Recently I had an opportunity to be a part of something that felt like the beginning of a bad joke – a Baptist, a Lutheran, a Presbyterian, a Roman Catholic, and a non-traditional denomination guy walk into a cathedral . . . We were meeting in order to talk about our theologies and were they might be similar or different.
One of the surprising areas that we found ourselves in different camps on was on the question of if a person can reject the free gift of grace won for them on the cross. People that come from the Reformed tradition (Presbyterians, someBaptists, etc) who are the heirs to the theology of a guy named John Calvin normally will say that you cannot reject God’s grace. Instead, their explanation of someone who appears to be a Christian but then goes and says “I’m an atheist now!” is that they were never truly Christian to begin with.
Lutherans don’t really go there. We believe that in stories like the story of Judas in Scripture, that Judas actually was someone who believed in Jesus and was allotted a ministry with the disciples, even though God foreknew that Judas was going to betray and reject Jesus. We believe that you can reject grace and, sadly, that is how people become enemies of God.
Roman Catholics also believe that you can reject God’s grace, but in a different way from Lutherans. They believe that you reject God’s grace through *any* “mortal” sin (their category, not ours). We see sins as equal, no matter their intent or “severity” – and so the only “unforgivable” sin in our theology is the rejection of the power of God – which we think is what Jesus is alluding to when He talks about “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit”.
Unfortunately, it appears that this was the sin that Judas committed, the sin of rejecting God and His forgiving power into your life. I have a favorite line from a Tom Waits song called “Down There By the Train” that I’ve always argued should be included in a Lutheran hymn book, the whole song is great, but especially this line: “There’s no eye for an eye, there’s no tooth for a tooth, I saw Judas Iscariot carrying John Wilkes Booth . . .” (listen to the whole song here:https://youtu.be/rxIG2msJ7ow ) The thing I love about this line is the thought that maybe Judas repented sometime and believed in God’s forgiveness even for him – even if it was on the fall down the space between the beginning and end of the noose, and how that could be a testament to us desperate sinners looking for grace, sinners like John Wilkes Booth and Jay Winters who some days feel like their sins are just too much for God.
We believe that you can reject God, but — and this is an important “but” — God will never reject your faith in Him. Live into that grace. Be the Judas who carrying John Wilkes Booth “down there by the train” to the pool of Baptismal waters to be washed in the blood of the lamb.