by Rev. Adam Kelchner
What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor 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 reckoned to him as righteousness.’ Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.
Sola fide, sola gratie (By faith alone, by grace alone). These are some of the most important and contentious words in all of Christian history. But we’ll get back to that.
For a few more months I’m serving as the United Methodist campus minister at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. I’m also not that far out of the classroom setting as a student myself. I think there’s something critically important that we see in the lives of students whether in elementary school or a Master’s program that opens a window into our text.
The grand narrative of the student goes something like this: the ‘good’ student pays attention, participates in the classroom, completes assignment on time, works diligently to understand concepts, proves his or her intellectual worth to the teacher or professor through rigorous academic exercises. If the student satisfies or exceeds the expectations of the professor, then an ‘A’ or ‘A+’ is rewarded. The award is based on the merits of the student. Some college students know all too well that merit can pay off in generous scholarships and that the scholarship depends on continued demonstration of achievement. It’s not all that different from the office employee who pushes the bounds of sanity for a raise or promotion. The church calls this ‘works righteousness.’
In other words, can we earn our salvation in the eyes of God?
There is a story of faith that counters the insanity that can emerge from ‘works righteousness.’ God’s salvation does not depend on what you and I are capable of; our salvation in Jesus Christ does not depend on a tightly polished resume or curriculum vitae. Sola fide. It is by faith alone that we enter into life with the Almighty God and that’s good news. There’s nothing you can do to change the fact that God already loves you. There’s nothing you can do to earn God’s love. Our relationship with God and with one another is made right (justified) by God’s grace.
When you have to prove yourself in so many facets of life, it’s good news to the weary, the burned out, and the rejected that Christ gives this grace freely for the healing of our broken hearts and spirits.
Rev. Adam Kelchner is the Pastor for Missions and Outreach at Belmont United Methodist Church.