“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” – Ephesians 2:8-9
Katharina Schűtz Zell got stuff done. When the rights of certain people to marry came under attack, she led with her life, entering into a new kind of marriage that put both her and her spouse in danger. When refugees fled from the violence in other cities, she took them in and organized others in her town to harbor them as well. When dissidents with whom she disagreed were sent to prison, she visited them and sent them notes of encouragement.
In writing and in conversation, Zell reminded everyone she met that God’s saving love was a gift of grace, never needing to be earned. But in her own heart, she often doubted and worried, wondering what more she could do to earn her place in salvation.
Katharina Schűtz Zell was born, as near as we can tell, in 1498. Some things are different. Unlike in her time, clergy marriage in many parts of Christendom is free from scandal. But Zell’s struggle is a timeless one.
I’m writing to you right now to tell you that grace is a gift freely given. Yet I woke this morning and will likely awake tomorrow convicted that I must somehow earn God’s love anyway. The Ephesians must have worried too. Otherwise why would they need a letter assuring them plainly that they had been “saved through faith”?
Maybe you, too, struggle to be assured that grace is boundless and that you are sufficient just as you are. If so, take heart. You are not alone. I am with you. Katharina Schutz Zell is with you. The people of Ephesus are with you. And God, no matter what, is with you.
Sola gratia. By grace alone.
Jennifer Brownell is the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Vancouver, Washington, and the author of Swim, Ride, Run, Breathe: How I Lost a Triathlon and Caught My Breath, her inspiring memoir.