6/1/17 Oscar about 60
The man sitting next to us at the coffee shop couldn't help but hear our conversation about the Gospel. It turned out he was really hoping I would ask him the same question I had used to start the conversation at the first table - "What do you think happens after we die?" I'm glad I did ask him, because it was a subject he, Oscar, was truly interested in, though he struggles with the same difficulty that many people do - "It just sounds too good to be true".
Oscar questions the idea of God's gracious gift of forgiveness, but his struggle isn't over his own unworthiness to receive it. His difficulty is over the unworthiness of others. His struggle is really over the question "What's to stop people from being forgiven of their sins and abusing that gift by just continuing on in their sinful ways? What about the people who come to church on Sunday but live like a terror the rest of the week?"
Surely the free gift of forgiveness we find in Christ must have some sort of strings attached! There must be something we must add to His forgiveness to set the righteous apart from the wicked. There must be some additional requirements, like, say, repentance. But how much repentance? Where are the dividing lines? Why didn't Jesus just spell it out to make it easy for us to know which side we are on?
To Oscar, his question might seem like a noble concern that people don't trample on the grace of God. But it assumes we somehow deserve God's forgiveness while others do not. "Surely I am better than those sinful people. Don't put me in their category! How can they expect to receive the same forgiveness that I do?" Of course, believers do show repentance, but even our repentance is part of God's gift of grace according to Acts 11 - "…even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.” The more we need to repent, the harder it is to do and the more we realize that like our faith, repentance, too, is a gift from God.
Oscar eagerly wanted to hear my summary of the Gospel, but his response was similar to a classic question Paul asked in Romans 6. Paul had been explaining how the glory of God's grace is displayed through the sin He forgives. Paul then asked this rhetorical question to show the foolishness of the worldly mindset: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” Oscar's question, like Paul's, was basically asking "If God forgives completely, why stop sinning?"
Paul's answer showed he was incredulous that a believer would ask such a question: "By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?" The concern about people trampling on God's grace with continued sin shows a misunderstanding of what it takes to overcome sin in our lives. It is not by our own effort, but only by God's power that we die to sin and come alive to God in Christ, and we are then given the power, freedom and desire to defeat sin through the Holy Spirit living in us. Those who have not the Holy Spirit can't understand that, and are left to battle sin by their own efforts and to think that others must do the same.
Paul concluded his words about our freedom from sin with this passage at the end of Romans 6, which I was able to explain to Oscar: "But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Salvation is a free gift from God, and so is the power to overcome sin. Amen!