Building a Case for Grace (Lent 11-2013)

     Humans sin.     Do animals?

(I’ll wait while you react.)

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Yes, you’re right: theologians do think about strange things.



How many angels dance on the head of a pin?

If a tree falls in the woods and there’s no one there to hear it, does it make any sound?

What happened to people who died before Jesus came?

Romans 4:1-15 sheds light on two of the four questions although not directly.  This passage reads like one big riddle which explains why many people blip right over it and miss out on seeing Paul’s brilliance.

Let’s face it: Paul was a really smart guy and he’s Building a Case for Grace.  If we jump over this section, we lose something valuable.  So go ahead and read Romans 4:1-15.  I’ll wait.

There ought to be two verses that pop out at you:

  • verse 3 “What does the Scripture say?   ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’” (People who died before Jesus came either believed God or they didn’t.  Faith was credited as righteousness and unbelief wasn’t).
  • verse 15: “[B]ecause law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.” (Animals can’t really sin because there was no law they broke in the Garden of Eden, unlike Adam and Eve who transgressed God’s law/command.)  Animals–indeed all created things–were made subject to the same broken world we’ve received as punishment (see Romans 8:19-21).  So while animals may do awful things to each other because of a broken world, they don’t have the Image of God or the law, and therefore don’t sin.

I argued earlier that the Mosaic Law served as a Sacred Space Maintainer (Lent 9-2013).  So whether the person was the patriarch Abraham or Abraham Lincoln, Paul is Building a Case for Grace–for grace that fills this Sacred Space.  No special rights are owed to any of us, no matter how famous we are or what contributions we’ve made to religion or culture.

This righteousness, Paul says (translated into words I can understand), cannot be earned like a wage, received through a bribe, come as a perk of paying membership dues, or fall into the vending slot after you put enough coins in.  All those things depend on us.

Paul is Building a Case for Grace, unmerited favor.  Righteousness–right relationship with God–is a gift.  It’s a gift of grace by our God who loved us enough to bless our faith.  While we cannot depend on ourselves, we must depend on the One who sent His only Son to pay for sins–our sins!  (He didn’t commit any of His own).  We receive His righteousness and that’s grace!

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Give it up for Lent: Thinking it all depends on you

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For further study:  Re-read today’s passage and identify the concepts of wages, bribes, perks of membership and a vending machine idea. 


  1. Circumcision isn’t most people’s favorite topic.  Read here to find out why it was important to the Jewish people (see also Leviticus 12:3).  How did this sign set the Jews apart from others in the Ancient Near East?
  2. How might a sign demonstrating their role as the chosen people become an exclusive club membership ritual?  It is easy to take what is a sign of something and turn it into the saving event.  Church attendance, spiritual disciplines like prayer, baptism, Bible study–how might we fall prey to the same error of substituting what we can do for what God did?
  3. Why does Paul go through such description of Abraham and circumcision?  We’ll explore this a bit more down the road, but think about why Abraham’s not being circumcised and living well before the Mosaic Law was ever given makes a difference in the case Paul is building for grace.


Categories Articles and Devotionals, Devotionals | Tags: | Posted on February 25, 2013

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