...or at least encouraged us to ruin ourselves.
Let me explain. The sola gratia impulse of post-Reformation Christianity has created a religious culture where the emphasis is on God's grace and not human responsibility. In view of the depravity of the human condition (be it inherent or by the free exercise of our will) and out of respect for the extraordinary nature of God's grace, we declare - and rightly so - that there is nothing we can do to affect our own salvation. A man can never offer up so many good works as to make God awestruck by his righteousness and thereby earn his salvation. Similarly, a man can never be so utterly depraved that he is somehow out of reach of God's redeeming grace. Yet, these ultimately valid truths leave the question of how to respond to our sin hanging unanswered in the air.
Cheap grace is the answer we accept in practice. Taking sin as an inevitability, we accept it when it happens. We may feel a twinge of guilt. We may wish we could go back and change the past. The diligent Christian might even go so far as to try to pray for forgiveness each time he catches himself in sin. But if we are being honest, most of us cannot be bothered.
How often when doing something we ought not be doing are we gripped by the fear that some one will find out? Why is it that we never cease to invent new ways to keep our sin private for fear that we will be caught? How foolish! We have already been caught. The God against whom we sin is the God who sees our sin when it is hidden to everyone else. We fear our friends, our spouses, our families will discover our darkest sins, but why are we not gripped with dread to know that God sees them?
St. John the Scholastic put it this way: "We should be afraid of God in the way we fear wild beasts. I have seen men go out to plunder, having no fear of God but being brought up short somewhere at the sound of dogs, an effect that fear of God could not achieve in them."
We are so comfortable in the knowledge that God will forgive all of our sins, that we trivialize them. But how can we trivialize an affront to the very Maker of all that is and was and will be? How can we so easily take for granted a gift that was obtained with such difficulty? How can we treat so cheaply a redemption that was so costly?
Again St. John said, "The man turning away from the world in order to shake off the burden of his sins should imitate those who sit by the tombs outside the city. Let him not desist from ardent raging tears, from wordless moans of the heart, until he sees Jesus Himself coming to roll back the rock of hardness off him, to free the mind, that Lazarus of ours, from the bonds of sin."
How much more rightly would we understand the gift of grace if we first understood the gravity of our sins? When we sin it is not merely a breach of some human code but a violation of the Divine Will for humanity. When we fall, it is not by our strength that we stand again but by the strength of a God who was willing to be struck down on our behalf. When we sin, do we allow ourselves to suffer in accordance with the gravity of your transgression, or have we fallen totally into apathy?
It is my ardent prayer that we will all remember this: the immensity of God's grace was first and foremost necessary to blot out the immensity of our guilt.