Yesterday I had a good long conversation with my uncle. We talked about a lot of spiritual stuff. I guess you could say that spiritual topics are my junk. I’m always up for them. I learned a lot of stuff from my uncle.
We were on the topic of working out our salvation and the tension with grace; that God’s acceptance on us is not something we work at, not something we can attain by doing something but what we receive as a gift when we believe in Jesus. This is something I believe myself. But to only hold one side of the coin and avoid what Paul tells us about working out our salvation is what I would call a half baked belief system.
It’s true that we will never be able to attain our own righteousness. But to live a life that is less than what it means to follow Jesus is a mistaken belief system.
So let me try my best to bridge the two tensions together. I’m trying to remember how I explained it last night to my uncle. I’m not saying that I was correcting his belief system just me trying to bridge the two ideas together.
Now the story of God doing a rescue mission on the people of Israel was not in accordance to what Israel as a people had done. It was birthed upon a promise to Abraham actually. God made a covenant to Abraham that out of his defendant he would bless the world. There is no explanation given in the bible concerning why God chose Abraham in the first place but God just chose him and called him.
Now Abraham and his wife Sarah were old and they did not have any children. But God promised Abraham that he would provide for his barren and old wife that they would have a child. But all along the way Abraham made mistakes. But God made up for the mistakes he made. It was as if God was teaching Abraham to trust him and his ways. And I believe that Abraham soon grew in that direction, to be able to trust God.
In what seems to be the climactic turn of Abraham’s story, God told Abraham to sacrifice his son of promise, whom God had given to him. Abraham did not retaliate and went along. But in the end God was testing Abraham. And sat it was at that point that God sealed the covenant with Abraham.
Israel were riding on the promise given to their ancestor Abraham. It was out of him being chosen and his obedience that God rescued Israel. And in return after God had again initiated the rescue mission did he give the law in which directed specific ways in which Israel should live. Israel would be the priest of all nations to reflect their King, who was God.
Now the idea of grace is implied and deeply embedded in the Old Testament narrative. But people don’t somehow see it. So to me there is in someways a progressive form of continuity in the Old Testament as well in the New. But there is also an unmistaken form of discontinuity, and this pertains to the law.
Now in the New Testament, it is Jesus who supersedes the law. He takes the role of the law in the new era of transition. And in Jesus is a better law. A law that transforms people from the inside out and not just in their outward appearance. If anything, Jesus completes what the law could not do and that is inward transformation.
And so as the story goes in this new era, our initial call to be God’s people is structured around the old pattern of grace. God initiates and we respond. God sends to the world Jesus and we respond to this by believing in him. But belief is not something that has to do with a mental decision but a whole life transformation to conform to a pattern, and that pattern is to follow Jesus. Because Jesus is the new law. Albeit, a radical restructuring of the old law. In the old law, it was only for a specific people, of a certain nation. But in Jesus, it is open to everyone and not just a specific nation.
So, our salvation, although it depends on grace and belief in Jesus, it still follows a pattern of living, and albeit a specific type of living. We can’t ascribe to a belief unless we believe it whole heartedly and that means a whole turn around in how we live as well. Jesus is truly the one responsible for our salvation. But then again he is also our Lord. An encapsulated in that is a life conformed to his ideas and patterns for living. It’s no wonder, whenever one reads the New Testament, a lot of the things that the letters talk about are the ethical demands on how one now is to live ones life. So let’s not forget that.
It’s true that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus. But it also means that we are to conform to a pattern of living. Belief is not a mental decision but a life transformation directed by the lordship of Jesus. To ascribe to Jesus as only a belief that has no ethical appearance is a short subscription to a belief system. The very truth of believing in Jesus is to take what seems to be some sort of tension of grace and working out our salvation into a complimentary way of living in how we are to grasp a savior who is also our Lord.