Friday, August 29, 2014

Saved by Grace - Manifested in Both Faith AND Works

C.S. Lewis wrote how the question of what leads one to Heaven, works or faith, was like "asking which blade in a pair of scissors is [more] necessary." His words came back to me as I sat down to write about my recent meditation on Paul's words to the Ephesians:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God— not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:8-10).
We enter into a saving relationship with God through God’s grace and the gift of faith.[1] It is a gift. Nothing we did beforehand could ever merit such a stupendous gift. That is the beginning of our salvation. But notice, we were created, and then recreated in Christ, “for good works.” They are an integral part of the Christian life. When some people point out how these works have been prepared by God “beforehand,” they speak as if we have no active part to play in the process. That isn’t what Paul wrote. God prepares us for these works by providing the grace to perform them; but it is up to you and me to “walk” in them. There is activity on our parts, and this activity has a part to play in our obtaining final salvation.

Paul fleshed this out in his Epistle to the Philippians. Allow me to quote at length, so as to provide you with a fuller context for Paul’s explanation:
"Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain"  (Phil. 2:12-16).
Paul taught that if we did not actively cooperate with God in producing good works in our lives, then on the day of judgment, we will find that we began the Christian life, we received the gift of faith and justification, in vain! Paul was only teaching what the Lord Jesus had at the Last Supper:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit… As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me…[M]y Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples…If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love…This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (Jn. 15:1-13).
We can bear fruit, can obey Christ's commands, can lay down our lives - but only because Christ is living in us! We obtain final salvation through both faith and works, but both are the result of Christ's grace...and our humble cooperation. That's Scripture, and that is the Faith of the Church.  Can I get an "Amen"?

[1] Baptism is the free gift whereby we receive salvation. It is where we profess our faith in Christ, are reborn, and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The Lord Jesus taught, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:5), and “[h]e who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mk. 16:16). Peter and Paul echoed the Lord: “Baptism…now saves you” (1 Pet. 3:21); “he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5)

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