Saturday, November 13, 2004

Some thoughts on grace

I just had a little thought that seemed worth noting down. It’s about God’s grace – more specifically, what it’s all really about. More specifically, I’m taking about God’s “saving grace”. One idea is that God’s saving grace involves forgiving us of our sins so that we can be in relationship with Him. I understand this to be a rather commonly held view.

Yet, I’m not sure this is the point of grace. I suggest that we are forgiven because we belong to Him, under His covenant, and that covenant is one of grace. It is not grace to merely forgive – that is forgiveness – but it is grace to adopt a child who He knows is prone to doing wrong. God knows we will displease Him, and yet He calls us His children – that seems a far greater and more amazing nature of grace.

Consider the prodigal son. The common idea would say that in grace the father forgave his disobedient son and so he accepted him back into his family. But I’ve noticed that this doesn’t seem to be the way true grace actually works. I think the father graciously accepted the disobedient son back into his family, and so of course he forgave him.

So there are two different paradigms here. The first is acceptance on the condition of gracious forgiveness. The second is unconditional forgiveness because of gracious acceptance. One emphasises an almost legal forgiveness as the key element of grace, while the other emphasises relational acceptance.

Perhaps I am wrong, but I feel it is a far greater thing to accept a sinner than to forgive a sin. It is one thing to forgive a thief for taking all your belongings, but quite another to welcome that thief as part of your household. Yet, I think God welcomes us to be part of his household – in spite of our sinfulness. His forgiveness, therefore, flows naturally from His love for those He calls His children – just like in a good human father.

He does not need to consider us perfect or blameless or pure to accept us. Far from it – He accepts the sinners, the poor, the weak, and the broken just as they are. His forgiveness does not make us any less sinful, or poor, or weak, or broken – but His acceptance and love strengthens us and leads us on toward perfection. Of course, He forgives us – when He puts His arm under our shoulder and bears our weight despite our fall that much is obvious. The wonder is not that He forgives us as some far and distant deity whose duty is to maintain justice throughout the world, but it is that He adopts us as a loving Father and can be truly called “God with us”.

God forgives us of our sins before we even ask Him to – for the nature of His love toward his people is to forgive. So I don’t worry about being forgiven by God – instead I try to live in a way that is worthy of the title “Child of God”. Such a title is not earned, it is bestowed by His grace when we turn and follow Him, becoming subjects of His Lordship – and of His Family. I don’t try to please Him so that He accepts me as part of His household, but I try to please Him because I am already part of His household.

So, hopefully in all that I have managed to convey something useful. I found it to make God’s grace seem even more amazing.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

Your post confuses me somewhat. Here is why...

It reminds me of a passage from Christus Victor I was just reading this morning (I'll return the book to the library tommorrow for you), Aulen doesn't seem to entirely agree with you:

"It is particularly interesting to note the order in which the two ideas, Salvation and Atonement, are arranged. Wherever the classic idea of the Atonement is dominant the two coincide; alike in the early church and in Luther, Salvation is Atonement, and Atonement is Salvation. With the Latin doctrine the case is different; Atonement is treated as prior to Salvation, a preliminary to it, making the subsequent process of salvation possible. But Schleiermacher [advocating the Subjective view] reverses the order; Salvation (the change in the spiritual life) comes first, and Atonement (Reconciliation) follows as its completion." (pg 152-153)

Thus Aulen would want to see your idea that "[Being a Child of God] is not earned, it is bestowed by His grace when we turn and follow Him, becoming subjects of His Lordship" as the subjective view - our change in spritual life (our personal repentence turning to follow him and submitting to his lordship) leads to reconciliation with God.

I'm not entirely sure what Aulen is getting at when he says they coincide in the classic view, I wasn't convinced he was correct in his statement the first time I read that paragraph and I am even less convinced now: I agree with what you said in your post, and we both hold the classic view.

Maybe all Aulen is wanting to say is that God freely forgives us at the same time we turn from evil? That I would agree with. Neither is a prerequisite of the other, and so it seems possible that they occur at the same time - neither causes the other and they both occur out of God's love for us and opposition to evil.

What you said in your post sounds plausible, but not 100% convincing to me, and neither am I entirely sure I understand what Aulen is getting at...