Sunday, September 25, 2011

Grace, Faith and Yielding

I've said before that grace is that thing which makes us into something we cannot become on our own.  But I think people just don't get it.  There's more to it than just sitting back on our laurels and soaking it up, and that's where I believe people generally error.

I have been misunderstood to be making grace into something it's not.  And I can't say that I blame them, since I seemingly suggest that we think about it in non-traditional ways.  But a traditionalist I am not, so if you're looking for run of the mill traditional thought on this subject, then you might as well move along now, because you're not getting it from me.

Sovereignty

So, lets start with sovereignty.  What is it and what is the opposite of sovereignty?  Lets start with the converse, the opposite of sovereignty: what is that?  If you're thinking "man's free will" is the opposite of sovereignty, then you get the Gong (remember the Gong Show?) - in other words, "no: man's free will is not the opposite of sovereignty."  Not convinced?  Well, then lets take a look at Meriam-Webster:
  1. Obsolete : supreme excellence or an example of it
  2. Supreme power especially over a body politic
    • freedom from external control : autonomy
    • controlling influence
  3. One that is sovereign; especially : an autonomous state 
The take-away from this definition is two fold: the first thing we notice is the concept of autonomy and freedom from external control.  The second thing is it's controlling influence.  In other words, you being sovereign, get to make your own autonomous, controlling and influential decisions free from external control and external considerations (that's free will, by the way).  See?  Man's free will is not the opposite of sovereignty, free will is sovereignty defined.  So, what is the opposite of sovereignty?

Grace

I submit to you, that grace is the opposite of sovereignty.  Whoa, hold on a minute: didn't God in His sovereignty fore ordain that we should be saved by grace?  How then is grace not sovereign?  Well, for starters, you're confusing God's autonomy in choosing the mechanism through which salvation is effected with the mechanism itself.  Did God choose to use grace?  Yes. Was that decision sovereign?  Yes, of course it was.  But is grace sovereignty defined?  No, it's not.  Consider the scripture  
 ... {while} in our transgressions, {He} made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that {salvation} not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.. (Ephesians 2:5-10)
Wow, that sounds like a lot of sovereignty to me, doesn't it to you?  And you'd be right - there is a lot of that  being expressed there.   But lets take take a look at something else:
He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God. (John 3:18-21)
Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God. Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved. ... But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance. (Luke 8:11-15)
So, what's the point?  The point is faith: belief and trust is faith: "for by grace you have been saved through faith" and "He who believes in Him is not judged."

Thus, the necessary rhetorical question is: can a person be saved who lacks faith?  Obviously, the answer is no.  Thus, salvation (which comes by grace) only happens in the presence of, or as scripture puts it "through faith."  Therefore, salvation is not an act of sovereignty on Gods part, but an act of God in conjunction with the faith of the sinner.  Thus, sovereignty says "I will do this thing outside of any consideration of you", whereas grace says "I will do this thing only in conjunction with you."  Which is why repentance and reconciliation are required for salvation: repentance (my turning towards God) is the turning away from that which causes offence and reconciliation means to change mutually.  Both only occur through trust and belief (faith).
Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.  (2 Corinthians 5:18)
.. solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 20:21)
In the two verses above, we see our requirements of entering into that ministry of reconciliation through faith.

I understand that for some, this is a hard thing to grasp.  But we must separate what God does from how He chooses to do it:
So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?  (Galatians 3:5)
And the rhetorical answer is "by hearing with faith."  And so it is with spiritual gifts: while they are freely given (charisma - grace gift), they are not exercised without our cooperation.  Which means we are not puppets of God.  We can choose to exercise our gifts and follow God, or we can choose to run away like Jonah.

Cooperation

In one sense, the only valid work we can do with God is cooperation.  In many cases our cooperation is just as simple as faith.  In other cases, it's yielding ourselves to Him.  In other instances, it's resisting the devil and drawing near to God.  All of these actions are examples of our cooperating with God.  Finding someone willing to cooperate with God is of paramount importance to Him:
I searched for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, so that I would not destroy it; but I found no one.  (Ezekiel 22:30)
The passage above is a clear example of the results of sovereignty and grace.  One one hand, God was ready to destroy the land  (sovereignty), but on the other hand, He wanted to show mercy and save the land.  But what was lacking: "a man among them who would ... stand in the gap."  What was He looking for?   Fortitude, intercession, faith and cooperation: a space to express grace.

Consider also the seven years of plenty followed by the seven years of famine:
It is as I have spoken to Pharaoh: God has shown to Pharaoh what He is about to do.  Behold, seven years of great abundance are coming in all the land of Egypt; and after them seven years of famine will come, and all the abundance will be forgotten in the land of Egypt, and the famine will ravage the land. So the abundance will be unknown in the land because of that subsequent famine; for it will be very severe. Now as for the repeating of the dream to Pharaoh twice, it means that the matter is determined by God, and God will quickly bring it about.  Now let Pharaoh look for a man discerning and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh take action to appoint overseers in charge of the land, and let him exact a fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt in the seven years of abundance.  (Genesis 41:28-34)
God was acting in sovereignty, with providence and in grace in this example.  Through sovereignty and providence He provided the dream, the plenty and the famine.  Through grace he provided the interpretation, the produce and the ability to harvest the land.

Living by the Spirit

Which brings me to yielding.  I've often wondered how to reconcile being filled with the spirit (Ephesians 5:18), and walking in the spirit (Galatians 5:16) and dying to self (Matthew 16:24), and last but not least, being transformed by God (Philippians 1:6).  At times, they seem incompatible, and most certainly if you spend any time in the average church, you will get seemingly conflicting and incompatible ideas regarding all of them.  So I spent a lot of time considering spirit - what is it?  Well, God is spirit.  Jesus has given us the comforter, His Holy Spirit.  Jesus described spirit as wind.  I even determined that the effects of His Holy Spirit demonstrate the affections of God (that's a play on words, but it works out correctly).  I've understood that the spirit behind the 10 Commandments is one of protection, concern and love - not of "I'm a Holy God and I get to make the rules, so do or die."

Unfortunately, I've not come to any grand conclusions.  I've had to be taken back a step, back to yielding.  It turns out that in the moment by moment decisions that we are presented with, yielding to one thing or the other is what it all boils down to: do I perform this thing, or that thing?  Do this or that?

In the end, we've got to make a choice.  We will yield to the flesh, or we will yield to His Holy Spirit.  Is it that simple?  Apparently so, for God did say, "Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you." (James 4:7-8)  In order to submit, resist and draw, you must yield to His Holy Spirit and die to self: you must cooperate with God and in doing so, you receive grace to overcome.

Sometimes, yielding is not an easy choice.  But it is fundamental to living in the Spirit, dying to self, being filled with the Spirit and being transformed by God.  And it puts us in a position of living in Grace, as opposed to being fallen from grace.  For when we are fallen from grace, we are living in our own strength, making our own way and working to build ourselves up with our own hands.

Yielding to His Holy Spirit and living in grace is a much better option, don't you think?

2 comments:

Morgan Guyton said...

I don't see anything problematic about the way you put things here. Of course I'm on the same side of the Calvinist/Arminian argument as you. The idea that we cooperate with the Holy Spirit in our own spiritual transformation has a long history in Christian orthodoxy. And yet it seems like the more I cooperate with the Holy Spirit, the less I need to get credit for good that I do and the more I say that it was a blessing that God had the mercy to use me for His purpose. So there's a way in which the more I express my free will, the more I am actually submitting myself to God's will. Asserting my freedom is not accomplished by opposing God but by giving myself over to God's liberation of my spirit. Otherwise, I am a slave to my flesh.

David Means said...

Agreed. We can never get the credit for the work He performs.

Yet that relationship of cooperation is so basic, so rudimentary and grace is so pervasive that we often times miss our part of yielding in faith. I'm afraid that it's one of the lies that our enemy uses against the Body of Christ - just do nothing: remain where you are, keep your attitudes, keep your rebellion and let "grace" fix you. The truth is that we must yield to God in all of those things, in our attitudes, our rebellions, and our positions.

It's similar to the process of gaining victory through God over an addiction: until we admit we have a problem, we will remain in a state of addiction. And so it is with sin.

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