Wednesday, October 26, 2016

He's Even Better than That

Who does the work of making you into a new person -- you, or the Almighty? And if we say he does it all, then are we just trying to avoid our own responsibility? That's been a long debate in church circles, taking many forms with many different twists and turns, and with many five-syllable words that I won't use here. I'll keep it simple because, frankly, that's all I know how to do, and although I may leave a lot of questions not answered, I hope to be clear about the core issue, even though I'm sure someone will disagree. But here's my understanding:  

God saves you, you don't, and no matter how sincerely you work or how much you pray, or how often you repent, you can't add the least gram of effectiveness to your salvation. 

How do I get that answer?  From Ephesians 2:8 -- this in the English Standard Version:  "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God."  

We humans are funny. We are happy to accept a gift from a loved one for a birthday or something, and be thankful for it; but when it comes to the biggest gift of all, we think we have to contribute to it somehow. We aren't content to let grace be what it is: fully and unconditionally the way God is toward us. But what Paul tells us here is that our salvation is strictly and completely a gift from God to us, and nothing less. 

"But Pastor Mark, what about our faith?" Fair enough, we have faith, or trust in God -- and as The Message says, "trust him enough to let him do it."  And where does that trust come from? Not from our own broken thinking, I can guarantee you! The sentence "And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God" refers to the faith itself.  Paul writes very similarly in Galatians 2:20, when he tells us "I've been put to death, just like Christ, but I'm still alive, and the life I now live in the flesh I'm living by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me." (I'm paraphrasing here from several different translations.)  Living "by the faith of the Son of God" as the Greek shows, reminds us that not even our faith is ours, but the faith itself is also a gift of God. 

Or as The Message version puts it, "Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish!" And he even gives us the ability to trust, because our way of thinking is to get involved somehow so we can claim some credit. 

Maybe you already knew all of this -- or maybe like me, you needed to be reminded again, because our thinking tends to get us off track from time to time. I hope I've reminded you of this simple truth: God has given all people, freely, the only gift that will last for eternity.  I'd say that God is even better than we think, even when we think we know.  How about you? How about thanking him for his gift? 

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