Grace Must Be Grace Alone
Wednesday of Pentecost 17
4 October 2017
Either works save or God saves us by grace alone. There can be no middle ground here. For grace to be grace it must be alone. We must not let the works of the law infest God's grace and rip its guts out. Works will kill grace. Sometimes we think one little work would be acceptable. However, one little work is like a virus that infects another body and causes sickness and death. The work may seem little, but it un-graces grace.

Grace is alone in a number of ways. First, it is alone in the sense that it is uniquely God's. God "is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love" (Joel 2:13). Because grace is in God there cannot be more or less of it. It is a specific attribute of God. If he had more or less of it, it would not be a perfect attribute. And he would not be God. For to be God is to have His attributes perfectly and completely. Since grace is an attribute of God that gives a great deal of comfort in our spiritual lives. It is something upon which we can trust and have absolute confidence because in him there is no shadow of turning. He will not suddenly become ungracious toward us, because then he could never have been said to have been gracious.

Second, grace is alone in that it excludes all other things; especially works. What if after receiving a valuable gift from a generous giver I would say, "I realize that I cannot reimburse you for the whole amount of this gift, but perhaps I could give you a small payment for it." In my opinion, this would be even more insulting than attempting to pay for it outright. I would be diminishing the value of the gift as well as failing to recognize the gracious nature of the giver. For a gift to be gift no payment could ever be possible, whether small or large. When I say, "What do I owe you for this?" I am being a cad and acting in an ill-bred way. About that I think we can agree. Yet, despite this, many people think they can say precisely this to God by offering him their paltry works, their best efforts, and other such rubbish. This is treating God like he's a bellhop in need of a tip: "Here, God, this is a little something for you. Aren't you impressed?" Does God really need our tips? The very idea is risible. So even the smallest work is an offense against grace, a return to righteousness by the law, and an insult to God.

Third, grace is alone because God has freely given us all things. Paul says, "He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things" (Rm 8:32). When God gives all, there is nothing left to do. There's nothing left to receive. There is nothing greater. There is nothing better. There is nothing you can offer. Hasn't God given us the very best, the highest, and the most when he gave his Son up for us all? How could we ever think that his grace is in any way deficient or in need of our improvement? He has given us the greatest, and therefore we can expect not only the great gifts, but all of the little ones that come with it, therefore our works, no matter how small or large we think them, will never offer anything. They are worthless, so that Christ may be all in all. Grace must remain alone to be grace.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Martin Luther

"Free justification permits no workers, because there is an obvious contradiction between 'freely given' and 'earned by some sort of work.' Besides, justification by grace excludes consideration of anyone's personal worthiness, as Paul says in Romans 11: 'if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace' (Rm 11:6). He says the same in chapter 4: 'Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due' (Rm 4:4). Thus my Paul, unconquerable conqueror of free choice that he is, wipes out two armies with a single word. For if we are justified 'apart from works,' then all works are condemned, whether small or great, for he makes no exception but thunders equally against all."
"Paul first extols grace by contrasting it with works, and then in the clearest and simplest terms he states that we are justified freely, and that grace would not be grace if it were earned by works, so that he quite unmistakably excludes all works in the matter of justification in order to establish grace alone and free justification. Yet with all this light we still search for darkness, and when we cannot claim large and all-inclusive things for ourselves, we try to claim little modest things, just to ensure that justification by the grace of God shall not be free and apart from works. As if he who denies us all the important things will not even more deny that the little modest things help us in any way toward justification, when he has laid it down that we are justified only by his grace apart from all works, and therefore apart from the law itself, in which all works, great and small, both congruous and condign, are included."

Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will
Romans 4:1-12
What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness." Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

"Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin."

Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. (ESV)
Lord God heavenly Father, You did not spare Your own Son but gave him up for us all, and therefore You will also with Him graciously give us all things. Continue to give us Your grace which is perfect for Christ's sake. Free us from the opinion of the law by which we think we owe you something in return for your grace. Forgive us our presumption. Fulfill our need to receive everything from You. Amen.

For all those who have suffered losses because of the violent attack in Las Vegas, that they would be comforted with the comfort with which we have been comforted by God

For Christopher Atsinger, that the Lord Jesus would grant him strength and confidence in the midst of illness and trial

For Jane Schoen, that she would regain her strength and return to her regular activities
Art: Albrecht DURER, The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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