"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no
need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth." 2 Timothy 2:15
The season of Advent approaches and I’m preparing, on my knees in contrition. Your son came to earth for the very purpose of unifying us in his salvation and I confess that I don’t feel quite unified with the bride of him who invites us all to the table.
I admit that I’ve had disagreements with other brothers and sisters in your body, Jesus. I’ve been considering the debates I hear (not just between me and others, but throughout my circle of friends, family, and fellow worshipers) and I think I’m beginning to see a pattern. Here’s how one brand of these discussions typically begin:
“Are you a Calvinist or an Arminian?”
To some who are reading along in my conversation with You, Father God, this may seem like a question posed in some strange foreign language. But I’m struck by the number of folks who deem their allegiance to John Calvin or Jacobus Arminius; as critical as their devotion to you, Lord Jesus.
In their time, these two theologians offered great considerations concerning the condition of mankind, eternal security, and grace. But sadly, when a contemporary conversation fires up surrounding the two men’s positions, things seem to always go downhill from there. Not that there aren’t valid points from both camps; particularly regarding Grace and Eternal Security―these and the other components of Your redemptive plan are worthy of any believer’s serious study and understanding.
Yet, I wonder sometimes if You see us as children squabbling over prized packages under the tree. Treasures that we should actually be eagerly sharing with others rather than critiquing the wrapping and claiming our individual name to be the only one on the outer tag, regrettably never opening the box together to discover the deeper corporate blessings within? How You must weep at our feeble attempts to diminish the power of Your redemption. Forgive me, Father, along with my fellow followers, for my participation in any selfish attempt at forcing a point. I seek Your wisdom alone in this matter, God of all.
In Proverbs 27:17, You tell us, even encourage, that iron sharpening iron is healthy as long as it leads to a closer relationship together; walking toward Your righteousness. That has recently been proven out for me, individually. I believe, in my case, a slight twist in my personal theology surrounding the gifts of faith and grace is emerging.
I always seem to end up at the same scriptural junction whenever I consider grace―the gift of favor from You to believers which we do not deserve. The verses in mind are Ephesians 2:8-9
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Please, Lord, don’t misunderstand. I do not trust or lean on this one scripture alone. It is but a landmark, arrived at by a path mapped and followed through a winding course of many connecting verses. But, based on the flow of where You are guiding my ecclesiastical journey, it sounds like both faith and grace are mighty important. So much so that I have to ask: Is there an order in which they influence? Does one come before the other?
I had to go way back to Abram to find this one: Abe’s faith in You was credited as righteousness.
So, let me get this straight, Master. Abram has a lineage crisis; You speak into him and tell him You will take care of things, provide him with not only an heir but a planet full of heirs over the course of history to come; He believes You and You act on Your promise.
Mmmm, that was a new one for any of us―appearing to be the first time You credit a human with faithful merit mentioned in Your word…
―or is it?
What about Noah? The record says he found chen…grace in Your eyes. How did that happen? Did You just decide he was worth something and the rest of mankind at that time was not? What did You base Noah’s grace on, if anything? If I’m reading it right, Genesis 6:9 tells all:
“Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God.”
So…Noah walked with―OT language for “believed in”―You, and You showed him grace. I’m seeing a trend here, an “If―Then Gifting” if I’m not mistaken, Lord:
If I accept Your gift of faith, then You respond with grace.
Please correct me if I’m wrong, Most Wise, I don’t see any scripture refuting this construct. And if that’s the case, then when Paul says in Ephesians 2:8, “…by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God...” I’m understanding that You do not provide Your gift of undeserved grace without first offering Your gift of faith (which I must choose to receive or reject).
Forgive my own logical leap here, Lord, but if Grace follows Faith, then there is a very important stepping stone I might have missed, and want to have made VERY clear by Your Word and Spirit:
I can’t receive Grace without first choosing Faith in Jesus?
And that means You first offer me Faith as an opportunity. I can choose or reject that Faith (and that is when my struggle with free will begins)…
―then (not before or even simultaneously) I become not Calvin’s or Arminius’; I become Yours! It is something You foresaw happening but did not force to happen. You desired my love as a voluntary response to Your sacrificial love, worked out in Your death and resurrection. I was offered the choice of faith-belief in You, or I could reject You. In my choice of Faith, You responded by pouring Your favor out for me―so much of it that now I can’t hold it within this Mark-jar of clay. It spills over, yet another lavish gift given as evidence to the faith and love that is Messiah Jesus for others to marvel at and then also choose to receive through…Your gift of Faith to them. Praise You, God of Agape.
If all this is correct Lord, then faith must come first to inspire Yours and my relationship. Grace comes next to eternally protect and sufficiently cement Yours and my relationship.
So it appears to me Lord that:
Faith calls and Grace follows.
Can it be that simple? If what I’ve just stated is Truth, then I’m not sure Calvin or Arminius, either one had it exactly right. Grace does not have to be labeled as “resistible”, or “irresistible”. Grace is Your active gift, simply as a result of my Faith in Jesus. And if that’s the case; being that Grace is Yours to dispense as a perfect response to true Faith, then another inspiration strikes me:
Grace is Irreversible!
After all, once You have eternally decided that Your faithful ones in Messiah should receive Grace, how could such an eternal gift be retracted? Grace through Faith has permanently and indelibly cast its effect on the spiritual DNA of the true believer.
I’m astounded by Your perfect plan, Most High. As Paul so beautifully pointed out, “…neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Now the question is, how do I share this in a way that lifts up and encourages Your body, rather than causes division and barriers to be placed between us? And as important, if not more important; how do I offer this as food for new believers, to reveal to them the glory of Your plan?
If by Your Word and Spirit (not mine), faith calls; Then my reasoning and questions are just seeds of invitation planted by You, the Greater Sower. The invitation is then made, the discussion is then encouraged (and should not be avoided!), but ultimately the choice and results are freely gifted to each of us. Thank You, Lord for such an amazing treasure to share.
I will always welcome the challenges brought on by my sisters and brothers in Christ. You built us with brains that are up to that challenge! But I realize that until The Day, we will all see through a mirror, dimly. I pray that You become the lens to help us walk together toward righteousness without tripping. Focus us on Your priorities, Your purpose, by Your wisdom.
Strengthen our faith, Lord that we may better appreciate Your grace.