Her Name is Grace
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. -Romans 3:23-24
Read Romans 3:21-26
Grace, she takes the blame, she covers the shame
Removes the stain — it could be her name
Grace… it’s a name for a girl
It’s also a thought that changed the world
She travels outside of karma, outside of karma
What once was hurt, what once was friction
What left a mark, no longer stings
Because Grace makes beauty out of ugly things
Grace makes beauty out of ugly things
— U2, “Grace”
I like the band U2, and so I was intrigued when the lead singer Bono gave a book-length interview to journalist Michka Assayas.
In the middle of the expected quotes about his rise to prominence and the rigors of road life there’s an intriguing exchange about grace! Assayas, not a Christian, asks Bono about his reputation for spirituality, and Bono answers, “The thing that keeps me on my knees is the difference between grace and karma.” He continues:
At the center of all religions is the idea of karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth; or in physics, every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. The whole universe operates on karma, on reaping what is sown. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that… which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff. I’d be in big trouble if karma was going to finally be my judge. It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.
At this point his interviewer says, “The Son of God who takes away the sins of the world? I wish I could believe in that.”
And Bono replies, “But I love the idea of the Sacrificial Lamb. The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world, so that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death. That’s the point. It should keep us humbled… It’s not our own good works that get us through the gates of heaven.” (From Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas, Riverhead Books)
That’s precisely the theme of today’s Scripture reading. It’s literally a universal law that any action requires an equal and opposite reaction, and it applies spiritually in this way: Payment is required for our debt of sin.
You could call it “karmic” debt if you like, but the point is that there are echoes of our choices; in some way we can never fully understand, this sin-debt cannot simply be wished away. The scales must be balanced. As Bono says, it’s a principle repeated in many world religions and etched on our very consciences.
And here’s the really great news. The Bible says God Himself pays the debt: Jesus took the punishment for our sins. This is how God balances the scales, how He can be “both just, and the One who justifies…” (Romans 3:26) I love that beautiful phrase! Only God has both the power and authority to be simultaneously the One who is the source of all justice, and the One who justifies everyone who comes to Him. The sacrificial death of God Incarnate on the cross is the brilliant way He is able to be both merciful and holy at the same time.
Grace is free to us, but only because God is the One who paid the price. As you’ll see tomorrow, Paul riffs on that concept for the rest of Romans, blown away by grace.
What do you think the typical man-on-the-street understands better: Karma or grace? Why? How would you explain the difference between the two concepts?
How would you explain how God is able to be “both just, and the One who justifies”?
Express to God how thankful you are that He Himself balanced the scales by paying your debt!