Theological musings on Grace vs Works.

I don't know if I mentioned this before, but although I've been a Christian for most of my life (since a very young age) I grew up mostly un-churched. I used to joke that my family was cursed because as soon as we settled into a church home, the pastor would leave, and my parents never seemed to develop enough of a connection with the other parishioners to stick it out during the search for a new pastor. We also were kind of odd balls even as Christians go, super conservative. My mom always thought the youth groups were too worldly. She was always questioning pastors. . . I guess we got that from my grandma, who I would consider a radical in the best sense of the word; she can go toe to toe in any debate with any theologian I know (she's one of those people the Jehovah Witnesses actually avoid visiting after awhile because she'll keep them there for a long time and they don't get any where with her).

And it's true, churches get caught up with a lot of stuff that is superficial and annoying. I don't think that is because of any fault in Christianity. It's just how people are. People turn simple things complex and then give up on them because they are too complicated. People bring drama. Still, we're supposed to fellowship with believers and church is the best place to meet believers, even if I'm not a huge fan with how much of a spectator sport it has become.

I'm also, again because of my Grandma and Mother, really sensitive to legalism. My grandma can tell if someone is a “do-to-be'r,” somebody who thinks they are important and righteous because of things they do rather than because they had Christ in them, the hope of glory.

In some ways I think I've taken this a little farther than my predecessors. Because I wasn't raised in a church I'm a little more comfortable questioning theological principles that a lot of other Christians take for granted. I do believe in the scriptures. I think everything in the Bible is God breathed. I believe if you start throwing out things just because you don't like or understand them, you are left with a holy (pun sort of intended) book made of Swiss cheese which has about the same value of any other archaic text (Aesop, Cicero, Caesar, take your pick). It's kind of an all or nothing thing. I also believe, however, that a lot of the tenets of “religion” have more to do with tradition than theology and if you can back it up with a Bible verse, I'm willing to consider it, even if it goes against something else I have perhaps taken for granted. For instance, I'm not completely sold on the idea of Hell as eternal punishment. I've seen some compelling, Bible based arguments for annihilation and I'm keeping my mind open to the possibility that what I learned as a child about eternal torment might not be true. I also decided a long time ago that if something wasn't a “Salvation Issue” I don't have to know for sure. I told a friend of mine who I was debating with about a life style choice she was making which I consider to be a sin that I'm fully sure I might get to Heaven and God will say something like, “Didn't you get the memo on keeping Kosher? You know, I was serious about that. . .” but I don't think God's going to toss me out on my rear at that point because of it. That's why the just will live by faith, not works, because at some point there is always going to be someone who thinks there is something that  you should be doing better or that something you are doing is going to send you to hell (wearing pants, drinking wine, or whatever other rule somebody else wants you to follow), and it is nice to know that even if they are possibly right and what you are doing is “wrong,” it's still okay because Jesus has forgiven you as far as the east is from the west and even if you screw up without knowing it, He's there for you.

The long and short of it is, any time anyone tries to impose a law on me, I get squirmy inside. I want to be free. I don't want to live my life by rules. . .which is funny because I'm a classic example of a good girl. I saved sex for marriage. I consider my husband to be the head of the household. I don't swear. I don't even like most R rated movies. 1 Corinthians says  “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. I believe that and live my life by it. I really believe not following God's rules will only hurt yourself, not because it will make God hate you or some such nonsense but because He made these rules to protect you and guide you. I think all Christians have sins in their lives. If you think you don't, you are turning a blind eye to something. For instance, I'm chronically lazy, and sloth made the "seven deadly" list.

Anyway, this entire exposition has just been a preamble to what got me going. Yesterday we tried out an area church for the first time. I really want a church home again. After moving around from church to church, I've found it nice as an adult to find a place to attend and stick with it. However, I hate trying new places. It's awkward. There are a lot of weird introductions, new names to remember, and it is often a choice between having no one to notice you so that you blend in and never meet anyone and having the entire church body sense new blood and swarm you with handshakes and awkward questions. We finally bit the bullet, though, and tried a new church down the street.

Now, I grew up mostly Baptist. Like I said we moved around a lot, but that's the style of religion I always felt the most comfortable in. It's friendly, usually with a strong sense of community, homey, they do a lot of potlucks and are very hands on. Most Baptists believe that once you are saved you are always saved, and that's a big thing for me. I don't like the idea that you keep falling out of God's favor and have to beg your way back with every little mistake you make. I don't think it's Biblical, for one thing, and it puts limitations on God's forgiveness which is limitless. . .because of that the church we tried was a Baptist one and the pastor was giving a sermon on John 8:31-36, especially this section:

34 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 

Now he pointed out that the correct translation (which I've heard before and believe as well) is “everyone who continues to sin.” Obviously everyone sins some times, but he said, and again, I agree, that if you have a relationship with Jesus you shouldn't enjoy sinning. It should feel wrong. Your soul should turn against it. He said a lot of people who consider themselves saved aren't really saved and then it started to get a little bit legalistic and I started feeling resistant.

This is the part he found the crux of the argument in:

Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;

According to him in order to really be saved you needed to dwell in the word which he translated into reading the Bible regularly. So according to him if you aren't reading the Bible regularly you probably aren't saved. He went on to say how the heart is deceptive (which I also believe) and that it can convince you that you are saved when you really aren't.

I wanted to make sure I wasn't needlessly rebellious, but the more I thought about his sermon the more I was certain I didn't like it and wanted to argue about it with someone. I asked, “Am I just being sensitive because I know I'm very lazy about devotionals? Am I defensive because I'm uncertain that I'm saved?” Fortunately, I have a quick check for this.

Romans 10:9
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Yeah, I'm good.

So if Romans is right, how can what he claimed be right? What does it really mean to dwell in the word? I decided to pray and even though I'm not very good at memorizing scripture numbers, verses started popping into my head, unfortunately without the numbers that tell me where to find them, but that's what google is for, right?

Remember the beginning of the Gospel of John?

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it.

The “Word” is not the Bible. The Bible is the word of God, but Jesus Himself is the Word with a capital W. I don't think Jesus was telling us that if you don't memorize scriptures or meet some arbitrary “Bible reading quota” you aren't in Him. I think He meant in order to be His disciples you have to allow Him into your heart, to be born again, which is something very consistent with the entire Bible, so I feel pretty sure about this.

I don't think, other than accepting and confessing, there is a thing we personally can do to advance our Salvation. It is a gift. We don't “deserve” it. We don't “earn” it. We really don't even have to “maintain” it.

8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.(Ephesians 2:8-10)

3 Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.
5 Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: “The person who does these things will live by them.”[a] 6 But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’”[b] (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’”[c] (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,”[d] that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: 9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.”[e] 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile —the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”[f] (Romans 10:3-13)

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)

I do agree that if you are allowing Christ to live in you old things will start to pass away. Sin will lose its hold over you, become less tempting and more despicable, you'll want to do good rather than bad. In James it does say that Faith without Works is dead, but I don't think that means you need to work for your faith. Rather than if you have true faith, the faith of Christ as well as in Christ, you'll start to desire to do good. It's the fruit that shows that the tree is still alive. Some trees, however, take longer to bear fruit than others. Some trees may even get cut down before they have had a chance to come to fruition. Some of us may completely squander our gifts in Christ, but we shall still be saved if we truly gave ourselves to Christ. Why am I so sure of this? Because God said so in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15

10 According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.
11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;
13 Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is.
14 If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.
15 If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

So we may have to stand before God and watch our entire life go up in smoke, everything for naught, but we shall be saved. That's why works matter but they aren't going to save you.

I have to talk it over with Matt, but I'm pretty sure we aren't going to continue with that church. I have to think about Coryn and Claire now and I want them to know that God isn't going to kick them out or that they don't have to reevaluate their salvation and start over every time they make a mistake. Sure, it is easy now to believe when you've made a little mistake that you can keep moving. But what if you have made a big mistake? Do I want my daughter thinking that God has kicked her to the curb because she (God forbid) has gotten pregnant or taken drugs or any of the other things that can derail a young woman's life? Or do I want her to believe that even when she herself has turned away, God still has His hand on her shoulder, just waiting for her to turn back and face Him again so they can continue the walk? Obviously the second, because not only is the second easier to live with, but I believe it is true, and I'm going to keep searching until I find a church home that I believe reinforces that.