Monday, August 08, 2016

By Faith Alone

Isaiah 1:10-20                          
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Luke 12:32-40

“By justification we are saved from the guilt of sin, and restored to the favor of God; by sanctification we are saved from the power and root of sin, and restored to the image of God.” – John Wesley, “On Working Out Our Own Salvation”, 1785

This is an essential doctrine of the Church, and it is a unique expression of that doctrine in Methodism that does not take salvation for granted but embraces salvation as the essence of everything we do.  We understand that salvation cannot be left to lie fallow as just a “once-and-done” thing so we can go on about our lives. 

It is the strangest thing that as much as we may believe otherwise, there is no clear statement throughout Scripture that we are “saved by faith alone”.  That is a product of the Reformation.  The concept is strongly implied, of course, and carried throughout the Protestant Christian tradition as a reminder worthy of our constant attention that salvation by faith through grace is purely a Gift from Above.  We cannot earn it, and it cannot be purchased.  It is The Lord’s act of reaching out to His creation – with a purpose.

With that said, then, it must be pointed out that there is a biblical statement regarding “faith … alone”, but it is preceded by a big, fat “NOT”!  According to St. James, using the examples of Abraham and even Rahab, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (2:24), both examples blessed by their faithful action.  Note, however, he does not write “by works alone” nor does he suggest it can be one or the other.  There is a context which gives this simple statement its full meaning, and it ends with James’ well-known admonishment that “just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead” (2:26).

There are a few things necessary to give James’ words their full meaning.  When he states “by works and not by faith alone”, he is not distinguishing between faith and works.  Rather, he is referring to two sides of the same coin; there cannot be one without the other.  If we remove one side of the coin, the coin itself can no longer exist.  It is works partnering with the great Gift of salvation, an eager response to such a remarkable Gift which begins, as Wesley so believed, at the moment we are justified before The Lord.  That is, when we are “saved” (justified), we are simultaneously “called” into a new life, a new narrative; not the same ol’ life with a new bumper sticker and t-shirt. 

Paul seems to make it easy for the Romans“If you will declare with your mouth [what you] believe in your heart”, that God raised Christ from the grave, you shall be saved”. 

This is all well and good, of course, until it reaches a point at which people outside of the Church and the Covenant have heard us but cannot really see and thus fail to understand what we believe, which defies the very purpose of salvation – to witness to the reality of Divine Love.  These outsiders find it much easier to believe what they see with their own eyes – and what they often see (or claim to see) is not always so good.  What they can see is that we look and act just like them.

This makes that whole “only Jesus knows what’s in my heart” thing the most profoundly ridiculous and spiritually shallow statement a person can ever utter because it not only declares our own self-justification; it denies Jesus’s very statement to the contrary (“By their fruits you will know them”).   We witness to the reality of our hearts with our mouths, for good or evil, just as Jesus said.

Understanding the fullness of salvation, there is a distinctive difference between a “believer” and a disciple.  A “believer” will hear a thing that resonates with them on a particular level, they will buy into it as it stands, and they will embrace it because it seems to require nothing of them but a verbal declaration.  Following Jesus on any level does not factor in at all because they convince themselves the “yoke” of religion is man-made and overly burdensome.  Add to this the cheap slogans that we don’t have to do anything, and the disconnect between “belief” and “discipleship” is complete.

A disciple, on the other hand, has not only heard a thing but has felt it.  A disciple is not threatened by what is clearly incompatible with the way we currently live and think.  A disciple is open to a thing that must have greater meaning that will not fit into our own personally constructed narrative, and we soon come to know we are being invited into a whole new narrative.  We literally become a part of the biblical story.

There is an easy way to know the difference and how we can measure what we are willing to fully trust as opposed to what we may choose to believe.  “Believers” still live with a measure of fear in knowing what they have – homes, cars, money, jobs, stocks, retirement nest egg, even loved ones – can be easily lost or taken. 

A disciple appreciates all these things for what they are, but they do not define us.  Disciples reach beyond these things and persons for what can never be lost, will not be taken, and will never be destroyed as long as they remain preserved – not with guns or civil law, but with faith.  The Kingdom of Heaven becomes much more than a concept we are willing to believe; faith becomes our actual Kingdom experience.

Faith ultimately trusts when there is no apparent reason to trust, and this especially applies to material wealth, because faith is engaged in something the eyes cannot readily see.  Faith does much more than to merely “believe”; faith, like love itself, does what mere belief would consider to be madness.  Faith is a “doer of the Word”; belief only hears it.

Faith that is the fabric of all we are is unafraid of the outcome of this election because faith will refuse to fall for the false choice of any supposed “lesser” evil according to human ideals.  Faith will never “settle” for anything less than the glory of our God and Savior.  Because we have been “saved from the guilt of sin”, we want no more of that.  It is too great and painful a burden to carry.  And because we are “going on to perfection” in sanctification, we live and strive and work for the day when the “power and root of sin” (seeking one’s own glory) no longer holds sway over us, and the Image of the Holy God grows stronger from within and becomes much clearer.

So today is our “election day”.  Today is the day we are called to cast our vote.  We can continue to live in fear of what tomorrow may bring, and we can continue to hate those who appear to threaten our well-being.  OR we can choose today to let go of those fears, and resolve to serve The Lord faithfully. 

It is a scary choice, my friends; of this there must be no doubt, because in choosing Life in the Resurrected Christ, we must first choose death to self as the Crucified Christ did.  Death to the ideals of this world.  Death to our fears.  Death to our doubts.  Death to our hatred for those who mock us. 

We are invited into a whole new narrative and a Life we cannot possibly bring to ourselves when we trust fully, unreservedly, unapologetically.  For He is the Lamb of God who takes away all fears, wipes away all tears and sorrows, and removes entirely from our lives the narrative of death.

By Faith?  Absolutely.  But “alone”?  Never for so long as we are with The Lord.  Amen.

No comments: