Lutherans and grace
I try to believe that grace is a fundamental teaching of the Lutheran faith. I have trouble with that at times. Any ideas?
Yep. What are Lutherans if not espousers of grace…and yet do we really believe it?
I fear that many Lutherans, let alone many Christians, don’t.
So, in short, you’re not alone.
We Lutherans teach that we are saved by grace, and not by works.
Still, I bet a bunch of us don’t believe the opposite implication: We can’t be damned by our works either.
We worry, in short.
We can’t quite swallow this notion that our sins can’t separate us finally and completely from God–never mind that we gravitate toward Paul, and Romans 8 assures us that nothing (not even a single asterisk suggesting that “certain exceptions apply”) can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
The funny thing is that implicitly, when we fret about our sins trumping God’s grace, we are trusting in them more than in God.
Luther said that “Grace is given to heal the spiritually sick, not to decorate spiritual heroes.”
That’s awfully true. Too often we think of grace as something we have to earn like some medal of honor: isn’t that what we are doing when we fear that our sins cut us off from grace?
And yet what is grace if not something that one receives undeservingly? For if you deserve something, whatever you receive is not grace. Grace is that which is offered to someone who doesn’t deserve it. If you earn it, you deserve it…but what you’d get is not grace. A reward, perhaps; praise, yes; but grace? No.
Sometimes people fear that when understood this way, grace is cheapened. Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke of the danger of cheap grace, grace which is meaningless because it neither invites nor asks for a change of heart.
But grace need not mean that judgement doesn’t occur: instead, it means that judgment, condemnation, is not final.
I think of it in terms of parenting. If I were not to let my children know when they’d crossed the line, I would not honor them nor show them love which invites them into a new way of being in relationship. But that judgment must relent, for I am also not right–the family is not right–until they are back with us. And I will pursue that relationship until is it right.
Even their infraction (and I cannot imagine an infraction terrible enough) will not separate them from my persistent, pursuing relationship with them.
In short, Lutherans assert (at least on paper) that we do not have the power in our relationship with God. God does, and thankfully, God covets a relationship with us. So our good works are not an avenue toward a relationship with God, but a demonstration of it.
Martin Marty does a good job of illustrating this a bit more:
So there’s an initial take on your question. I hope it was initially helpful, but of course, I invite feedback!