Can’t Muscle It


A week ago, the Stevens took my family on their boat for a day on the Snake River. It was a fantastic day; it is incredible how beautiful these river canyons are tucked into the vast farmland and rolling hills. If you did not know, the Stevens are avid water enthusiasts and recreationists; the newest trend in watersports is wake surfing. If you are not familiar, you have a specially designed surfboard that allows you to ride the wake of the boat you are riding in. After watching a few spectacular demonstrations, they asked if I would like to try; I obliged and got out of the boat into the chilly spring runoff water. There were multiple take-offs and subsequent wipeouts (some quite exquisite), but I couldn’t get the hang of it. The seasoned veterans of the waiter assured me that it takes a little getting used to and not to feel discouraged. Then my wife tried. She started surfing almost immediately (second attempt, in fact); she seemed to be a natural, effortlessly gliding on top of the waves.

I have never been good at watersports. I’m a landlocked mountain kid and feel more comfortable with the “terra firma” under my feet. Exasperated and exhausted, I tried once more to get the hand of wake surfing, and after countless attempts, I was able to stay on top of the water for about 10 seconds (probably less if someone would have timed me). Afterward, in the post-surfing brief, the Stevens told me that women usually pick up these activities faster. They said it’s because women don’t typically fight the process as much as men and let the surfboard do the work for them. Thinking back on the results, I was trying exceptionally hard to muscle my way around the water, which only led to me being exhausted and sore from the day’s activities.

Romans 3:21-31
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

Paul continues his thoughts from chapters one and two, namely that God is righteous and that everyone else is a sinner. The only hope for us is that we would somehow obtain the same righteousness that God has. Paul concludes this passage with a straightforward premise that the only way for us to receive this righteousness is if God were to extend a gift of grace to justify our iniquities. This justification cannot be accomplished by “muscling” through it, either by upholding the law or works (v 27). Both Jew and Gentile are justified by faith and that it is God’s grace that justifies us. Verse 30 is the key; Paul states that God justifies the Jews “by” faith, and the Gentiles “through” faith. Faith can only be made evident through actions (James 2:14-26); meaning the Jews were justified “by” their faith in the God who gave them the law to live, and thus they upheld the law, whereas the Gentiles will be justified “through” the lives that are born out of faith in the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Making our faith independent of our ability to uphold the law, we rely on God’s grace to justify both parties.

Why do we depend on God’s grace? Because we would never be able to live righteously enough, it is impossible. Just like my experience on the surfboard, the more I think I can do it on my own the more exhausted and defeated I would become. All of us must at some point realize that it is only God that can justify us. Our justification has already been accomplished by Jesus paying the price for our unrighteousness. Our response is to walk according to this reality by faith in the grace freely given to us.

Jesus did the work. God bestows grace. Now I need to live like it.