Our society is obsessed by measuring. Our children sit more exams than anywhere else in Europe. Once at work we are subjected to staff reviews and performance targets. Schools, and increasingly everything else, are assessed by league tables. 'Are you measuring up?' we are constantly asked.
All this begs the question, are we measuring up to God's standards? Ask people what Christianity is all about and it will not be long before they come up with the Ten Commandments - are we measuring up to all those 'Thou shalt nots'?
However one of the themes of Paul's letters is that we don't need to, and indeed can't, measure up to God's standards such that God is obliged to accept us. For Paul, we are put right with God, not by living up to God's standards, but by faith is Jesus Christ. Touse Paul's terminology, we are saved by grace.
The Greek word translated 'grace' is sometimes translated as 'gift.' It can also mean to find favour with - to be accepted by the friendly disposition from which kindness proceeds. God's grace is his unconditional acceptance of us.
'Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter in it,' Jesus told those trying to prevent parents form bringing little children to him.
For small children life is simple. They rely on their parents to provide what they need and never wonder about whether or not they are valued. They never worry about how to earn their parents favour, indeed there is no possible way that they could. They take life as it comes, and their membership of a loving family as read. If anything isn't quite right, a quick w-a-a-h will soon have mum or dad come running.
Accepting God's favour
In a sense, our relationship with God should mirror that of a small child with its parents. This acceptance, this grace of God, is always available to us whatever happens and whatever we do.
As we travel through life, we can feel distant from God. Perhaps we feel we have fallen short of what God requires or that God would not want anything to do with us. But the experience of people across the centuries, is that whenever we turn back to God, we will find acceptance, kindness and graciousness.
This is the essence of the Gospel inaugurated by Jesus and expounded by Paul. That is not to say that our behaviour is irrelevant, that what we say and do does not matter to God, nor that all those rules are redundant. Far from it. But living in accordance with the way God says is best for us is a response to his love for us not a means of earning it. We cannot with any degree of integrity believe in Jesus and then take absolutely no notice of what he commands. But let us realise that our basic acceptance by God is not dependent on how successful we are in keeping those commands, our acceptance by God is by grace, a gift and all we need to do is to believe in Jesus and receive that wonderful gift.