Sunday, August 21, 2011

Grace & Faith, Socratic Style

1 Corinthians 13:13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Faith is often touted as supreme by the popular preachers of today. These lollipop lecturers point to faith as the key that opens the door to “God’s storehouse” of “abundant living”. They err foremost by exalting themselves, in that they concordantly teach that faith is something one whips up from within, instead of exalting God as the One gives us the measure of faith from without. Faith then, so ironically, becomes a work of man instead of a gift of God to their mind, therefore actually opposing a real faith in an omnipotent & sovereign God. “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not?” is how Paul puts it to such blowhards & braggarts.

Meanwhile, Scripture speaks of grace & faith in the same breath. Twelve times Paul has them both in even the same verse. The Bible speaks of both as gifts from above to His elect. We are here today to pose a rhetorical: Which gift from God is greater - His faith, or His grace? To rightly answer this, we must first pose an ancillary question- Which one is preeminent? Does faith bring grace or does grace bring faith?

We’ll begin with the verse that can cloud the subject if removed from its context & taken in isolation:

Romans 5:1-2 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (2) Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God

Of course this verse clearly has faith leading into “this grace in which we stand”, but is that referring to the primal formation of God’s grace? Or is it the ongoing, continuous grace that we need as long as we are continuing to fall short of the glory of God? Does not even Paul need God’s enduring unmerited favor, given his confession of concurrent sinfulness two chapters later? (e.g. Rom. 7:23) Indeed, Paul needs God’s grace ever the more! Are not the degenerations of an adopted son’s erstwhile existence, before you took him in, easier to swallow than the ones he commits now, in your very presence?

Yea, verse 1’s mention of a past event, the having been justified by faith, along with verse 2’s present & future tenses in course of exalting such grace, seems to confirm the sense of an ongoing sort of grace being referenced herein.

But lest you think otherwise, let’s get contextual & look elsewhere in Romans for more on the marriage of grace & faith:

Romans 1:4-5 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, (5) through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations.

Romans 4:14-16a For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. (15) For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. (16) That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace.

Does not chapters 1-4 precede the supposed quandary of Romans 5:2? Is it not logical that a groundswell of support be built up to give credence to such a bold promise, of 5:2’s grace that has no lack & no end for His elect? Must not we first find substantive reason to believe in this splendid characteristic of God that will carry us into perpetuity with Him? And if our measure of faith is indeed comes from without, from another, what have we done to curry such favor? When 5:2’s supportive foundation (Rom. 1-4) tells us that all have sinned & fall short of the glory of God, where is validation to be found for God’s deliverance of the seed of faith?
The answer is there is no answer. God gives His elect favor, & clearly, according to Scripture, it is unmerited.

Yea, Romans 5:2 reads as a promise, a blessed assurance of continuing grace that we sinners find hard to swallow if it were to rest upon the shifting sands of our faith. Oh, how the image of Paul’s “wretched man that I am” would instead continue to be our fate, how untrue are the further assurances of Romans 8, if the deliverance of God’s grace were to depend on our ability to stir up the requisite faith!

Yea, wretched are we. So must not God be the one to reach down & supply the miraculous seed of faith? Must not He alone be the one to give the growth, if we really can be free to “rejoice in hope of the glory of God”? Yes, mere men- like Paul & Apollos- labor to plant & water the seed of faith, but must not it be God alone that performs the mysterious miracle of germination? (for the answer, see 1Cor. 3)

Yea, faith must rest on the quality of God’s grace, but then, we may further enquire what quality of God does grace rest its weary head upon? If sin, being negative in nature, requires judgment (& it does), & grace is a positive outpouring of God, a gift, then should not the negative be addressed in due course, before the positive? Should God be so foolish to cast His pearls to pigs? Should He bestow unfathomable riches on the contemptuous man shortly destined for damnation? What then, must precede grace, for grace, then faith, to find their lasting consequence?

Ephesians 2:4-9 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, (5) even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved-- (6) and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, (7) so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (8) For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, (9) not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Yea, faith cannot ever be something that man supplies, else it be of himself & allow his boast, in utter denial of Eph. 2:9. Therefore, its supply must depend on the God’s loving providence to the lowly sinner, in other words, His grace.

God’s gift of faith must rest on His grace, His grace must rely on His pardoning mercy, & his mercy is empowered by His great love, represented, in its highest form by the cross:

1 John 4:9-10 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. (10) In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

Why does this matter so? What does it matter that we understand this order? Well, keeping things in right order seemed to matter greatly to our Lord:

Matthew 23:16-22 Woe to you, blind guides, who say, 'If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.' (17) You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? (18) And you say, 'If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.' (19) You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? (20) So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. (21) And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. (22) And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.

1. Does not right order lead to right worship?
2. Why would Paul say love is greater than faith & hope?

1 comment:

Zoarean said...

I know what yer thinkin. "Yea(h), no more questions!

Can I ask one more? (philosophical humor)