Why grace could never be “made up”

Conversion_on_the_Way_to_Damascus-Caravaggio_(c.1600-1)

A large part of Paul’s letter to the Galatians comprises arguments for why Paul’s gospel is of God, and not of man. Apparently some had accused Paul of making up his gospel of free grace (Gal 1:11) for the purpose of pleasing man (1:10). Some thought that free, unearned, salvation was too easy! So they figured that Paul was making salvation free in order to win a crowd.

Paul spends the bulk of his letter (1:10-2:21) trying to prove that his gospel is in fact not of man, but actually direct revelation from God (1:15-16).

One of the first arguments that Paul provides, is that his gospel could never be “made up”, because humans are by nature religious. Paul says in verse 14 that he could never think up grace himself, because before he was saved, he was aggressively “advancing in Judaism”. In other words, Paul was too busy trying to work his way to heaven to concoct this concept of grace. He was too immersed in trying to earn God’s favor to think up the gospel of Christ.

And I believe that this is true of anyone. Grace is not a concept that is natural to us. Humans by nature like to build their resumes. We naturally want to work for what we get. To us, for someone to receive what they didn’t pay for, is offensive. And the reason is simple: they didn’t earn it, so they shouldn’t have it.

Grace is by its very nature, is offensive to us. But in fact, this is the way that God has chosen to work. He chooses to love us, not because of any merit within us, but simply because of the lavishness of his mercy. This is what Paul says in Galatians 1:15-16: God “set [Paul] apart before he was born“. God’s love was set on Paul before he had done anything “good” to earn it! God’s love was directed toward Paul before he had even known who God was. This is the nature of grace. It is unmerited love. Grace has no consideration for deservedness or lack thereof. And this is why it is offensive. We want to earn it! We want the credit! Yet grace gives God the credit. It gives God the glory (Gal 1:4). Because God does all the work in Christ to bring us to himself.

Ryken, in his commentary on Galatians, says this of Paul’s arguments:

Not surprisingly, the religions that human beings invent always end up glorifying human beings. There is some law to keep, some teaching to follow, some ritual to perform, some penance to endure, or some state of consciousness to achieve that will bring salvation. One way or another, we can climb up to heaven and reach God.

Christianity is different. What distinguishes it from other world religions is that it actually comes from God. The one true gospel is not man-made, which is why it gives glory to God. The good news of the cross and the empty tomb could come only from God because it is about what God has done to save us through Jesus Christ. It does not teach that we can reach up to heaven; it teaches that God has come down to earth. In Christ, God has entered human history and the human heart.

…As Luther put it, “The knowledge of Christ and of faith is not a human work but utterly a divine gift”

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