Headline: Lent: Lest Any Man Should Boast

Posted on: 2015-04-19

Primacy of grace

Grace, amazing grace, is what brings every human being to see yet another day. Some people know this and some do not. However, in spite of all science and technology, over and above medical savvy and social amenities, beyond all preventive strategies and security measures, surviving from one day to the next still has a certain mystery to it. What denies many of that sense of mystery and awe is the bad habit of "taking things for granted". David demonstrates full consciousness of that fact when he wrote of God: "I thank you for the wonders of my being" (Ps 139:14) It is that knowledge which makes us recognize the presence of God in everything that happens to us in life and that is grace. It is the root of the realization that the great name  "Emmanuel" is not valid only at Christmas. God was, yesterday, He is, now and He will be in the future. The presence of God is the ultimate grace. If He is present, then everything must be okay, even our trials and tribulations.

The awareness of grace

Truly religious people especially are always aware of grace in their lives and feel compelled to proclaim it. "'Thank you Jesus', have you said it today?" is one of the messages I see on some stickers around town. Saint Paul wrote in the Bible: "Brethren, God who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) and raised us up with him and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus". (Ephes. 2:4-10). The same message is emphasized in the second stanza of that most beloved hymn of Christendom, "Amazing Grace". It runs: "Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved. Tis grace that brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home". Everyone ought to pray for the awareness of God's grace, for grace makes every favor sweeter and every burden lighter.

Lessons about grace

The valuable lesson of grace encapsulated in what the Church teaches, is that no one comes by himself to holiness or to greatness. God it is who calls us first and human beings only respond to that divine impulse. In fact, there is no such thing as a "self-made man" or "a self-made woman". These expressions derive only from literary flamboyance. That is a fact emphatically established by Jesus Christ himself: "No one can come to me unless my father draw him" (Jn. 6:68).  He also said: "I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (Jn 14:6). So, either way to the Father or to Jesus, man is aided. This has great implications for the discerning. All good things come from God and to Him everyone must pay homage at all times.

The workings of grace

The conduct and texture of all human life depend largely therefore on the understanding or ignorance of the reality of grace. Those who understand the role of grace in life have a deep sense of gratitude to God for everything, no matter how hard they have worked. They always thus feel they owe something to the Giver of all good things. People who, on the other hand, are ignorant of grace or who undermine its role have a diminished sense of gratitude and an exaggerated sense of self-accomplishment. Though they may deny it they betray the feeling that God, and the world, owe them much. It is such that even their attitude to prayer and other activities of life are affected. Such hearts can hardly accommodate God. The wit of Dwight L. Moody readily comes to mind here. He said: "God has two thrones, one in the highest heavens, the other in the lowliest heart" Perhaps it is for that reason that the psalmist declared of God: "a humbled contrite heart, oh Lord you will not spurn" (Ps. 51).

The "grace effect" justifies

 One parable of Jesus' which reveals the "grace effect" is about two men who went into the Temple to pray. The one, a Pharisee, prayed by telling God all the good he had done to "bribe" God into doing him some good, obviously in return for his arrogant goodness. The other, a Tax-collector on the other hand, stood afar off. He prayed by telling God, "be merciful to me , a sinner". He obviously knew that he had enjoyed God's grace and felt he owed God gratitude and allegiance. The Scriptures tell us the latter went home justified rather than the former, "for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Lk. 18: 9-14). Christ told the parable to instruct people who trust in themselves that they are righteous and despised others.

Why boast in thyself?

For us who are alive and thriving today let us not boast in our know-how and capacity. Fourteen thousand Nigerians have died through Boko Haram insurgency alone. So many other tragedies have killed or crippled many more and much evil happens to good people around. It  remains a mystery beyond the grasp of the human mind, why they are affected and we, not. Grace is the Christian explanation for such, lest any man should boast. A keener awareness of this could help even our politicians who are the focus of all eyes now as the general elections of the country draw near. Lent bids us acknowledge the role of God's grace in every life and reap the reward of Saint Augustine's thought: "Pride changes angels to devils; humility changes humans into angels".