Friday, 12 March 2010

by grace through faith: part 1

Ok, let’s talk about grace and faith.

Grace is often defined as ‘God’s unmerited favour’. That’s alright as far as it goes, the trouble is I doubt that it goes far enough. Grace is not just an attitude of God but a dynamic enabling. It is not positional but active. God’s grace is always on the move never static. When Paul wrote Ephesians he used the phrase God’s ‘great love with which he has loved us’. Eph 2:4-6. I love the phrase. This is not only a statement that God is love or has love but that he loves. Grace is love on the move towards men and women. Grace is missing from the description of love found in Gal 5:22-23 but that is because the whole list is a description of the grace that is God’s enabling power working in men and women.

We cannot state this too strongly, grace is the ‘grace of God’. It is his and his alone. We cannot deserve it no matter how ‘righteous’ our life has been. It is God’s choice not only to favour the undeserving but to show his favour to the undeserving. God’s every relationship with men and women has been and will always be on the basis of his grace. The big divide between Calvinists and non-Calvinists is the nature of that grace. Is it conditioning grace or enabling grace? The Calvinist wants to exalt God above any possibility of man’s self-boasting and declares that God’s work is monergism; that is to say ‘only one is working in salvation’. He is consistent in as much as he gives God 100% of the credit for the process of salvation. The question remains that if salvation is 100% God’s work, does that imply that the unsaved are unsaved because God has not chosen them to be saved? Most Calvinists would be prepared to sign up to this. Consequently most Calvinists see the very beginning of personal salvation as a sovereign act of regeneration that takes place unbidden and unassisted in the heart of the believer. That initial act of regeneration shows itself in awakening, repentance, faith and conversion. In this scenario faith and obedience are direct and inevitable consequences of regeneration. The believer has no more say in the matter that he did in his own physical conception and birth.

This may seem watertight but it opens up some significant questions. If faith, or for that matter any virtue, is the inevitable consequence of a sovereign act of God how can a man be held responsible for ‘not having faith’? There are far too many examples of those who lacked faith receiving rebukes to be ignored and that would seem to point to the fact that at some level they are being held accountable for their lack. If virtue or vice are the consequence of man’s behaviour it seems rational to reward or punish them in some way, but if they are the direct consequence of God’s action or inaction how will God judge those unable to behave any differently. If I tell my child not the eat the biscuits and them place them in some inaccessible place, do I commend him for his virtue in not eating the biscuits? On the other hand if my child has made some choices he must be held accountable for whatever choices he has made. Consequently his virtue or vice will receive its just reward.

We can escape from this dilemma simply be understanding that grace is not conditioning power but enabling power. We are utterly unable to do anything to please God apart from his enabling power but his power is not imposed upon us but offered to us. There can be no salvation without the full hearted consent that the Bible describes as faith. We cannot be saved ‘by faith’ alone, we must be saved ‘by grace through faith’. Only in this can God receive the glory that is his and we receive the consequence of our response to his enabling grace.

7 comments:

kashie said...

Thank you so much for the simple truths. God, in His love relationship, did not take away our will to either accept or reject Him even though we get convicted and converted by His grace. Man still have a choice to make. Even in powerful encounter like that of Paul or in a simple one that happend to me alone in my room.

Thanks once again - Francis Kashimawo - Lagos, Nigeria

kashie said...

Thank you so much for the simple truths. God, in His love relationship, did not take away our will to either accept or reject Him even though we get convicted and converted by His grace. Man still have a choice to make. Even in powerful encounter like that of Paul or in a simple one that happend to me alone in my room.

Thanks once again - Francis Kashimawo - Lagos, Nigeriamyo

香蕉哥哥 said...

nice job! waiting for your new artical. ........................................

David said...

This was very instructive, but you do like to give the Calvinists a bashing. Your third paragraph reminds me much of Paul's Roman letter, which sets forth Gods righteousness. God is not concerned with rewarding mans virtue or punishing his vice or rebuking those who lacked faith - as you put it. But Paul write in chapter 3 'For what if some did not believe? Shall their unbelief make the FAITH OF GOD without effect? God forbid; yea let God be true and every man a liar' And further 'Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance?. God forbid. For how shall God judge the world'.

Then in chapter 9, vs 18 to 20 Paul writes' Therefore hath He mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he pardoneth. Thou (Ron) wilt say unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted His will? Nay but , O man, who art thou that replies against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?'

But most clearly of all in the wonderful chapter 8. vs 29 and 30 'For whom He did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that He might be the firstborn amongst many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them also he called, and whom he called, them also he justified, and whom he justified, them also he glorified'.

What a wonderful, complete salvation, all from God.

I am not a calvinist, I just believe what the word says.

Ron Bailey said...

you have no idea how restrained I am in my comments on Calvinism. I never give Calvinists a bashing, I have too many Calvinist friends, but I am quite convinced that Calvinism in founded on some basic errors of Bible interpretation. ;-)

Ruth said...

I think we often forget that right from the beginning Gods words were actively creative. When He said 'Let there be...' or 'Let us make...' it actually happened. So when He talks about the gifts of grace and (His) faith these have creative impetus towards us. No wonder a word to the dead, physically or spiritually has the potential to bring about life.

PS. When I read about what Calvin got up to when he had a whole city to deal with, I went off him and his theology big-time!

Ron Bailey said...

God's word to sentient beings takes on another dimension, that of man's likeness to God in his responsibility to choose. God said 'Let there be light and there was light'. But appearance of the light was not 'obedience' but simple consequence of God's sovereignly declared will. The 'light' did not acquire virtue by nature of its appearance; it did not have accountability.

Angels and men are different. Their obedience is commended and their disobedience is condemned. WIthout personal accountability there can be no meaning to the word 'virtue'.