And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. – Ephesians 2:1-10

As August winds down and as the State Fair wraps up, that means one thing is coming (especially in Minnesota): school! Growing up, I always enjoyed school. I enjoyed learning, doing the various readings, and meeting new people. In college and at Seminary, I enjoyed being able to take classes that actually interested me. At Concordia Wisconsin, I recall being able to take a history class on Western Warfare, which was the same class that was taught at West Point. I also liked taking classes from professors who were well-known and renowned in their fields. At Seminary, I remember taking a class on Jeremiah from Dr. Wenthe, a professor who has written a commentary on the book and who will be finishing a second one on it. I always enjoyed school.

However, there were two things that I did not always like about it: the stress and grades. I never was a bad student at school, nor did I ever get bad grades. In fact, I often got good ones. Despite that, the pressure and work to get an “A” can be intense. I remember many nights of probably “over studying” to make sure that I would get an “A” on a test or final. I remember the many hours of work that would go into a paper, and then getting nervous to see what grade I would get. The worrying would seem to be for nothing.

Being graded is a normal part of life though. We are graded and evaluated by our performance not just at a place like school, but in our work or social lives as well. Our status and standing at work is determined by how well we perform and by how our boss or supervisor may “grade” us. At home, we can be “graded” as a spouse, parent, grandparent, sibling, friend, cousin, or neighbor strictly by what we do.

We even see the same in our spiritual life. When we compare ourselves and our lives against God’s Commandments, we see that we get a failing grade. We don’t even come close to passing, even if God would round up or grade on a curve.

Fortunately, when it comes to our salvation and relationship with God, it is not based on what we do, but rather what He does. Paul makes that clear in Ephesians 2. He says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…” If you didn’t see Paul’s point here, he repeats it again a few verses later. He says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

We are saved not by what we do, but rather by what Jesus has done for us: He died and rose again for us. He saved us when we were dead in our trespasses, when we had a “failing grade.” We are saved by His grace, not by our “grade” or works. Jesus’ righteousness and merits are given and applied to us. God sees us as righteous in His sight and not as sinners who deserve condemnation. Our salvation is accomplished and certain. We don’t need to fear about that, or doubt it. In Christ, you have a passing grade.

~Pastor Nick Kooi

(Originally published in Emmaus Footprints, Vol. XIX, Number 2, September 2017)