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Sunday, March 01, 2015

Works or Grace?

Paul writes,
And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work. (Romans 11:6 KJV)
For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: (Ephesians 2:8 KJV)
Then James seem to contradict him with the rejoinder that,
You see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. (James 2:24 KJV)
In light of this, Joseph Mizzi, writes, in opposition to what he perceives to be Catholic doctrine by taking a broadside at the former Pope, Benedict XVI by accusing him of substituting the works of faith for the works of the Law and thereby effectively negating the necessity for sola Grace altogether. In other words, according Benedict XVI, Mizzi says,
Thus when Paul says that we are not justified by the works of the Law, he was really saying that we are not justified by the Law of Moses, but he does not exclude that we are justified by the works of love.
“That’s the Pope’s argument in a nutshell,” writes Mizzi. “The Pope,” he continues,
“Rightly points out that in his epistles Paul discusses the division between Jews and Gentiles, and that now all believers are united in Christ irrespective of the ethnic background. But that was not his only concern. Paul also addresses the universal human tendency to self-righteousness, that is, our attempts to gain favor with God on account of personal works and merits.
That’s not all, Mizzi, continues,
The Law of Moses served the purpose of keeping God’s covenant people, Israel, distinct from pagan idolatry, as the Pope said. But the moral aspects of the law, whether written on tablets of stone or on the human conscience, also served to expose our depravity, guilt and helplessness. ‘Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin’ (Romans 3:20).
Moreover Paul could not have limited the concept of ‘works of the Law’ to the Torah. He presented the Patriarch Abraham as the primary witness to his doctrine. He wrote:

What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness. (Romans 4:1-5).
Thus, Mizzi concludes, that
In this context ‘works’ could not refer exclusively to obedience of the Torah, for Abraham lived many centuries before Moses. It is therefore wrong to force Paul’s concept of ‘works of the Law’ exclusively to the Law of Moses. Clearly Paul applies the same principle to works in general. Abraham could not boast before God because he was justified faith and not by works. The same applies to us all.
This argument would be convincing, indeed, if, however, the former Pope had advocated works without grace can save us. This he did not. All he was saying was that neither faith nor works operate in a vacuum—Grace, God’s grace, is foundational to all.

In that regards it should be said that each time the former Pope or any other theologian expresses an opinion on matters of faith, it is not necessary to include an elementary introduction to presumed beliefs.  Grace, and the doctrine thereof being one of those.

Now, what Benedict XVI may have been alluding to is prevenient grace which according to the Cornelius paradigm is that affirmed when—
Peter opened his mouth, and said, "‘Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that fears him, and works righteousness, is accepted with him.’” (Acts 10:34-35)
Now, that’s a pretty hard one for Mizzi to wiggle himself out of; since, it should be said, God’s grace is operative here also, as I am convinced Benedict XVI would agree.

Monday, February 09, 2015

How's God's grace, working for you?

In my last correspondence, I mention that it was my belief that salvation is a process, rather than a kind of quickie—similar, I would say to a Las Vegas marriage. Just say the right words, go through the act, and whoopee! — we’re married with all the rights pertaining thereunto. Commitment? Yes, for sure; but you know a man can be tempted, but I’ll not cross those bridges until I get there. Right now, I’m in love. Surprisingly, some of these marriages do work out, but the majority don’t.

Conversion can be that way. I like to think of this as what I call “decisional regeneration.” A person accepts Christ, say at a highly emotional revival meeting when some preacher scares the daylights out of them, and then offers a remedy. Just step forward, brother. God is here to meet you at the altar. Accept him as your personal savior, and the rest is as good as history because there is absolutely no way you can ever lose your salvation. Once saved, always saved. It in the Bible. Believe it. That all you need.

Now, permit me the privilege of not splitting the fine hairs between Calvinism and Arminianism, and just simply say this—neither side believe that just mouthing the words, or going through the actions will ever save anyone. Both sides agree that the proof is in the walk; that is, what takes place afterwards.

Now, I can’t speak for the Calvinists, because that is simply not my tradition or theological position, but I can speak from my perspective. And, from my perspective, I think the Bible makes it perfectly clear that good works is all part of the package. No, good works cannot save us, only God can do that. I’ll take you one step farther, too, neither can your baptism, nor by reciting some creed. Only God can save you; and He will. But, you must do your part.

Perhaps, I can best illustrate it this way: I taught at two fine institutions--one, North Central University in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the other in North Dakota called Trinity. In both of the schools, each had a student to die before graduation, one in a car accident, and the other with cancer. Neither had completed their course work; however, when graduation time came both were awarded their degrees posthumously. They had been faithful to the best of their abilities right up to the end, and were rewarded as such. Had either of them dropped out or flunked, neither would have received the degree, but since, however, such was not the case, both were posthumously granted the degrees.

I would suggest that, perhaps God operates similarly. So, as the journey continues; so does our commitment.

Yours for a better journey!


Sunday, January 25, 2015

How are your choices working for you?

Life is all about choices, isn’t it?

Who we marry. What career we choose. Even, how we dress ourselves. In each case a choice must be made, if we wish to progress in life. To choose to not choose is still a choice, isn’t it?

Why must we make these choices?

Well, the simple (and the right) explanation is that this is the way God has structured the world. Now, granted, sometimes our choices are limited; but, nonetheless, a limited choice is nevertheless a choice. The same principle applies when we have no choice—as when we are terminally ill, or permanently crippled, we still have a choice to accept the inevitable with grace, or to grow bitter and resentful.

Even Jesus himself had to make choices —first as God, and later as a human being. Paul reminds of this in Philippians 2:7 where he writes that—
“[Jesus] emptied himself and took on the very nature of a servant.” (Phil. 2:7)
For most of us, switching roles as Christ did, is something that we can hardly comprehend. I guess about the closest that we can come to the scenario is found in a work of fiction written by Mark Twain, called The Prince and the Pauper.

Briefly, the story is about a prince who discovers he has a look alike that just happens to be a young pauper, a boy that hangs around the palace gates. They become friends, and switch roles. Years go by, as the prince roams the country side, and lives the hard life of a pauper. Eventually, the king dies and the prince returns to claim the throne. Which, after a bit of drama, he did; and everyone lived happily thereafter.

Although, there are obvious inadequacies in the similarities between the Prince and the Pauper and Jesus’ decisive role, nonetheless, we get the picture.

His was a choice. Not a self-serving choice, but one of sacrifice, and yes, humility.  

The truth is, the courts of Heaven were his, rightfully his to be sure. Yet, he chose to empty himself, put aside those rights and serve and suffer as a simple servant.

Since Jesus was human, his life in many ways parellels ours; and there comes a point in all of our lives when the stakes are high, and we, too, must choose between what is rightfully ours and that of becoming a servant.

Unfortunately, often we confuse the necessities of life—that which is ‘rightfully ours’ with the pleasures of life, and our needs subtly morph into greed; and unlike old wine, greed does not improve with age. 

Now, mind you, greed comes in all shapes and forms. The most severe form - and harmful at that - is documented in a series on A&E called “The Hoarders,” which portrays the real-life struggles and treatment of people who suffer from compulsive hoarding.

‘That’s not greed’ I hear someone protest, that’s a mental illness. True, but chances are it did not start out that way, it developed over time. And, furthermore, if it is not a choice they make—compulsive or not; why then do they respond to counseling intervention? Really in some ways these poor souls are no worse off than billionaires cutting billion dollar contracts and amassing manipulative fortunes that can even make congress dance to their tune. Nothing satisfies them. There’s never enough. Nothing wrong with wealth, mind you. But, we will, however, be judged on how well we manage our resources. ‘To whom must is given, much is required’ is as true today as it was the day Jesus spoke the words.

So, life is all about choices, isn’t it? These decisions never stop, either. Choices will lead the way through life, either for the good or the bad.

God judges our decisions, too. Contrary to the attitude that most of us take, He is pretty serious about it, too. Jesus said,

But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. Matthew 12:36 (KJV)
May God give us both the courage and the wisdom to make the right choices in life. In that regards, we often criticize the wantonness of youth, and loath the mistakes of others, forgetting that we, too, must give account for every idle word, or gossip snidbit, or couch potato hour that we spend surfing the internet or flicking through the channels on television.

There's work to be done, if you are physically able, and then there is still no excuse. Prayer is always an availble opportunity. Not only will it draw us closer to God, but it will mellow our attitudes, and make us a whole lot easier to get along with in the long run.

The choice is ours.

Booked and ready to go.
Continue to pray!