Thursday, July 6, 2006

Fear, trembling, and discerning God's will

Okay, so you probably know that I'm one heck of a crazy person: I'm in the midst of raising $31K (again) to continue bringing the amazing news of God's grace in Jesus Christ to students in the Near East. And, as you can expect, most of my time is spent floundering in doubt: Will the money come in? Why can't I get a hold of anybody? Am I really supposed to be going back there again instead of looking for a teaching job? Do I actually even care about the gospel myself, let alone reaching others with it, blah, blah, blah. But the other night I read something that is keeping my feet on the ground and some sense in my head:

Christian discipleship is a process of paying more and more attention to God's righteousness [his unswerving fidelity in relationship] and less and less attention to our own; finding the meaning of our lives not by probing our moods and motives and morals but by believing in God's will and purposes; making a map of the faithfulness of God, not charting the rise and fall of our affections.*

I began to wonder: How much of my doubt and waffling is on account of looking to my subjective emotions and perceptions about my supposed "calling" to go back overseas rather than looking to those sureties grounded in God's unassailable plan for the world's peoples? I know for an overwhelming fact that unless God revokes his covenant with Abraham (Genesis 12:2-3; Galatians 3:6-9) and scorns the blood of his own beloved Son (Revelation 5:9-10)--thus bringing his own self-condemnation (Genesis 15:7-10, 17)--he will act to bring the nations to Christ. And this will not occur without preachers of the gospel (Romans 10:14-17).

Now this is not to say that my role is assured on account of this. But Jesus himself gave the imperative to pray for harvesters (Matthew 9:37-38), so every prayer to that end is as if Christ himself were petitioning the Lord of the harvest. Surely his prayers are not met in vain! While I can't make a definite claim either way, it seems to me that our odds for success are far better when we trust in God's firm purposes to guide our lives, instead of relying on "gut feeling" or "probing our moods and motives and morals." So I keep on keepin' on.
*Eugene H. Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2000), 133.


halfmom said...

Oh my gosh - I'm always glad that you read so much!!

I will continue to pray for your support raising. Please email me if you have specific prayer requests that you don't want to put on either blog.

I could use a favor - a young friend, raised Lutheran - seems to think that being Lutheran means that salvation requires Christ AND ALSO works - and is therefore no inconsistent with being Catholic.

I went back and pulled out the "reformed theology" website you linked to once but I though you might like to/be willing to make some comments yourself - thanks

Drew said...


One of the miraculous and wonderful things that happened during the Reformation was the "discovery" that the Bible teaches that we are saved by faith alone apart from our own good deeds. First of all, we are quite in a state of enmity toward God (Rom. 5:10; Col. 1:21), even death (Rom. 5:12, 15-21; Eph. 2:1-5), that makes all our "good works" as filthy rags before God (Isaiah 64:6). (Literally the Hebrew for "filthy rags" referred to those used to clean up a woman's menstruation.) Dead people cannot save themselves, no matter how "good" they may think their deeds are. Dead people aren't even capable of faith—they can't resuscitate themselves—so they must be made alive by God, from the outside (John 3:5-8; Eph. 2:5).

So prior to faith there can really be no such thing as "good works". But doesn't it seem like there's a way to be set right before God by our works, by obeying the Law? I mean, isn't that what Jews did for thousands of years? No. The Law is meant to (1) show us what sin is (Rom. 7:7), and therefore silence us and all our attempts at self-righteousness before God (Rom. 3:19-20). It therefore leaves us with no hope in ourselves, so that we're guided to Christ, our sole hope. This is why Paul calls the Law a "tutor" in Galatians 3:24.

The testimony is this: "By works of the law no human being will be justified in his [God's] sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin" (Rom. 3:20). "I do not nullify the grace of God, for if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose" (Gal. 2:21; see also Rom. 9:30-33).

So we are justified by faith alone, while we are still powerless, ungodly, and worth nothing to God nor morally noble. "What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our [the Jews'] forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness." Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due [see Rom. 6:23]. And to the one who does not work, but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works" (Rom. 4:1-6).

You see, because God credits or imputes righteousness to our us on the basis of our faith apart from works, our works do not factor into God's declaration that we are righteous. Period. And why does God work this way? So that we must boast entirely in God and his grace, giving him the glory. Paul says in Romans 4:2, that works would give us reason to boast, but God will not allow praise due to him come to us instead. This is why we are saved by grace (undeserved favor) through faith apart from our works, so that no one may boast (Eph. 2:8-9; 1 Cor. 1:30-31). God alone gets the glory for our salvation from beginning to end. If I were to be justified by faith at the beginning but then had to achieve or earn some sort of perfection or completion on my own, then our salvation would be a cooperative work, a sharing of the glory. But God will not have this! This is why it says in Philippians 1:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24; Jude 24, etc. that it is God who completes and perfects us and carries us on until the Day of the Lord. And in Philippians 2:12-13 even our expression of salvation is only possible because God is the one at work within us to shape our wills and actions.

Finally, to say we need to add anything to faith distorts the function of faith itself and shames the person and work of Christ. (1) The whole point of faith is to turn us away from our own resources and abilities to that of our Savior and his resources and abilities. (2) By faith and in our baptism we are united to the crucified and risen Christ; consequently we can consider our old selves dead—which were sinful and under judgment, but have now died and been judged in Christ's death—and alive in new selves, the "last Adam" of Christ, perfect in righteousness. To say that we need to add anything to our union with Christ and being found "in him" is no different that saying Christ himself is insufficient. It's to say that his death was truly a good enough death, so we need to continually mortify our own flesh through asceticism, pain, or anguished confession (like the medieval Roman Catholic "sacrament" of contritio, or why they believe that Christ must continually be "re-sacrificed" in the Eucharist). Christ's death and resurrection was a radical, one-time-for-all-of-history event, and now he lives on eternally at the Father's right side. United to Christ through our faith likewise brings a once-for-all death to sin (that is, death to its condemnation and power over us) and once-for-all life.

This is the scandal of grace. We didn't, aren't, and can't do a damn thing to add to Christ and his grip on us. Rejoice in this! It is our sole hope.