Grace In The Shadows

BY RJ GRUNEWALD

On the television show Portlandia—a satirical comedy centered on hipster culture in Portland, Oregon—one episode highlights a conversation between the characters as Carrie and Alexandra look through Fred’s endless photo album of the places he’s traveled. Fred says, “Everyone on the Internet? They’re not having as great a time as you think they are.” Carrie then comments to herself: “I guess people are just cropping out all the sadness.”

We’ve become experts at hiding.

We filter our lives and crop out the sadness so that everybody sees a version of us that has everything together. We don’t tell people we have a problem, we aren’t honest about our struggles, and we do whatever it takes to cover our muddy tracks.

This is the unwritten law of social media: show the best version of your life and hide the mess.

This doesn’t just happen on social media though. We do it all the time, in every aspect of our lives. For instance, when I’m in a small group talking about difficulties, I’ll share some struggles so that I appear vulnerable, but I don’t share the real stuff. I find a way to crop out the really bad stuff. Or I’ll make a confession to my wife or a friend because I know that I should. But the entire time I’m trying to be honest, I still try to avoid being completely honest. I can’t name the sin. I minimize the significance of it. I justify why I do what I do. In other words, I try to crop out the reality of the sin, and I put a filter on it to make it look better.

Luther’s explanation of the beginning passage in Romans makes it clear that God exposes us when we are in hiding. Yet He does so not to end us, but to give us a new beginning.

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of His name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,

To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 1:1–7)

LUTHER EXPLAINS THIS IN HIS COMMENTARY:

The chief purpose of this letter is to break down, to pluck up, and to destroy all wisdom and righteousness of the flesh. This includes all the works which in the eyes of people or even in our own eyes may be great works. No matter whether these works are done with a sincere heart and mind, this letter is to arm and state and magnify sin, no matter how much someone insists that it does not exist, or that it was believed not to exist.

For when we consider [our righteousness and wisdom] base in our own eyes, it will be easy for us not to worry about the criticism and praise of others, as God tells us through Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:10): “To pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow,” namely, everything that is within us . . . “to build and to plant,” namely, everything that is outside of us and is in Christ.

God does not want to redeem us through our own, but through external, righteousness and wisdom; not through [righteousness] that comes from us and grows in us, but through one that comes to us from the outside; not through one that originates here on earth, but through one that comes from heaven. Therefore, we must be taught a righteousness that comes completely from the outside and is foreign.

When we’ve been exposed for who we really are, the Gospel exposes to us the One outside of us, who gives Himself to us. As we sulk in hiding, we turn inward and are consumed with nothing but shame and guilt. But when we look outward, it is Christ, working outside of and unconditionally for us, who covers over everything that we want to keep hidden.

Listen to how Luther says it: “Christ wants our whole disposition to be so stripped down that we are . . . unafraid of being embarrassed for our faults and also do not delight in the glory and vain joys of our virtues.”

Grace meets you in the shadows and calls you out of hiding.

We don’t need to be embarrassed of our faults and failures, because Jesus loves us despite all our faults and failures. We don’t need to cover up all our sins, because Jesus died to cover over them. We do not need to pretend we’ve got it all together, because Jesus didn’t come for people who’ve got it together. Jesus came for the people who are a mess—the broken, the ashamed, and the hurting. 


This is an excerpt from the book Reading Romans With Luther By RJ Grunewald

RJ Grunewald is a Vicar at Faith Lutheran Church in Troy, Michigan, serving in the student ministry and as a part of the preaching team.  He is also attending Concordia Seminary in St. Louis through their distance education program. RJ is a theology nerd who loves books and sermons by dead guys. But as a writer and a preacher, he passionately believes that theology isn’t just meant for the academics and dead guys but it is for everyday life. He has a free, grace-filled book on addiction that you can download today, Addiction: Leaving the Vomit Behind. RJ has been married to his wife Jessica since 2007 and they have 2 kids, Elijah and Emaline.

Follow @RJgrune