Jim Bangsund


What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?  By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
Romans 6:1-4 
One of the greatest influences upon Martin Luther was St. Augustine (354-430AD).  Today, we’ll hear how Romans was also the turning point in the life of a randy young Augustine long before he attained the appellation “saint”!

Saved by grace through faith alone — our relationship with God restored purely through his actions and not ours; through his taking on flesh in the person of Jesus to take our sin upon himself; through his covering of our sinfulness with the righteousness of Christ.

This was a shocking, even nonsensical, message in the ears of some of Paul’s hearers.  Times haven’t changed; people haven’t changed.  Over the centuries, this glad message has brought forth not only great joy and relief, as in the case of Martin Luther, but also, in some cases, utter rejection or even mocking.

Already, by the time Paul wrote his letter to the church at Rome, there were those who took the message of the Gospel and twisted it — whether through true misunderstanding, or in order to mock it, we do not know.  What came back to Paul, however, was word that there were those saying something like the following: “Grace!  Good stuff!  When we sin, we receive God’s grace and our sins are forgiven.  So, let’s sin even more in order to receive even more of that good stuff!”

Paul’s response to such an appalling misconstrual is above.  “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?  By no means!”  German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who died for his faith under the Nazis, referred to such a shallow response to God’s great mercy as “cheap grace.”  No one who has come truly to understand and appreciate what it cost Jesus, and what he accomplished on the Cross, can ever respond in such a way.  The only possible response of one who is truly gripped by the power of this message is to give thanks and praise and to ask, “Lord, how can I now live in such a way to give thanks to you for all you have done?”

Perhaps the most famous case of living in debauchery in spite of knowing the Gospel was St Augustine — long before he became Bishop of Hippo and one of the church’s greatest teachers.  Living a wild life of wine, women and song, young Augustine had a faithful mother, Monica (for whom the city Santa Monica is named), who prayed for her son daily.

Once again, though, it was Romans that brought about the change.  In Augustine’s famous Confessions, he tells us of that event.  He had reached a point of despair in his life and found himself vaguely crying out to the God from whom he had wandered.
I was saying these things and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when, lo, I heard the voice as of a boy or girl, I know not which, coming from a neighbouring house, chanting, and oft repeating, “Take up and read; take up and read.” … So quickly I returned to the place where Alypius was sitting; for there had I put down the volume of the apostles, when I rose thence. I grasped, opened, and in silence read that paragraph on which my eyes first fell: “not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy; but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” No further would I read, nor did I need; for instantly, as the sentence ended — by a light, as it were, of security infused into my heart — all the gloom of doubt vanished away.[1]
In this case, Augustine had stumbled upon not Romans 6 but Romans 13:13 and following.  Yet the point of each text is the same.  The only proper and serious response of one who truly recognizes what has been accomplished in the Cross and the Resurrection is to seek to live a life pleasing to God, thankfully engaged in activities that further his will in the world.

Gracious God, we live in that grace by which you are known and addressed.  Forgive us when we take it for granted, when we treat it as “cheap grace,” forgetting what it cost you.  Show us those ways in which our lives can be living expressions of thankfulness to you, engaged in those tasks and challenges you lay before us and shining as a witness to those around us.  For we pray in Jesus’ Name.  Amen.

[1] The Confessions of St Augustine, book 8, chapter 12.

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