Salvation and the Christian Life – Doing Theology in the Era of Global Ecumenism, Part 5

Unknown-1What I have written in my previous four posts on salvation and the Christian life can be stated very precisely in the following way – we are saved by grace alone, but we are saved for works and through works in the sense that such works are evangelical and always proceed from faith and serve the advancement of our real sanctification. Our good works do not increase God’s grace but neither are they merely a by-product. Said Bloesch, “They signify not an appendage to our salvation but the flowering and fruition of our salvation” (18). The Christian life is thus a real working out of our salvation so that faith comes to real fulfillment in transformation and Christlikeness.

As some of you know I have been working on a book on love. During the last year or so I have come to this understanding again and again in my theological outlook. Salvation really does alter my heart and life or it is not God’s grace at work in me, but something akin to notion and mental assent.

The church has been troubled, with regard to grace and transformation, by heresies on two sides – objectivism and subjectivism. We need to affirm both God’s decision for us (his divine yes) and our decision in his grace (our holy, love inspired response to his divine yes). Faith is never a passive receiving or a simple mental process. It is a wholehearted and life-long devotion to Jesus Christ in the gospel of grace.

The conclusion I have made here will not end all disagreements. Yet I am persuaded that it can go a long way toward helping us to see the beauty of a deep understanding of salvation and the Christian life. Both the Catholic and evangelical traditions affirm that our mission and witness to the world is one of both word and deed, not simply one or the other. We must proclaim the good news and we must live the good news. We must expound the Scriptures, thus the emphasis upon preaching the Bible, and we must enter into the travails and struggles of our neighbors in Christ’s love. We must love in both word and deed!

Put another way I am saying that a life of true faith will always have an organic relationship with real salvation. Our salvation was worked out for us in the death and resurrection of Christ but it is also worked out in us by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is what Paul tells the church in ancient Philippi when he says, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure (2:12-13, NRSV).

Grace is freely offered to all, regardless of how ungodly the person may be. But when a person is justified by grace a godly life will follow. We have been given a new mind, the mind of Christ. We have the mind of Christ for us and we have the mind of Christ in us. The Christian life is grounded in Christ and worked out by the Spirit of Christ. This means those who receive the grace of God must live in solidarity with the world, which includes loving our neighbors and suffering with them under the anguish of sin and death. Until he comes we have work to do in this world. This work must never be divorced from the “once for all” work of Christ yet the work of Christ is not something only in the historical past. It is a divine working within the people of God in the present as they are daily “being saved.”

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