So what does it mean? This almost paradox of forgiveness can wrack your brain at first. We know we don't deserve it, but we know it's good to have, so how can we have it? Well, let's start from the start.
The origins of Christianity are interesting to say the least. We were prophesied about ages ago. Paul talks about this in Romans 9-11. It's odd to take in given that our culture is so vastly different from the Hebrew culture, but if you know just a little about the religion of Judaism, you can start to see the picture a little bit more clearly.
Hebrew faith was established on a sacrificial system. There was a law for just about everything. It's interesting to see, though, that even though there was a law, that was just a part of the text that the Hebrews followed. There was also something called "the prophets," which are certain Hebrew texts that do a couple of things: 1) speak to the culture at that time about something God was going to do with them at that time and 2) speak to anyone who happened to read that text about something to come in the future. I'm thinking about the latter rather than the former.
Firstly, I think about how Jesus said that He didn't come to "destroy the law, but to fulfill it." So that meant that there was something that the Hebrews were missing. Paul doesn't really talk about how Jesus fulfills "the law" here, but he does mention some things that "the prophets" said, namely about the true identity of "Israel" in the greater purpose of salvation.
The Old Testament (everything the Hebrews wrote before the birth of Jesus) is filled to the maximum with stories of how the descendants of Abraham strayed from the Lord then followed Him, then strayed then followed again. It's not an unfamiliar pattern. We've all been guilty of that at some point and would be lying if we denied it. We should not, however, expect any less as a consequence of this pattern than a redirection of attention.
This is what God did with Israel. Did He ignore them, forsake them, condemn them? No way, but He certainly didn't force them into subservience! He more or less just... expanded. Israel went through periods of idolatry and rigid law. Inevitably the latter won, and they devoted themselves to righteousness by the law. After all, the law is what they had. It stood firm through the desert, through the idolatry. It had been faithful, but had they been faithful? No. They had been legal, and it became a problem.
A person can only go so far by their own means. Sure, effort is great! The scriptures say that God is a fan of us trying to be more like Him, but this effect is not achieved by works alone. Eventually, everyone gets tired. Everyone has their breaking point, their Achilles heel, that one thing that will bring them down no matter what, but God is stronger that your strongest weakness -- pretty sure that's a quote, but I'm not sure who said it first.
After several periods of forced migration by external powers, the idolatry and evil that Israel seemed so keen on began to subside, replaced by a more strict adherence to the law of the land, but it wasn't in the sense that they wanted to obey it, but out of a sense of not repeating history by being "good enough," which is impossible because none of us are perfect, and furthermore drove the nation into a very discriminatory and caste-like mode of religion, which is what happens when man believes he is perfect when he is not, when he exalts himself to a state of mind that is higher than his state of heart. By buying into a belief that salvation can be earned, they made these words relevant:
5 Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: “The person who does these things will live by them.” 6 But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: 9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
That is how forgiveness takes root. It is there for free. You only have to call on Him. It may be difficult at first, but if there is anyone out there and still with us whom we can trust, it's Jesus. Make an effort to trust, and trust Him with your efforts. Abraham had no tangible basis by which to listen to the voice that told him to search for a land that was promised to him for generations upon generations, yet he did it because he trusted. The promise that he was given was a promise of something greater. Not only was that promise fulfilled, but it continues to be fulfilled and one day will be completed when we reach the "promised land" of heaven. Through the Spirit which dwells in us by faith, our efforts are given new life. We're never going to perfect, but we will always be forgiven, and we will always be growing, led by the best of the best, the king of kings.
It was in God's plan all along for salvation to be for more than just one culture. "Israel" isn't just a country or a heritage or a culture or a religion: Israel is a choice, a faith, forgiveness, grace. It was meant for everyone, but the only way for Israel to turn back to the way of living by faith and not by self-righteousness was to see the offer of grace and forgiveness come to others. It was Paul's wish as well that they would come back to the way of faith, and the only way that it could happen is through envy. The kicker there is that nobody -- and I mean NOBODY -- is required to envy because grace is a free gift from a God who doesn't speak the language of discrimination against color, heritage, gender -- NOTHING.
That's the beauty of it. We're all in this together. This world and its promises are not permanent, and that can be seen in our governments, in our cultures, in our choices, in our coinage, and in our caskets. If you have a chance to make someone's day better, do it. If someone needs defending, do it. Love. Love. Love. Love like Jesus loved. Knowing how fleeting life is, why not give it away? Why not share it? There is so much love inside a heart, be it buried, be it on the surface, be it both. It was meant to leave the body, and that's why I feel like a shaken soda bottle when I'm not singing, when I'm not with my friends, when I'm not working, when I'm not making new friends, when I'm not going to new places, learning new things, learning from old things... I'm simply saying that EVERYTHING is a chance to love the way Jesus loved and tell someone about the love He has for us -- and yes, He still has it because my God is NOT dead: He is 100% ALIVE. I don't know if you, readers, trust Jesus or even believe Jesus, and making you believe isn't in my modus operundi, but I encourage you regardless of your faith to take this in and ask yourself, "Who is Jesus, how does this all work, and is this worth believing?" You won't be disappointed. :)
Thanks for reading, again. Like I've said before, I'm no theologian, but I am human, and I can only say what I've seen and heard. If there is anything I haven't made clear, or if you have questions about what I believe, why it's so important to me, feel free to comment or email, and do the same if you simply have something to say. I always welcome both old and new friends. Until next time. :)