Thursday, June 23, 2011

Freely Saved or Something Else?

NIV Ephesians 1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will-- 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

From Ephesians 1, I believe God saves us by the grace He freely bestows on rebellious sinners through Christ Jesus (Eph. 1:6). The only other alternative is that I'm required to do something or be something to merit salvation from sin, death, and hell. Tim Keller observes, "Unless you say, 'just because God opened my heart [I believe]', then you have to say that you are a Christian because you are (even slightly) more open, more repentant, more humble."  Either we are given sufficient grace by God for spiritual transformation (that is "conquering grace"/grace alone) or there is something 'good' in the human person that helped us get where we were supposed to go. There are only 2 alternatives to thinking about salvation. Either God freely saves for His glory alone or we allow for some human, secondary force resulting in my salvation (contra Isa. 42:8; Eph. 2:8-9, see also Romans 3:10-18 as a reminder of humanity's sinfulness).

My response: profound humility before God and profound humility before others. I am better than no one. Only by the grace of God am I what I am. There is no good in me, except that which Christ has wrought through His life, death, and resurrection.


Jonathan said...

"I believe God saves us by the grace He freely bestows on rebellious sinners through Christ Jesus."

--Agreed, and Amen.

"The only other alternative is that I'm required to do something or be something to merit salvation from sin, death, and hell".

..but no. In my quiet and probably imperceptible voice, Tim Keller and much of "Reformed" thought has got it wrong here. The logical conclusions of this pattern of theology goes something like this: "therefore, because I do nothing to merit salvation, God saves me through no choice of my own, and damns my neighbor through no choice of his."

While this inference makes for some logical sense, and meshes nicely with passages in the NT which refer to God's predestined people, I prefer to accept the paradox presented in scripture even if it is difficult intellectually: that God's call to all people is universal, specific, and honest in its message--that by believing through faith we are saved, but this belief or faith is not something we can boast in, and is *actually* available to all. It isn't even, strictly speaking, our own [Eph. 2], which makes this truth even more astounding.

Scipture teaches that "I do not merit salvation", but does it teach the idea that belief itself is some worthy act of righteousness or humility? It is exactly that belief that is required of mankind, sought by God, and is the main thrust of our evangelization, teaching and outreach efforts.

But how can I say on the one hand that while I do not merit salvation personally, my belief is some arbitrary "condition" God has set? Let God be God. This is taking Scripture at face value, without construing or building a complex system of theology according to the traditions of a man or council, as is often recorded in the canons and papal bulls of the Roman Catholic church.

The plea found in scripture, I will ineloquently summarize as "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved", doesn't make us any more righteous or moral than the next man, and doesn't merit us anything. God's grace has given us everything we have or ever will have. But it does seem apparant from Scripture that it is this criteria--"belief"--that God uses to separate the sheep from the goats, among perhaps other evidences of faith as found in Matthew 25. That God freely bestows his grace on those who believe should not be confused with the interpretation that "belief" is some kind of good work in and of itself, that merits the believer salvation. God is not indebted to anyone! Salvation is from God alone and is only given by God's grace.

Matt and Carrie Proctor said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Jonathan.