Grace All-Sufficient
Sunday, December 27, 2009

Come now, let us reason together,"
says the Lord.
"Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson
they shall be like wool."

Isaiah 1:18

Last night we watched a film on the life of St. Anthony.  One of the things I think this film illustrates, if indirectly, is the importance of having a proper understanding of the Word of God.

Fernando, named Anthony, was a priest, a learned man, who had some knowledge of the scriptures.  (In Latin, I might add; I can't but wonder what a difference it might have made if he had had God's Word in his own language).  Yet, feeling guilty over the death of his father, of breaking the heart of the woman he would have married, and of abandoning his family and friends, he observes the funeral procession of five Franciscans who had been beheaded for preaching the gospel to the Moors in Africa.  On seeing this, he says to himself, "I will pay for my sins by preaching in Africa" (and there being martyred).  Fortunately, the Lord delivered him from that fate through shipwreck.  Later, however, we find him, troubled by dreams, flailing his back with a whip in penitence.

Yet herein lies the error.  "Pay for my sins," he says.  What did Jesus do upon the cross?  It is a mistake to think that we by our own power can atone for our sins.  If you are beating yourself for your sins, then by every stroke of the lash you are proclaiming that Jesus' death on the cross wasn't good enough.  What is the meaning, after all, of the word "gospel"?  It means "good news".  And what is the good news?  It is that God has come to us in the flesh, in the person of Jesus Christ, to demonstrate His love for us and to make atonement for us by His death on the cross, that in Him we might have complete forgiveness of sins, "that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." (John 3:16)

What part of God's work on the cross was insufficient that you must add to it?  On the contrary, His death paid for all of our sins, past, present and future, that He who knows the end from the beginning could confidently utter upon the cross, "It is finished."  It is finished!  The work of atonement was completed in that very moment, and nothing further is needed.

Anthony is troubled by his sins, real or imagined.  But there is good news!  God is purifying us, day by day... we are being sanctified, transformed into His likeness, as it says in the scripture:

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
2 Corinthians 3:18

We are impatient.  We want to be perfect now.  Truly there will be a time when that sanctification is made complete, as it is written:

Behold, I tell you a mystery:  We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed — in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
1 Corinthians 15:51-52

In the meantime, however, our purification is a process.  What sin is it that troubles you?  Is it pride, or lust, selfishness or greed?  Whatever it is, we have this promise:  "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins..." and what? "...and purify us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9)  Thanks be to God that He does not leave us in our sin, or just merely forgive us, only so that we can repeat the same sins over and over.  No!  Rather, He has promised to cleanse us that we might be pure and holy and set apart for Him.

And who is it that purifies us?  Is it by our own hand?  If we were able to keep ourselves pure, by mortifying the flesh or by any other means, we would not have needed a savior to redeem us at the cross.  On the contrary, the scripture says that it is by the Holy Spirit that we are sanctified.  How then shall we be filled with the Spirit?  Jesus answered that very question:

If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!
Luke 11:13

There is good news indeed.  Jesus' death on the cross is truly sufficient to make atonement for us and to reconcile us to God.  All that is necessary is that we should confess our sin before God, to turn from it, and ask that He cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  Then, may He fill us with His Holy Spirit and give us the grace to walk in obedience before Him all the days of our lives.  Sanctification is a process that requires both patience and humility, as we recognize both our own sinfulness and God's all-sufficient power and grace, yet this is just the path of peace He would have us walk.

He has shown you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you?
To do justly,
to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:8

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Why do the nations rage,
and the people plot a vain thing?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying,
“Let us break Their bonds in pieces
and cast away Their cords from us.”
He who sits in the heavens shall laugh;
the Lord shall hold them in derision.
Then He shall speak to them in His wrath,
and distress them in His deep displeasure:
“Yet I have set My King On My holy hill of Zion.”
— Psalm 2:1-6