Predicament and Promise by Kim Reisman
When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son.
From the dawn of time, we humans have been both attracted to and repelled by the idea of goodness. We lift people up as heroes and saviors; yet relish the moment when they’re exposed as having feet of clay. We spend countless dollars on books, videos, programs, and workshops hoping that they will help us “be all that we can be.” Yet we deliberately sabotage those very efforts with bad habits that have infiltrated our daily living. We want to be good, but we aren’t always able. We don’t completely like being bad, but we sometimes don’t mind it. As Paul expressed, there seems to be a battle going on within us between the desire to follow the good and the allure of the evil that surrounds us.
This is the predicament of humankind. We’re all torn between the good and the evil. Recognizing this isn’t a call to wallow in guilt and shame or to throw up our hands in resignation. It’s simply recognizing an objective fact. But it’s an important first step in resolving the conflict.
A second step is to remember that as human beings, we all belong to a God who created each of us as one good, whole self. Our wholeness became marred by fragmentation and estrangement; and our goodness became supremely vulnerable and responsive to the presence of evil. And yet, our freedom to choose has never disappeared. We weren’t created to be puppets or robots. God wants each of us to recognize that we belong to God. God desires us to freely choose relationship, just as God freely chose to create us in the first place. Because of this freedom, we don’t have to give in to our inner responsiveness to evil. We can remember that “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31). We are always free to choose to be the good self God created us to be, or to become captivated by the evil that is all around us.
The next step on our journey is to realize that we don’t have to fight this battle alone. God offers hope for us as we seek to find a resolution to our struggle. The foundation of that hope is Jesus Christ, who through his death and resurrection has conquered the power of evil in the world. The witness of Scripture is clear: evil is a conquered foe. Our hope isn’t just in hearing that message, but in actually experiencing that victory in our lives. In any given situation, God’s grace is more powerful than the lure of temptation. As we seek to resolve the struggle within us, that’s where we must begin – with God’s grace.
God’s grace comes in many ways. Two of these are at the heart of Christian faith and experience: justification and sanctification. In our Wesleyan tradition, we use these words to talk about two basic experiences in our lives. Justification is the experience of becoming right with God. Justifying grace is the redemptive, healing recreating love of God that comes to us as a gift. When we recognize our sinfulness, earnestly repent, and accept the pardon that God offers us through Jesus Christ, justifying grace works in our lives to heal our relationship with God. We are reconciled and brought back into relationship with God.
Where justification is something God does for us, sanctification is something God does in us. Sanctifying grace is the grace that remains with us and empowers us as we move through our lives. With each experience we encounter, God’s grace is with us to strengthen us and give us the power to face whatever challenges we may encounter as well as to shape us after the likeness of Christ. It is a process, a life-long experience of spiritual growth empowered by God’s grace.
God has promised us grace and it comes in two specific ways – as the undeserved favor of God for our justification, and as the power of the Holy Spirit, enabling us to live in the ways of God. As we enter the contest between good and evil, we’re armed with the promise and power of God’s grace. It’s a power that has already won the victory. It remains only for us to claim that victory in the everyday living of our lives.