Psalm 89:1-18, Ephesians 2:4-10
July 22, 2018
In the Psalms, you often find these words together, “steadfast love” and “faithfulness.” We heard them in our Psalm for today. We heard them last week when we started with Psalm 117. By the way, that is the shortest psalm, and I think it’s the most “paired down” of the psalms. It has the “essentials.” It has praise, and it has these words about the “steadfast love” and “faithfulness” of God. Read that one again sometime. (It won’t take long!)
Let me refresh your memories on this. I know I’ve said this before. The “steadfast love” of God, along with his “faithfulness,” was (and is) one of the most important things the Jewish people believed about God. It was huge! Steadfast love, or in Hebrew, “Hesed,” is a recurring theme throughout their scriptures. God’s love is “steadfast.” It is “sure.” It is “unswerving.” It is “loyal.” It is “trustworthy.” (I love the Thesaurus key on my word processor!)
No matter what the people did, no matter how far they strayed from their own love of God, his love was always there for them. Sure, at times he was angry with them. At times he was frustrated with them. But, his love never wavered. Whatever they did, he loved them. And his love was a love that was undeserved, unmerited. What does that sound like? It sounds like Grace! Doesn’t it? The classic definition of Grace is “Unmerited favor.” Grace is God’s love and salvation which is undeserved! It is undeserved, yet it is steadfast! It is love that is based not on whether or not we love God, or whether or not we are “love-able!”
So, it’s been said, and I think it’s true, that the Old Testament Hebrew word “Hesed” – “Steadfast Love” – is equivalent to the New Testament Greek word “charis” or “Grace.” Steadfast love, and Grace. In a lot of ways, they are the same thing. And, as Paul told the Ephesian church – and us – Grace is what our faith is based on. It’s “not on our works, lest anyone should boast!” We can’t earn God’s grace. We can’t merit it, by our actions. As I like to say, good works are a response to Grace, not a means of obtaining it!
So, Grace is “amazing,” as the old song tells us. But I think this is a hard one for us to “get.” We are often firmly entrenched in a “rewards based system.” What that means is, if we don’t deserve something, we shouldn’t get it. Don’t we feel that way? In fact, we think we should get something only if we work for it. And we really feel that way about others?! “Hey, if that person didn’t work for something, they shouldn’t get it!” And if they do, it doesn’t seem fair somehow, does it?
I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we’re probably more comfortable with what has been called “Works Righteousness.” That means we get to heaven if we “work for it.” We get to heaven if our works are “righteous enough.” Many people have been in that mode for many centuries. Well, Paul was saying “No.” He told the Ephesians, in no uncertain terms, “It is by grace we are saved, through faith” It’s not about our works. It’s not about “earning it” or even “deserving it!” It is about Grace, the “unmerited favor” of God. It is about the “steadfast love,” the “Hesed” of God.
Now, that’s all well and good. Actually, it’s more than that. It’s wonderful. Grace is “Amazing,” as we’ve often sung. But there’s another part of this that’s very important. As I’ve said before, we are to be “people of Grace.” As part of our lives of faith, we are to strive to be “God-like.” And this is one of the ways we are to be “God-like.” We should ask ourselves, “Do we have steadfast love? Do we have “Hesed?” Do we have “unearned,” “unmerited,” love for others, a love not based on their works or actions? Are we “people of Grace” like that? Do we love and forgive, even when a person seems unlovable or unforgiveable?
That’s’ not an easy one, is it? But it’s part of our lives of faith. God is faithful to us. But are we faithful to God? (Loyal? Steadfast?) And do we realize that, at least part of what it means to love God faithfully and steadfastly, is to love others? We show our faithfulness to God by how we love the people he loves.
Jesus upped the ante on this one. He told his disciples, (and us!) “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” And what was the commandment he had just given them? Remember, he added an eleventh commandment to the original Ten! He said “A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you!” There you go. We are to love as Jesus loved. We are to love others with God’s steadfast love! In fact, it is to be our trademark. It is to be our identifying feature. Jesus said, “And this is how they will know you are mine, that you love one another.”
This is not easy stuff. And this is not something we learn once. This is something that’s hard! It’s “day to day living” hard! A few weeks ago, I quoted C. S. Lewis saying “We have to be constantly reminded of what we believe.” Well being people of Grace is something of which we have to be constantly reminded! Every morning we should remember the amazing Grace of God, we should remember the God’s “steadfast love” and his faithfulness to us. Every morning we should commit ourselves to being “people of Grace.” (‘Cause if we don’t, we won’t!)
“I will sing of thy steadfast love, O Lord, forever. With my mouth I will proclaim thy faithfulness to all generations.” “For it is by Grace we are saved through faith.”
God of Grace, help us indeed to remember your steadfast love for us, and your Grace. Help us to be people who love the world that you so loved. Help us to be people of Grace. May the world know you and your love, through us. For we pray in our Savior’s name, Amen.