Crossroads: Rules vs. Grace

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Romans 4:13-25

My Story

I love lists. I make to-do lists, grocery lists, lists of things to clean, etc. Whatever it is, if I can make it into a list, I probably have. There’s something about checking things off a list, signifying that that task is done and it’s time to move on. It’s tempting to make the Christian life into a list. Bible read, check. Volunteer at a homeless shelter, check. Tithe, check. Sometimes I feel like it would be easier if I could just have a list for how to follow God. But the thing about that list is that it’s been tried before. And the people failed, miserably. The Torah was what the Jewish people used to follow God before Jesus came. There are 613 laws to follow in the Torah. 248 of these are positive (do this…) and the rest are negative commandments (do NOT do this…). Talk about a long list! With all of those rules, I’m sure to break one somewhere and possibly not even know it. But that’s the thing about lists. They are straightforward and leave no room for grace. You cleaned your house on the Sabbath because it was the only day you could? Sorry, you broke that rule. You wore polyester? You broke another rule. That’s why Romans 4:13-25 is such good news. We don’t have to follow those 613 laws. And when we mess up (which we inevitably will), God’s grace is there for us. And that is great news!

Your Story

Are you a rule follower or a rule breaker? Talk to your children about a time in your life when you either tried really hard to follow the rules but failed, or when you broke a rule but were given grace.

The Bible Story

Read Romans 4:13-25. The Message: That famous promise God gave Abraham—that he and his children would possess the earth—was not given because of something Abraham did or would do. It was based on God’s decision to put everything together for him, which Abraham then entered when he believed. If those who get what God gives them only get it by doing everything they are told to do and filling out all the right forms properly signed, that eliminates personal trust completely and turns the promise into an ironclad contract! That’s not a holy promise; that’s a business deal. A contract drawn up by a hard-nosed lawyer and with plenty of fine print only makes sure that you will never be able to collect. But if there is no contract in the first place, simply a promise—and God’s promise at that—you can’t break it. This is why the fulfillment of God’s promise depends entirely on trusting God and his way, and then simply embracing him and what he does. God’s promise arrives as pure gift. That’s the only way everyone can be sure to get in on it, those who keep the religious traditions and those who have never heard of them. For Abraham is father of us all. He is not our racial father—that’s reading the story backward. He is our faith father. We call Abraham “father” not because he got God’s attention by living like a saint, but because God made something out of Abraham when he was a nobody. Isn’t that what we’ve always read in Scripture, God saying to Abraham, “I set you up as father of many peoples”? Abraham was first named “father” and then became a father because he dared to trust God to do what only God could do: raise the dead to life, with a word make something out of nothing. When everything was hopeless, Abraham believed anyway, deciding to live not on the basis of what he saw he couldn’t do but on what God said he would do. And so he was made father of a multitude of peoples. God himself said to him, “You’re going to have a big family, Abraham!” Abraham didn’t focus on his own impotence and say, “It’s hopeless. This hundred-year-old body could never father a child.” Nor did he survey Sarah’s decades of infertility and give up. He didn’t tiptoe around God’s promise asking cautiously skeptical questions. He plunged into the promise and came up strong, ready for God, sure that God would make good on what he had said. That’s why it is said, “Abraham was declared fit before God by trusting God to set him right.” But it’s not just Abraham; it’s also us! The same thing gets said about us when we embrace and believe the One who brought Jesus to life when the conditions were equally hopeless. The sacrificed Jesus made us fit for God, set us right with God.

God knows that we could never follow every rule or do everything exactly right. We are imperfect creatures, and our best will always fall short of God. BUT God promised us that we are His children, that He would love us no matter what, and that Jesus’ sacrifice means that we can be God’s friend forever. Grace sets us free from being buried in lists, from the anxiety that comes from never being able to follow all of the rules exactly right. Our faith makes us righteous in God’s eyes, not our ability to complete to-do lists.

Discussion

• Talk to your family about why rules are important (keep us safe, healthy, teach us responsibility, etc.), but also remind your children that it’s okay that they mess up sometimes—we all break rules occasionally.
• Ask your children to talk about how they feel about following rules—is it easy or hard? Then have them talk about a time when they broke a rule but were given grace instead of punishment.

Prayer

• Thank God for grace, for not giving us the punishment we deserve but for keeping His promise.
• Ask God for help with remembering that good deeds and following the rules are important, but not more important than believing that God will do what He said.

Jessica Asbell is currently serving as the Minister to Children at First Baptist Church of Roswell, GA. She has worked with children in various capacities at several churches, including Winter Park Baptist in Wilmington, NC, First Baptist of Decatur, GA, and Highland Hills Baptist in Macon, GA. She has a Master of Divinity from McAfee School of Theology and a BBA from Mercer University. In her spare time she loves to read, watch movies, and of course spend time with her sweet kitty, Lucy.

Kevin Head began serving as Minister to Young Families at First Baptist Roswell, Georgia, in February 2012. He has pastored three churches in Kentucky and more recently served as Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church, Lumberton, North Carolina. In 2007, Kevin and his wife, Amy, began a ministry-based counseling practice called New Perspectives for Life in East Cobb, Georgia. He is a graduate of Furman University (B.A.) and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Ph.D., M.Div.) in Louisville, Kentucky. Kevin was ordained by the First Baptist Church of Belvedere, South Carolina. His model of ministry is based on John 8 and the amazing, continual grace of Jesus Christ. Kevin and Amy have two children, Jenna and Joshua.

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