Thursday, October 09, 2014

From Faith

Does, then, the one who supplies the Spirit to you and works mighty deeds among you do so from works of the law or from faith in what you heard?  Galatians 3:5

“And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”  Luke 11:9-10

Father, help us forge a common understanding of what we need to do when armed with the grace of faith brought to us by your Son.  Holy Spirit, give us the conviction to overturn the disagreements the drive us apart and bind our wounds of discord so that we stand together and serve together in faith.  Amen.

Paul’s contention that justification comes not through the law or the works of the law but by faith in Christ and in his death is supported by appeals to Christian experience and to scripture.  That did not mean the subject was settled after Paul’s pronouncement.  In fact, this very question led 1600 years later to the Protestant Reformation. 

Paul reminds his audience in Galatia that the gift of God’s Spirit came from the gospel received in faith, not from doing what the law enjoins. The story of Abraham referred to is an example that shows faith in God puts you on the right side.  However, it does not cut off the invitation with only the “chosen people.”  The promise to Abraham extends to the Gentiles, as well.

Back in the 1500’s Martin Luther and his followers had declared sola fide! Faith alone! Grace alone! Nothing we do can earn our salvation.  This was not unlike Paul’s message nor that of St. Augustine.

For Martin Luther, the place of good works in the everyday life of a Christian was to be found within the context of righteousness, justification, and grace. Essentially, works were not to be viewed, in any way, shape, or form, as the means to justification and grace. The only way one can achieve righteousness, according to Luther, is through faith. Indeed, the pursuit of good works as the means to salvation could be as detrimental to grace as ignorance of sin. Good works, however, are not totally discounted in value by Martin Luther. Quite the contrary, they have a positive and important role to play in both the revelation of an individual's sinful nature, and in the proper Christian response to God's grace. Be this as it may, the Biblical passage: "He who through faith is righteous shall live," which Luther seems to have understood as the keynote of his teachings, can be taken as the vantage point from which his understanding of good works can be judged. They are, without a doubt, divorced from all baring on the act of justification; for, 'by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified."[i]

However, it took another 450 years before the Lutherans and Catholics signed an historic document on the topic which healed the rift that opened with the Council of Trent.  Talk about family feuds!

The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification essentially says that Lutherans and Catholics explain justification in different ways but share the same basic understanding. The central passage reads, “Together we confess: by grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping us and calling us to good works.”

The declaration acknowledges that good works are a genuine response to God’s grace—not the cause of it. The declaration also rescinds the formal condemnations of both the Catholic and Lutheran Churches against one another.[ii] 

How does your faith equip you and call you to do good works?  It is our faith that causes us to respond when our neighbor is hungry and knocks on our door for food.  Without faith, we might roll over and go to back to sleep. 
We knock on God’s door with our prayer and God answers.  Who is knocking on your door today?  Will you answer?  After all, God works mighty deeds and Jesus performed many signs to get our attention and instill our faith.  Should we not also perform this as a branch from the tree of faith?

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