Friday, June 22, 2012
Is it true that salvation is by grace and not works?
This is a question some evangelical Christians talk about quite a bit. I must apologize for sounding arrogant and yet I must say that a lot of what I hear them say strikes me as absurd nonsense. The question seduces them towards a very anti-works view of the Christian lifestyle all in the interests of never contradicting the concept that it is all by grace, not by works. And yet they speak about works in a very controlling manipulative way tied to duty that they never reconcile with their "grace" concepts.
I also blame Western popular notions of determinism as having set us up for this conundrum and because the truly random or freedom of choice is in too many ways inconceivable we give in way too much to the influence of determinism and end up denying a well developed freedom of choice as it can operate within a universe of apparently deterministic physics. In my opinion, the extremes of an out of balance determinism lead some Christians off the clear path into the ditch on one side into a false belief in Universalism or into the ditch on the other side into a false belief in exclusionism.
Calvinism is an example of deterministic exclusion. God does everything, controls everything and therefor those He has chosen are in and those He has not are forever damned. Period, you do not get a vote and have no influence on the outcome. Deterministic Universalism differs from standard Calvinism only in the extent and efficacy of the atonement, but both rely on a deterministic view. In Deterministic Universalism you still have no real say, do not get a vote and have no impact on the outcome.
I regard both Calvinism and Deterministic Universalism as false views of scripture. They are false in that they focus on the activity of God and dismiss all scriptures that speak of human activity as having any bearing.
Personally I think the problem gets even worse when we find nondeterministic verses in the bible and try to use them to deny the truth of the universal efficacy of Christ. Theology becomes a jumble of incoherent and absurd claims that we settle into for lack of thinking. And we settle where it seems most fair or grammatically correct. We tend toward a lucky break version of God's grace or an all inclusive view of God's grace, but we completely dismiss our own participation as having any relevance.
This is the reason I embraced Universal Reconciliation and rejected Universalism. I do not believe all are saved; I believe some are and everyone else will be eventually. In the mean time there is this tension between the universal provision of God including His universal intention and plan and the freedom of choice that humans have in their subjective limited particular awareness. And so human beings come as individuals one at a time at their own time into the provision God has for all.
As I understand it, this false pure-determinism has also given Christians a false understanding of the tension between grace and works.
Think of it this way: Can you make the decision to walk down to the nearby store? Yes you can, but only if you can walk and if there is a store to walk to nearby. But the work and effort of walking does not in and of itself create your ability to walk nor does it create the store. If you are well able to walk to a store that is actually there then you can be reasonably assured that should you choose to go to the store it will indeed happen.
In a similar way salvation is hard work, it involves facing lies, changing your mind, dealing with attitudes, learning to be honest with your self, with others, with your past, with your struggles, discovering ways in which we are not being loving, learning to live loved, learning to incorporate these changes into your consistent behavior, and so on.
Grace is the universal gift of God to make certain that whatever you require for the hard work of salvation is fully and completely supplied at no cost and with no conditions whatsoever. All you require is the willingness to receive it and to put it to work from deep within you. God has made absolutely certain, that all you need is there and that as Christ himself personally indwells you at the core of your being that given enough time and effort to discover "truth about life and living" that the very character and life of Christ will indeed without exception work its way out until you arrive at a point where you are the real you and totally Christ like.
You did not invent this process, you did not create the love God gives, you did not create the efficacy of the transformation You did not create Christ or the possibility of being like Him in character. If God had not created everything as He did, if God had not created us in His image as He did -- most importantly if God did not love as He does -- then salvation would not be possible no matter what effort you put forth. But because God has provided exactly all as He has, it is absolutely true that whoever starts this process will discover that the process itself propels it toward full completion.
So it is true that we are saved by Grace and that not of ourselves. But this does not change the reality that we must each as individuals face the issues, deal with them, agree to the changes, accept the abiding relationship, and so on. There is a great deal of work for us to do. If we do not do it, it will not get done. But that work is merely work we should do, it is therefore meritorious only in the subjective reality of human experience but in light of the objective reality of God and His creation, it is not particularly meritorious in light of the fact that it fully depends upon God providing all that He has. Without that reality, none of our efforts could ever make any difference whatsoever.
So works and grace do not trump each other. Both are very real and very true. The possibility, the process and the success of salvation are predetermined by God, but it is engaged in and received by the effort of the individual. As it is written, work out your own salvation.