I haven’t read a lot of philosophy, only excerpts here and there, but one of my favorite philosophers is that great mid-20th century philosopher: Popeye.
Now before you laugh – well I guess it’s too late for that . . . . But Popeye was making a profound philosophical comment when he said: “I yam what I yam, and that’s all that I yam.” In fact, Popeye would have to be classified as an existentialist because he seemed to have believed that he just was without anyone else to help him, and that existence precedes essence.
In fact, he sounds very contemporary. We think that by our mere existence we are untouchable – no one can tell us what to do. We also believe that we are just fine the way we are, and no one should try to change us. On the other hand, when we do things that are wrong or evil, well, that’s just the way I am, I couldn’t help it.
“I am what I am,” we say. When we say this maybe we don’t realize that God is the only one who can truly say: “I AM what I AM.” In fact, that’s the name He gave for Himself to Moses when Moses asked for His name. And therefore, who God says we are, and not who we say we are, makes all the difference in the world – and in the world to come.
God says that I was an enemy of God. No, I wasn’t a Saul of Tarsus who persecuted the Church (verse 9) and breathed out murderous threats against Christ. By nature, essence and existence, I was a child of wrath and dead in my sins. This is who we are by our birth, born as we are into Adam’s fallen race. And this is who we would remain without God changing who we are.
But (praise God!) God says that I am a new creature by grace. Remember: you were
dead in your sins and were not able to re-create yourself. God must sovereignly step in, and this is where God’s grace comes in. Grace means “gift” and is often defined as God’s undeserved favor. It is, in fact, amazing!
Saul used to persecute Christians. He hated them – and Jesus Christ. How did Paul become an apostle? Well, he didn’t wake up one morning, write down a big fat list of pros and cons and execute a cost-benefit analysis, after which by a narrow margin the decision to live for Christ won out.
No, what happened to Saul was that Jesus Christ appeared to him. Paul didn’t ask for Jesus Christ; he didn’t want Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ sovereignly came into Paul’s life, and therefore Paul says “By the grace of God, I am what I am” (verse 10.) Paul was made, by the sovereign grace of God, what he was: a Christian and an apostle. Paul could not make himself a lover of God, a Christian, or an apostle: it was the sovereign work of the Lord Jesus Christ in his life.
Like St. Paul, though different in our circumstances, we can’t change who we are. It’s God who first loves us, and it’s God who first chooses us. If you doubt that it is all of grace and all of God, let me ask you a few questions
Question #1: “What did you do to deserve God’s free gift of grace?”
Question #2: “What did you do to take away your own sins?”
Question #3: “What did you do to deserve to spend eternity in God’s presence?”
(Answers: nothing, nothing, and nothing!)
You are a new creature – by the grace of God.
But the God who created me and re-created me and gives me His name and makes me a member of His Body says that I am His minister by grace. And therefore, I am a minister in His Body. God is absolutely sovereign – He can do whatever He wants; there is nothing out of His power. He can save the world without us. And yet He’s given us the responsibility to respond in faith and then to go and be His ministers. That is who you are, whether you act like it or not.
It’s not just that God, through His grace, began a good work in you and then said “Here kid – you drive.” It’s also by the continued grace of God, that you are able to love and obey Him.
By the grace of God, you are also a guardian of the truth of Jesus Christ. It’s by the Good News of Jesus Christ that you stand and which has been faithfully transmitted to you by St. Paul and the apostles and the Church since their time (read 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus to learn more.) It is by this good news of Jesus Christ – who is the Good News – that you were saved, if you hold fast to the apostolic teaching about Jesus Christ.
But, being called and made a minister of this Good News (which is Jesus Christ), you must therefore know what the Truth is. It’s every Christian’s duty to listen to God through His Word every day, and it’s every Christian’s duty to want to learn more about God and His ministry.
By the grace of God you are an apostle and teacher of the truth. No, I don’t have the power or authority to anoint you as an apostle or elder, and it’s true that Paul had a special calling to the office of apostle (“sent one”) and as a teacher and guardian of the apostolic faith. But after God has given you rebirth, He has said that you are a guardian of His truth and treasure and that you are so to follow Jesus Christ as His disciple that in due time you will be equipped to teach the faith to others.
“How shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent. As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” (Romans 10:14-15)
God has already called you and saved you – by His grace. He has given you His truth to guard – by His grace. And by His grace, He has sent each of you to preach the gospel of peace. This call to teach the truth is much more than just getting people’s foot in the door: it is the entire task of making disciples. And God has called each one of you to it, using the spiritual gifts that He has graciously given you for the edification of His Body.
This is who you are, because this is who God has made you: a disciple of Jesus Christ, who in love acts like God and uses the gifts of God to glorify God by making disciples of others.
Everything good that you are is a gift from God. You owe the forgiveness of sins and your eternal salvation to the grace of God. By this same grace, God has made you a new creature – His sons and daughters. And by this same grace He has entrusted you with His Son, His Word, and His Kingdom.
How could we ever hope to repay God for His good gifts which we don’t deserve? We can’t.
But do you want to know the best way to say “Thank You” to God?
It’s to go out and use His good gifts for the reasons He gave them to you: to guard His truth and go out and make other disciples.
You are what you are as a Christian, a disciple of Jesus Christ, by the grace of God.
For this, Jesus Christ died for your sins, and for this He died and rose again.
Prayer: Father, I thank You for Your grace in my life in sending Your Son, my Lord Jesus Christ, to be born and to live, to suffer and to die, to be buried and to be raised again, and to ascend to Your right hand. By the gift of Your Holy Spirit, guard my soul and give me the grace to hold fast to the Good News of Jesus Christ. Finally, Lord, remind me every day of who You have made me to be and encourage me by Your Spirit to share Your grace with others. Amen.
Resolution and Point for Meditation: I resolve to meditate on God’s grace today and choose to consciously respond in one way. Some possible options are:
- sing a hymn or hymns of praise
- give thanks throughout the day
- Get quiet and remember the ways that God has been gracious to you throughout your life.
- Ask for God’s continued grace in your life, and ask God for grace in the life of another.
© 2015 Fr. Charles Erlandson
Category: Give Us This Day