Grace & Responsibility
“Grace is God’s unmerited favor!” We’ve heard that our whole lives, haven’t we? God loves us, not because we’ve earned his love… and not because we deserve it. God loves us because we are his. He created us… and he has redeemed us, saved us, through, Christ our Lord. And in-so-doing, God‘s loving grace is proven an unmerited, undeserved, and unearned gift... offered just because God loves us. That’s Grace.
Responsibility, on-the-other-hand, has to do with accountability. A responsible person does responsible things because they’re supposed to, not because they’re forced to. Most of us have an internal mechanism… in our minds, and souls… that we call a conscience. No one has to look over a responsible person’s shoulder to make sure they’re doing what’s right. They do the right thing even when no one else is looking.
Of course, responsibility is closely related to obedience… It’s obedience to that “still small voice” of God spirit; the voice of God echoing in our conscience, reminding us what’s right. And a responsible person’s obedient to that voice, and to the ethical standards that we’re taught to live by, in God‘s Word.
But at times, grace and responsibility seem to be at odds. They seem to be on different sides. Grace is a free unmerited gift. Grace is food brought to a bad child has been sent to bed without supper. Grace is pardon for criminal for the sake of mercy alone. But responsibility is duty. Responsibility is a hard-working couple, that don’t even particularly like their jobs, who get up and go to work, regardless, and care for their children… despite the personal sacrifice. Responsibility as a police officer, or a fire fighter, risking their life to do their job... for a complete stranger. We understand and appreciate responsibility when we see it.
That’s why many times grace and responsibility seem to be at odds. Especially when it comes to faith. The book of James even goes so far as to tell us that faith without works, faith without responsibility, is dead… while the book of Ephesians tells us that salvation is by faith alone. Maybe our lesson from Romans will help us understand how grace and responsibility are actually working together for those who are in Christ.
Paul begins by referring to the teachings of Moses. Pretty good place to start, when your primary audience is made up of Jews. Paul’s letter may be addressed to the “Romans”… But the Romans he was referring to were Roman Jews, who like Paul… who had accepted Christ as the Messiah. So these Romans were actually Christians!
Of course, the Jews were basically a responsible people. They had a very strong work ethic - they worked hard to keep God’s law, and to honor God in every aspect of their lives. And that kind of responsibility is a good thing… Until it becomes idolatry. It become idolatry when we begin to believe that we can somehow earn our salvation through obedience alone. The Romans thought that just because they were responsible in following the letter of the law they would have salvation in Christ.
So, Paul set out to explain God’s grace to the Romans. He’s stressed that, “if you confess with your lips that Jesus Christ is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Surely, without doubt... that had to be the best news the Roman Christians that ever heard! Think about it: someone who works for their righteousness never really knows if they’re saved. You’re always wondering, have I done enough? Have I said the right things? Have I done the right things? Have I done the right things, in order? Have I said the right prayers, performed the right rituals? There’s always doubt, so they try to work harder! But Paul was telling the Romans, they could know for sure they’d been redeemed. Grace says our salvation is not dependent on our righteousness... is a gift from God given to all who receive it.
But the problem with grace, and the reason we have such a hard time accepting salvation through faith by grace alone… is because we know grace can actually lead to irresponsibility.
What happens if a child is constantly hitting another child, and we continually let him get away with it, so long as he says, “sorry.” They’re gonna keep hitting and wait for them to say “sorry.” What would happen in our justice system, if people are allowed to go free simply because they said they knew what they did was wrong? Prisons would be empty, the crime rate would go up!
The point of what Paul is trying to get across to us, is that salvation is free… it’s an unmerited gift, Grace. But that free Grace always leads us to our responsibility. A responsibility that begins the moment we receive the grace of Christ.
And that responsibility - is NOT to live by the letter of a Law we cannot keep... our responsibility is to share what we received. How are others to know they should call on the name of the Lord if they’ve never heard the Good News? How can they hear of grace without someone to tell them? Without someone to show them? It’s the responsibility of those of us who have received grace, and to live by grace, to share what we have received with others. It would be the height of a irresponsibility to fail to share the Good News with everyone we know. It’s our responsibility to let other people know that there is a better way… That Christ accepts us in spite of who we are… and he’s determined not to leave us the way he found us.
Of course, no one’s looking over our shoulders, making us do it. But deep inside, there’s a still small voice… urging us and encouraging us to live up to our responsibility: our calling. You and I are called to go and tell others about the grace of Christ… So they can have the opportunity to receive it… Just as we did. Of course, you don’t have to be a preacher or Sunday school teacher or anything like that, to proclaim the Good News. All you have to do is tell others, and show others, that God loves them.
After all, how will they know to call on Jesus, if they don’t know about him? How would they ever learn about Christ unless someone tells him? And who will tell them, if no one takes on the responsibility of sharing? God is sending you, and me, to share. Not the church across the street… Not the person at the end of the pew. God has called you. That’s the responsibility of grace!