Devotional Thought of the Day:
19 For when I tried to keep the law, it condemned me. So I died to the law—I stopped trying to meet all its requirements—so that I might live for God. 20 My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:19-20 (NLT) Galatians 2:19-20 (CEV)
1 What shall we say, then? Should we continue to live in sin so that God’s grace will increase? 2 Certainly not! We have died to sin—how then can we go on living in it? Romans 6:1-2 (TEV)
288 You were still rather hesitant when you were telling me: “I am deeply aware of the occasions when the Lord is asking more of me.” All I could think of was to remind you how you used to assure me that the only thing you wanted was to identify yourself with him. What’s keeping you back? (1)
I am still trying to understand the reason there is a long battle over the nature of faith and works.
For some, the quote from Galatians stops at the second hyphen. “so I died to the law – I stopped trying to meet all its requirements-“ In doing so, there is missing the the second half of the statement, “so I might life for God!”
It is as if they were answering Paul’s query in the second quote, “Yes, let us continue to live in sin, because to expect anything else from us is not only impossible, but it it bringing the penalty of the law back upon us.” The claim of being a pietist quickly follows, when you encourage people to go to confession and receive absolution, when you encourage them to make regular use of the sacrament of Lord’s Supper, spend time in God’s word, or pray continually. Theologically, there is no “third use” of the law they expound, we can only expect people to have “faith”. Thus reducing faith to some kind of knowledge, rather than the trust which enables us to live in Him.
Some will cry, but it is impossible to live a holy and perfect life! That God’s call to us to do that only serves us to run to Him for mercy. But that reduces mercy to forgiveness, not the love which He binds Himself to show to His people. it negates the work of the Holy Spirit, who dwells within us, equipping, empowering, setting us apart as the Bride of Christ, as His body, as the co-heirs of Christ.
Then why go so indepth in every epistle from Romans to Jude about what the Christian life looks like? Why the incredible descriptions of the Body of Christ working together in Romans 12, in 1 Corinthians 12, why the discussion of the ministry of reconciliation entrusted to us in II Corinthians? of the mutual care for each other in Ephesians 5-6, the striving in Philippians 3? Why the words in the third chapter of Titus saying this is how we used to be – now be this? Why the challenges in James 2-5? Why the warnings to the 7 churches in Asia minor in the Revelation?
We aren’t saved by works, but as we are untied to Christ, that means His work becomes our, His ministry becomes ours, His apostleship becomes ours as well. These things take a devotional and focus, not on our efforts, not on our capabilities, but on the Lord, even as the Holy Spirit conforms us to His image. As Paul notes:
12 So then, my dearest friends, as you have always followed my advice – and that not only when I was present to give it – so now that I am far away be keener than ever to work out the salvation that God has given you with a proper sense of awe and responsibility. For it is God who is at work within you, giving you the will and the power to achieve his purpose. Philippians 2:12 (Phillips NT)
That’s the point, it is the work of God in us, the very blessing of His presence, in our lives. That is why it isn’t a question of faith and works. It is walking with God, working alongside Him in His fields, sharing in His presence. That is how we work, not apart from God, but alongside Him, letting Him giving us not only the power to do what pleases Him, but the will, the desire to do it as well.
Confused about faith and works, tired of the arguments? Look to Christ, the author and finisher of your faith, identify with Him abide in Him, remember to share with Him everything that causes you concern, anxiety, fear. Let Him take those things away, while He shares with you the wondrous ministry of reconciliation. Examine fully the depth of His love for you, and walk with Him. That will produce good fruit, far more than the theological debates and discourses. That which you consider impossible? He will accomplish it.
Love mercy, live in His righteousness, and walk humbly with God, your God.
Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 1175-1178). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional?Discussion Thought of the Day:
16 The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted. 18 Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Matthew 28:16-20 (NAB)
280 You know that you will never lack God’s grace, because he has chosen you from all eternity. And if this is what he has done for you, he will grant you all the help you need to be faithful to him as his son. Go forward, then, with assurance and try to respond at every moment.
As I continue to see debates about faith and works online, as I continue see to people demand full obedience to one commandment and not another, I am saddened. For people hyper-focus on the law, and debates about it, much as the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes and Herodians did in the age of Christ.
Because of this, I know quite a few people who leave the church, dismayed either because of hypocrisy, or because of a burden that they are expected to keep, that they cannot on one hand. On the other, they are dismayed because despite what scripture says, they don’t see the life of those claiming to be believers to be all that different. There are the same kind of sinners, justified not by the blood of Christ, but because of their own justifications, they still go about life, unchanged, and in chains to sin.
My contention isn’t that we need to teach people to obey the commandments, or to simply live free of them. My contention is that we don’t do nearly enough in teaching people to obey God. We go about it wrong in teaching them to obey, and when we reduce it simply to God’s commands, we do something even worse.
First let’s deal with “obey”. In the very well known passage called the great commission, about half of my translations use obey, some use observe, and a few older translations use keep. I think the idea of obey comes from that old KJV era use keep, but they in doing so, they cause a problem. The word in Greek comes from the word to watch over, to guard, to treasure, to protect. As I have noted before, the keep in a castle was the place of the greatest possible defense, the final point of resistance, the place where children and wives were kept, along with the treasure.
Guard them, treasure them, doesn’t make as much sense when we combine it with command. or at least it seems awkward. But consider how much the psalms rejoice in God’s law, in His commandments. (for example in Psalm 119) Consider the opening of Proverbs 7,
1 My child, remember what I say and never forget what I tell you to do. 2 Do what I say, and you will live. Be as careful to follow my teaching as you are to protect your eyes. 3 Keep my teaching with you all the time; write it on your heart. Proverbs 7:1-3 (TEV)
1 My son, keep my words and treasure up my commandments with you; 2 keep my commandments and live; keep my teaching as the apple of your eye; 3 bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart. Proverbs 7:1-3 (ESV)
I put the two translations here for a reason, there is something more to commandments than what meets the eye. Normally we think of commands as God’s law, the Decalogue, what are referred to as the Ten Commandments.
I would contend that we would be less confused if we replaced commandment with a synonym, commissioned (we call it the Great Commission, don’t we?) But we have a slightly different meaning. Commissioned doesn’t reduce what is taught to the “do’s and do not’s”. It beings out the scope to include all God has ever commanded about you, as well as what He has commanded you.
For instance, the declaration of our righteousness, the work of Christ’s life, lived with one mission.
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed 19 and announce that the time has come when the Lord will save his people.” Luke 4:18-19 (TEV)
it includes His work in completing what He began in us, and in the Holy Spirit’s work in transforming us. It includes the entire covenant – promises as well as regulations. That is why spending time heaing and meditating upon what God has commissioned brings such joy, not just bondage to a law. (btw, the commission concepts works with the Decalog/Ten Commandments) as well, including what some dismiss as the prelude – the key to understanding it.
This is why the joy is so complete, for what God has commissioned for you and I is wondrous. It is the full measure of His love, not just His plans for our lives. It is that we are to become His worksmanship (Eph 2:10), a people He made for His own.
Teach His people, those He has claimed in baptism this Truth, for they are His disciples, His children. And the joy will be unsurpassed. As they treasure what God has called and commissioned into their lives, the obedience will follow, naturally and assured of His empowerment.
Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 1137-1140). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
1 I may be able to speak the languages of human beings and even of angels, but if I have no love, my speech is no more than a noisy gong or a clanging bell. 2 I may have the gift of inspired preaching; I may have all knowledge and understand all secrets; I may have all the faith needed to move mountains—but if I have no love, I am nothing. 3 I may give away everything I have, and even give up my body to be burned —but if I have no love, this does me no good. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (TEV)
18 But someone may say: So you have faith and I have good deeds? Show me this faith of yours without deeds, then! It is by my deeds that I will show you my faith. James 2:18 (NJB)
111 Your faith is not operative enough; it seems that you are over-pious, rather than a man who is struggling to be a saint. (1)
For centuries, the church has fought over the issue of how faith and works are seen in our salvation. It is not a new fight, a new argument, and historically, it is like the mystery of a pendulum. In simpler words, we see the church, and even denominations of the church swing from one extreme to the other. First the extreme of trying to save ourselves through our work, trying to find the way to discipline ourselves, forcing ourselves to do things, so that we can prove the change. As we fail (and often miserably at this) we go to the other extreme, rediscovering that we are saved by faith alone, and not by our own merit. The pendulum then swings to the extent that we consider our works and our faith completely separate. We heavily criticize any attempt of spiritual discipline, even if it doesn’t involve us.
If we take a breath, if we ignore the pendulum swing, we see the common error, and possibly see the solution that James points out, that the comment from Escriva touches upon. The struggle to be a saint is not about our appearing pious or holy, It is not about what we do to make ourselves good, or even just look good. It is not about having miraculous powers (though those may appear), it isn’t about having the right words, or even being able to make the wrong words seem right. Knowledge fails as well as faith. We can be quite successful by making our selves into martyrs, annoying the hell out of everyone.
If those things aren’t birthed in love, they are worthless, and that is where both faith and works are born, and where they find their synergy. Where their find themselves working together, energized by the Holy Spirit together. For both faith and works are not native to us, but rather are the work of God in us, transforming us, Neither faith nor works save us, if they are faith generated within us, apart from the Holy Spirit, or works that we are doing to gain God’s favor. That is why St. Josemaria talks about it places operative in something other that being over-pious.
For being pious, or holy is not about what we do, it’s about being broken enough to let God do what He would do, in us. It is about being humble enough to remember that we are in God’s hands, not our own, It is there, in God’s hands, where faith is strengthened, where we find the love that is the power source for the miraculous, that sustains our trust/faith in God, that finds the desire and ability to sacrifice for others. It is that love that testifies of Christ, even until our death.
To live as a saint, is to live within the glory of God, within His love, firmly secure in His embrace of our hearts, our minds, our very lives.
It’s a struggle, not to be pious, not to prove our devotion, those aren’t the struggles of being a saint.
The struggle of the saint is to dwell in the love, to give up our rights, our ideas, our quests to prove ourselves worthy. Instead, the struggle is to see His work in our lives, as He takes charge, to see His will be done, to depend on Him for sustenance, and to know mercy – both know we’ve received it, and to know we can show it. To get through times of temptation, and to know we are protected and delivered from evil.
To be be able to say with our whole heart – that to God belongs all the kingdoms of our lives, that He is the power that establishes and sustains us, that to Him all glory belongs……
Faith and works? They come from knowing God is God, and we are His beloved people.
It’s that simple.
Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 664-665). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.