Wednesday, September 03, 2008

It has got to be a gift

Ok so I am no longer on vacation, which means I am back on the job of solving the worlds problems. It is a hard job but someone has got to do it.



The other day I was reading the Scripture and I came to the word 'gift'. The word and concept is splattered in Scripture many many times. Take a look at

Romans 6:23For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Believing or having faith in the Gospel surely has to be a gift. Its got to be. It must be a gift because the natural mind says that one has to work for one's standing with God. It is not natural for us to think of our relationship with God any other way and if there is any way we can get right with God we have to earn it. In fact this is where Biblical Christianity is unique because all other religions are already saying that, meaning - saying that if you want God to be kind to you, you do this and that...

So when a man/woman believes the Gospel it has to be a gift from God because all human senses say salvation or forgiveness of sins is by works. Every nerve of our being says -- there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Even Christians get Christianity wrong in portraying it as morality. Well, all other religions have that and that is not the core message of Christianity, it is not about morals though it is an aspect of it but it is not about it.

I notice people have some attitudes towards this Gift. Some think it is not a gift so they go to methods or measures - Charles Finney and his disciples are in to this. If faith in the Gospel is not a gift then one can be coerced (spiritually) to 'believe' or 'decide to believe'. This one leads to works.

Then there is another attitude, it is a gift alright some say and it comes out of the sky. It is immediate. It just happens. In other words the gift is not mediated.

I have counselled some young people struggling with this because they have the notion that a gift is not mediated, God just zaps people into believing. This one leads to dispair.

In fact both lead to uncertainty.

Here is where Concordians are different - sure faith in the Gospel is a gift but that gift is mediated - in other words, though Jesus is the author of faith, God creates faith in the Gospel via means - Word and Sacrament. The very promises of God is the very means God uses to create faith in the heart of the sinner. He does not decide, he does not get zapped out of the blue, but the promises is mediated - delivered and it is the very power to create or provide what God demands - faith. It is both demanded by God and at the same time created by God - through His Word.

So in this theology - there is no room for dispair or hopelessness, there is always a looking in one spot - in the Word - it is the same, yesterday and forever. Even this, even the fact that though faith is a gift, God nevertheless creates it using means -- this itself is -- good news. So God does not leave us alone to fend for ourselves.

22 comments:

Augustinian Successor said...

Dear Kuya,

Yes, faith itself is *alien* to us as sinful human beings. Contrary to modern evangelicals, faith is not looking within oneself (that would be to collapse back into self) but look outside towards Jesus, as He is presented in the Word. Faith always look to the Word as the visible and tangible embodiment of the Incarnate Word. Hence, faith is not even looking outside towards something ethereal ... but visible and tangible! Of course, reason may not comprehend the logic of the situation, even as we look outside but this is where our faith comes in, to shift our focus and interpret all things through the Cross. Faith looks at the "revealed God" HIDDEN in contrary expectations (sub contrario) - the theology of the Cross. Faith looks at an earthly element such as water which when blessed by the Word is where God hides Himself to baptise His people. Faith comprehends Scripture to be the promise of God to His people. Faith comprehends the Cross as the crucifixion of Jesus for my sins.

Without faith, we cannot "see" God ... and so instead of faith being a theological virtue which enables us to increase grace conceived of as a substance so that we increase in holiness and move closer to the beatific vision in our progression, faith is event of the eschatological in-breaking of the Kingdom of God in all its fulness and glory. In other words, by *faith* we have already experienced the beatific vision and yet not actually according to our *senses*. So, faith does not enable us to sensuously experience bit by bit, a vision here or a vision there as in the mystical tradition in the Roman Church, but faith enables us to "experience" the whole thing here and now, though not immediately and supernaturally but mediately and naturally! The supernatural does not ocme immediately but is hidden and hence mediated by the natural. The supernatural does not rival the natural ... the supernatural and natural has been reconciled in Jesus Christ! In Him, as we read in Colossians, all things are one.

Faith reconciles both and gives us a "glimpse" or foretaste of things to come. This is the REALITY!

Soli Deo Gloria!

Doorman-Priest said...

Thank you: the idea of a "gift mediated" is food for further thought.

steve martin said...

"The supernatural does not come immediately but is hidden and hence mediated by the natural. The supernatural does not rival the natural ... the supernatural and natural has been reconciled in Jesus Christ!"

Excellent! I'll try and remember that one.

Thanks A.S.!

Nice post, L.P.!

Steve Newell said...

I have found the Ephesians 2 is one of the great passages of showing us our natural condition and what God has done for us and to us, as well as why God did want he did.

Paul states that faith is a gift of God and is not part of our natural condition. This concept is foreign to many Christians since they view faith as something that comes within each of us.

L P Cruz said...

Brothers,

I wish I had more understanding of this when I was being asked by a young man a couple of years ago.

He was in a dilemma, if faith is a gift then God has to give it to him at his whim. Even if he wanted to have faith he just could not have it if God does not want to give it. He was under some popularized "reformed" group and has been wandering away from Wittenberg.

Some emphasize the gift nature in relation to God's soverignty in which soveriengty is also mis-understood.

A simple question - is ok - if faith is a gift how does God give it - how is it handed down or delivered? Some answer this as a "zap".

The answer is the means of grace - word and sacrament. God gives the gift through these.

It is a terrible thing to have the sovereignty of God with out the means of grace. We are stuck without them.

The means of grace is how monergism is to be presented.

LPC
LPC

Augustinian Successor said...

Dear Lutheran Brothers,

Thank you.

L P Cruz said...

A.S.

The supernatural does not rival the natural ... the supernatural and natural has been reconciled in Jesus Christ! In Him, as we read in Colossians, all things are one.

This is worth repeating.

It is rather foreign concept and I even dare say 'gnostic' to see that when it comes to the means of grace, the natural is meaningless.

Even Jesus had to be incarnated in flesh to communicate God's love to us.

Word, Water, Bread and Wine - this is where Christ says he may be located.

LPC

Past Elder said...

Even a child's manners ought to help our "evangelical" friends.

A gift is a gift because it is given by the giver. Something that is "named and claimed" is not a gift. Something you decide to get is not something given to you; it's an offer accepted, not a gift received.

When one is given a gift, one says "Thank You". One does not pepper the giver with questions about why this gift, why now, at what store did you buy it, who else is getting this, it's too much can I pay you back,etc.

Our revered father in faith CFW Walther once wrote that a man can no more decide to have faith than he can decide to wake from the dead.

L P Cruz said...

P.E.

Good point, the notion of being able to do something by right is something that plagues our modern society - perhaps due to Kant?

The same way that it was the decision of God for us to be here, it was also his decision to give us eternal life and he does that through means.


LPC

Past Elder said...

Funny how Christ's having made a decision for you gets turned into you making a decision for Christ.

I think the original impetus toward this sort of thinking was actually trying to do something good -- make a person aware that religion, or at least Christianity, is not a matter of doing certain actions that are the moral or liturgical prescriptions of a church.

On a side note, yet speaking of a church's moral and liturgical prescriptions, I've been told any more "negative" comments of mine will be deleted on your crosstown rival's blog. Rome is more Rome than ever -- since we are by definition right, anything that would appear to contradict us need not be examined but must be wrong proceeding only from a miserable bleeder. Right and wrong out the window for positive and negative, another something that plagues modern society. Is it "negative" because it is wrong, or because it is right and you don't want to hear it.

L P Cruz said...

P.E.

I recall a kid putting his hands in his ears crying "lalalala I am not listening"!

Or the saying "please do not change my opinion with more facts".

I stand utterly amazed.

LPC

Augustinian Successor said...

"I think the original impetus toward this sort of thinking was actually trying to do something good -- make a person aware that religion, or at least Christianity, is not a matter of doing certain actions that are the moral or liturgical prescriptions of a church."

But the "nett result" was a "Gnostic" Christianity shorn of its "concrete-ness" so that the Gospel becomes an abstract concept to be believed. Faith in this sense is a condition. The Cross, instead of ending the Law turns out to be a New Law.

L P Cruz said...

A.S.

so that the Gospel becomes an abstract concept to
be believed


Right. Gnosticism comes in because the means of grace has not been properly discerned and arrived at from Scripture.

It turns faith into a form of works. Faith is not conviction or assurance but a belief that one is believing.

LPC
LPC

Past Elder said...

Yo tambien, hermano!

I think I should keep my Pacific Rim blogging here. Hell, I get my butt kicked here too, but even AS, more often than not the butt kicker, has the human integrity and intellectual honesty to say, You are wrong and here is why I say you are wrong, rather than refuse to consider that anything apart from what he believes must by definition have nothing to say and therefore proceed from a bad psychological state, then diagnose it. Since it can't be fact, it must be bitterness, in short.

But back to matters at hand, old AS is quite right here, and you too -- these guys set out to do something good but lacking any understanding of grace as brought to Man by God in Christ, they turn faith into something I decide and do rather than something He alone gives, a new Law indeed rather than the Gospel, a latter day gnosis indeed, ending up in a religion of faith that is really faith and works, which in the end is just works, no less than the Church of Rome. The only difference is, what are the works.

J. K. Jones said...

LP,

Good summary. You might be surprised to know that I think you are much closer to an historic Baptist position than you would like to think.

Salvation is a gift. It is earned by Christ and Him alone. It is offered freely to all who would accept.

Conversion is a gift. God gives a change of heart through a process that includes hearing / reading the Bible. This process can take a long period of time. The change is effected by the Spirit through the Word and the direct and indirect witness of Christians. This is why many Baptists are so big on witnessing. We see our efforts as having a direct part to play.

This change of heart results in faith and repentance. Faith and repentance are the immediate results of this new heart and are brought about by the natural actions of that new heart.

Here’s the rub: we disagree over the sacraments as means of grace. It has to do with that thing about baptism being a sign / seal of the covenant God has with His people and the idea that those are a part of this covenant having hearts that are made new (Hebrews 8:1-13).

JK

L P Cruz said...

JK,

Maybe you are closer to the Lutheran (LOL).

The difference is that the means of grace is not complete in the Baptist position.

Here is a question - imagine a deaf, mute, blind from birth person. How does God deliver the Gospel to him?

LPC

steve martin said...

JK,

Baptist theology (to me) is too centered on what we do.

Accepting Christ might just be only one thing that we have to do, but it is one thing too many.

Christ accepts us in our rejection of Him. That was what the cross was all about.

AFTER He chooses us (gospel of John)...we choose Him AND reject Him on a daily basis. That's why we need the sacraments. That's he shape of the life of faith for the believer...repentance and forgiveness.

If the sacraments were really no big thing, I doubt that Jesus would have commanded us to do them.
And whenever He commanded us to do something...He promised to be there ...acting for us.

Thanks JK.

Past Elder said...

On my blog is a little humour piece called Lutheran Tidbit of the Day, from oldlutheran.com. Often they start "You Might Be Lutheran If ..." then a funny finish. The other day the finish was, "if your house is a mess because we are saved by grace, not works".

Antinomianism. Sanctification.

That's where Reformation theology gets all unhinged, and what I think drives some of us back to Rome or East.

We all know we are not saved by our performance of the works of the Law of Moses, and not by the sacramental system of the Catholic Church and its other rules either.

Yet in reaction to that, there is the tendency to ignore any works or acts at all, for fear we may begin to trust in them for our salvation.

Thus do we ignore Christ's works toward us, that it is not we who worship him but he who comes to us in our "worship" in his Word and Sacrament that we call the liturgy.

Thus do we ignore his Office of Holy Ministry to emphasise there is no priesthood as understood under the pope.

Thus do we ignore the works we are to do because we are saved to emphasise we are not saved by them.

Thus do we shout adiaphora at everything we do that is not by divine command, and ignore that divine command is not the only reaason for doing something, just the only reason that is divine.

And in so doing, some, looking to recover what they sense is missing, return to the pope and his functionaries, and embrace again their errors too, and others go where a new set of works offers what looks like an active faith, a purpose driven life, your best life now, sanctified living, etc.

J. K. Jones said...

LP,

“LOL”

Yes, LP it was supposed to be a joke. That’s about the best my dry sense of humor can do.

“…imagine a deaf, mute, blind from birth person. How does God deliver the Gospel to him?”

God changes the man’s heart so he can repent and believe the gospel. The man responds to God within the limitations God has placed upon him due to God’s changing of his heart. God can and does work great miracles.



Steve Martin,

“Accepting Christ might just be only one thing that we have to do, but it is one thing too many.”

Then what does it mean to have faith? Trust in Christ is something we have as a result of what God does in our hearts.

“Christ accepts us in our rejection of Him. That was what the cross was all about… AFTER He chooses us (gospel of John)...we choose Him AND reject Him on a daily basis.”

Ah.. Extra Nos, it is outside of us. Wait, I’ve heard that before somewhere.

I agree wholeheartedly with that statement as made. We are at once both sinner and saint (I can’t remember how to spell the latin, sorry).

As to the sacraments (I would say ‘ordinances.’), I never said they were not important. I do believe God is present in every act of obedience that a believer performs. His Spirit makes the ordinance a means of grace.



Past elder,

“We all know we are not saved by our performance of the works of the Law of Moses, and not by the sacramental system of the Catholic Church and its other rules either.

Yet in reaction to that, there is the tendency to ignore any works or acts at all, for fear we may begin to trust in them for our salvation…Thus do we ignore the works we are to do because we are saved to emphasize we are not saved by them.”

Sadly, no where is this more apparent than in the teaching of some in the Baptist tradition. The preaching of repentance from both our good works and our bad works to turn to Christ and His sufficient work for us is lost on many Baptists.

JK

L P Cruz said...

JK,

There are few reasons why I became paedo-baptist. Being a Pentecostal, I was stiff in credo-baptism.

God changes the man’s heart so he can repent and believe the gospel. The man responds to God within the limitations God has placed upon him due to God’s changing of his heart. God can and does work great miracles

This is absolutely true, on its own, God can do anything. But the question I asked pertained to "how", how does God deliver the Gospel to such a person?

The above answer implies God saves "immediately". Immediacy means no means, no mediation.

As a person who believes in means, I answer that sitution of a deaf, mute, blind person is met by God through the Sacraments of Baptism and Lords Supper.

I will baptise that person because in that baptism, God has a promise and we hope in that promise.
God also uses baptism to bring faith to that person. We do not know how that happens but there is something we can hold on from God which he himself has bound himself. There we trust God to be faithful.

I asked the same question to a Baptist brother in the internet, the answer he game me was this - there is no use of baptism for such a person.

LPC

J. K. Jones said...

LP,

I am going to have to bow out of the conversation for now. My family has a lot going on. My two-month-old niece is in the hospital with major heart defects; at one time she was given a 30% chance of recovery. My father-in-law is in the hospital with leukemia and complications; he is not doing well. I have been laid off from my job due to lack of work because of a corporate buy-out of the company I worked for. There are some other personal stressors at this time.

My conclusion: We are doing something that has Satan very angry. Second conclusion: God must really think a lot of us, or we would not be having these problems.

I am confident that you and your readers are right enough about enough doctrine that your prayers would be heard, and we really would appreciate them.
JK

L P Cruz said...

JK,

Today is Sunday.

It will be my joy to pray for these needs.

It is done deal so Jesus gave us his word - he will never leave us nor forsake us.

I ask all of our friends here to pray for your situation too.

On Wed night at our Bible study, my group will be praying for you there as well.

Can you keep us posted?

Your bro,


LPC