When talking about grace, I find it impossible to not talk about works as well.
As Martin Luther wrote: “Faith is a living, bold trust in God’s grace, so certain of God’s favor that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it. Such confidence and knowledge of God’s grace makes you happy, joyful and bold in your relationship to God and all creatures. The Holy Spirit makes this happen through faith. Because of it, you freely, willingly and joyfully do good to everyone, serve everyone, suffer all kinds of things, love and praise the God who has shown you such grace. Thus, it is just as impossible to separate faith and works as it is to separate heat and light from fire!”
In previous posts, I reflected on the theology of glory versus the theology of the cross. Before moving on, I want to be clear I do not equate works with a theology of glory or grace with a theology of the cross – but there are some similarities.
A theology of glory will focus more intently on what an individual can do to find their soul’s glorious destiny. It will firmly establish that their will is in control, and thus it makes perfect sense to simply “try harder, think more positively, or work harder” to improve your current life condition.
A theology of the cross, however, focuses singularly on the suffering of Christ on the cross, how that story enters our story, and how we look intently on the cross and embrace the common suffering with Christ. We don’t try to answer the why, we simply commune with Christ on the cross of suffering, recognizing our attempts to “satisfy” will only be ill-fated on our own.
Thus, onto a discussion of works and faith. Most evangelicals agree on the Gospel message: We are sinners and thus saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. This is the GOOD GOOD FREAKING NEWS! Ya baby! God graciously saves us (even though we don’t deserve it). The Holy Spirit compels us to admit we are sinners and repent of our sinful desires to save ourselves. He initiates faith inside of us (and subsequently becomes the only “requirement” fulfilled of salvation). And we get a piece of all of this because of what Jesus accomplished through his life, crucifixion, and resurrection.
However, as Luther duly points out, we can’t any more talk about faith without talking about works. As Dallas Willard writes, “It’s a familiar story. ‘We’re only human,’ we say, and ‘to err is human…’ Jesus could not have imposed anything that hard upon us. And beside, we’re in a period of grace – we are saved by grace, not by anything we do.” But see, as Willard concludes, this is not a sufficient answer. Instead, “all our reasoning cannot, however, remove the thought that Jesus calls us to follow him – to follow him now…”
The theology of the cross establishes there must be a sufficient death to self before there is any hope of a resurrection and recognition of the grace of God. In essence, it begins with God. It ends with God. In between, how are we to hope for a life lived resembling Christ?
Theologically, there are wide-ranging ideas about what it means to resemble and live like Christ. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I do know like any successful athlete, we must not simply hope to respond and play well at game-time without discipline and practice. As John Wesley noted, “The soul and body makes a man; the Spirit and discipline make a Christian.”
In the Lutheran world along with other mainline, liberal Protestant churches, we tend to emphasize grace too often. I know this seems impossible because the grace of God is the most incredible message of Scripture. However, without an equal dosage of spiritual discipline, discipleship, practices to following Jesus, and works, we can’t possibly be complete followers of Christ. If we simply listen all day about how we are saved, saved, saved by grace without any kind of discussion about how Jesus calls us to FOLLOW him no matter the cost, we’ll simply become couch potatoes listening to our parents tell us how we’re going to become professional athletes by sitting on the couch.
To fully embrace the theology of the cross, we must look at the cross as a mirror and see the futility in doing things our way. The cross reflects our inability to fulfill the deeper longings on our own.
Instead, the reflection of the cross should compel and propel us to pursuing a life of spiritual discipline. “His commands are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). If we want the easy yoke of Christ, we must give our total selves to a disciplined following of Christ in the totality of our lives.
Are you compelled and propelled by the cross to follow the way of Christ?
Do you gaze upon the cross and see the reflection of your life lived in futility on your own accord or in the way of Christ?
My desire, in 2010, is to grow in Christlikeness. I can’t do it on my own. I need the power of the Holy Spirit. I need the cross. I need to remember that growth only comes by the grace of God. But I’m going to work from the inside-out. I’m going to engage in centuries old spiritual disciplines and practice. I don’t think my soul is destined for glory, but my soul is destined to be infused with the image of Christ. But it will take discipline, practice and preparation.
What do you think?