Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Questions and Answers, Part 9

Hey Laura,

Here’s another theological question for you: theosis, deification, all that stuff. What’s going on there? I see great Truth in the Salvation by Faith alone and of course there is plenty of Scripture to back it up. I recognize my incapability to do good (without selfish motivation) and take joy in the Gift of Grace.

But there’s always been a lingering vision or motivation in my brain of “working my way towards Christ” for lack of a better phrase. I think perhaps I have a romantic idea of it. And I think it might come from bottomless cups of tea and hours of readings of Dostoevsky and the like. But I think it’s hard for me to dismiss the thought. And I think the idea of “I believe, I am saved, the end,” is repulsive.

I believe that we are required to do good works BECAUSE we are saved; that that should be our motivation. But frankly, sometimes that doesn’t seem like enough. Your favorite verse comes in handy here (work out your salvation because it is God who works in you). But then there are those verses in… Is it Timothy? Or James? “Faith without works is dead” and many more in that book. What do these mean?

And I suppose I see such a connection between our life now and Kingdom life. Although I don’t know what I’m talking about really. And although I believe in resurrection into new life… I do believe there is a connection between now and eternity. This seems to be further support for some idea of becoming more and more like Christ. Surely we have some part in this? Yes, God gives us Grace and works in us to be more and more confirmed. Yes, he will complete the good work he began. Yes, we do have responsibility though. How does our Protestant idea of this clash with this idea of “theosis”? The answer seems simple but then…. I’m not totally sure I know what it is.

Your Friend,


OK, first. Let's not get the idea (so often perpetuated among modern evangelicals) that Belief = Assent to a bunch of statements. As in, yes, I believe that Jesus died for my sins and that makes me a Christian. that is LAME. There are plenty of folks who believe that that's what "belief" means but it's completely not the biblical picture of faith. Faith/Belief/Trust is all wrapped up in that word. As in confidence in, reliance upon. So "by grace, through faith" doesn't mean "by grace, through agreeing with propositions" but rather "by grace (God's undeserved favor) through trusting, relying, leaning on Jesus Christ." And Ephesians 2:8-9 says that faith in itself is a gift -- in other words, the ability to trust in, rely on Jesus is made possible by God's grace -- that we never would have relied on Jesus for our salvation apart from the Holy Spirit working in us... we would have kept on relying on ourselves.

You are right that there IS a tension in the Scriptures about God's sovereignty and our responsibility. And I would venture a guess that most of the folks we know who call themselves "reformed" at Sojourn and elsewhere are really what we call "compatibilist," which means that God somehow works out that WE have a responsibility, in the midst of HIS plan, to do OUR part, enabled by HIM. That our choices are real and meaningful. That we have to work out our salvation.

Another thing too... we believe that the Scriptures even when they seem in tension, actually describe different aspects of the same reality. So James is talking about faith without works is dead. Right. Totally agree. He's talking about "faith" and FAITH. "faith" is that lame-o belief business, just assenting to propositions about Jesus. FAITH is robust, relying on God -- evidence of a changed heart. There's an old saying I learned as a teenager -- "We are saved through faith alone, but faith that saves is never alone" -- in other words, true faith, faith that saves, is never just assent. It's trust in a God who changes lives. So James is talking about the outward workings of an inward reality. Just like Paul talks about the inward and spiritual realities, and ALSO describes the outward "evidences" of true saving faith.

Paul also talks in 2 Corinthians (and other places) about how we are being saved. It's consistent throughout the NT to discuss salvation in three ways: (1) as an accomplished fact (Romans 8:24, for instance) -- "you were saved," (2) as an ongoing process -- "you are being saved," and (3) as a future reality to be hoped for and anticipated (Romans 5:10, which also contains some of #1)-- "you will be saved." It makes a lot of sense of how a Christian's spiritual life ought to look: Confidence in Christ and his finished work that purchased us, sanctification and the necessity of discernment and work and prayer and community, and a balance of humility and hope as we await the final salvation that sums everything up in Christ.

Part of the issue is how much we have a tendency to lean toward #1 in the reformed/protestant type circles! We think of salvation as an accomplished fact, something that happened in the past, and forget that the Bible talks about how salvation is not just an event, but a process. Now, I do think salvation happens. Paul talks to the Ephesians so much about what they were BEFORE they were saved and makes such a sharp contrast between you were like this but now you are like this in Christ, that it leads me to believe strongly that there is a time when a person is a pagan headed for hell and then God does a work and their nature is changed. But they are also being conformed to the image of Christ. It's a process, just as much as growing up and maturing in our natural lives.

And yeah, man!! The kingdom!! It's so rad. WE, us, the church -- we are the sort of pro-tempore kings of God's kingdom, the provincial rulers given charge over it while Jesus tarries. Jesus ushered in the Kingdom of God when he came in flesh, and our JOB as those who are becoming like him while we wait for him to return is to push the front lines of the kingdom forward! This is WHY we do mercy! It's why we "do" Church, for crying out loud. Evangelism is part of this! Environmental stewardship! Counseling! Raising kids! It's all kingdom work!!! That's why there is NO unimportant person in the Church or in the World. We build and create and love and civilize and settle and obey the cultural mandate (be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it) because all that stuff has found its ideal and its goal in Jesus! We're not just building a human kingdom like the Israelites were! Jesus is the True Israel of God and we are in Christ, so we push forward. So we see places where the Kingdom of God is NOT reigning, and we ought to grieve! We ought to see a Christian married couple with a crappy marriage and want to bring God's Kingdom rule to bear on their lives. We ought to see pollution and mistreatment of animals and say, huh-uh, that ain't the way it's going to be in the coming Kingdom! Let's work to make this not happen. I mean, what is the POINT of fighting against abortion -- I mean, all those babies go to heaven, right? -- unless we are WORKING to make THIS world look more and more like the world to come! The world to come won't have death, or suffering, or misery, or exploitation, or loneliness, or any of that crap. So we work and fight and strive to make our LIVES kingdom LIVES and our world like the Kingdom that is to come. THAT is a compelling vision of our future! We work now, hampered and thwarted by sin and the flesh and the devil and the world, but we look forward to the day when our work (which will be a continuation of our work now) will be perfected -- not held back by our own selfishness, not thwarted by sin, not made futile, not fruitless or weak!! SO. RAD.

Naw, what are you talking about? I'm not excited about that. Not at all.




Laura's Dad said...

Work on this concept: union with Christ if both the source and the goal of sanctification.

That is a lot to chew on: I will be spending six whole Sundays preaching on it, starting October 19.

Laura's Dad

Laura said...

Yup. Ephesians is pretty much a study in union with Christ, isn't it? It's both a condition (we ARE united with Christ) and a future hope ("...that I might know him, and the fellowship of his sufferings...").

Radagast said...

I think my comment (about how great this post series was) got lost...

...and is "lame" a theological term? :)

Laura said...

Thanks a lot, Radagast!! It must have gotten lost -- prideful creature that I am, I would never have left THAT kind of comment in moderation. ;)

Lame is actually my FAVORITE theological term.