Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Saved through Grace

If living in the Western civilization, you'd basically need to live under a rock to not at least be passingly familiar with the concept of saved through grace, and how it's pulled from Ephesians 2:8.

However, I'm wondering how much of that is taken in the correct context. Here's the verse in full: "For you have been delivered by grace through trusting, and even this is not your accomplishment but God's gift. You were not delivered by your own actions; therefore no one should boast. For we are of God's making, created in union with the Messiah Yeshua for a life of good actions already prepared by God for us to do." -- Complete Jewish Bible, Ephesians 2:8-10.

I get how this translation is saying how no one earns their salvation. I don't see the corresponding factor that nothing we do has any merit, or that people are incapable of earning the salvation. Rather, what it's saying is that any good work one does is a result of God's making. If God made us to do good works, then we didn't independently generate those good works. Therefore, we can't take credit for them, because their not of our devising. They were 'already prepared' for us to do, and we were simply doing what we were created to do.

I also think Paul is unto an important idea here: that no one should boast. If in fact people could rack up enough brownie points to 'earn' heaven, then the good works become a chore, almost. They cease to be good because there's an expectation of reward. Which act is the good one? Someone who returns a purse simply because, or someone who returns a purse because there's a $500 reward? If that is applied in salvation: which person is good -- the person who helps the neighbor just because, or the person who helps because that gets him/her 200 points closer to heaven? The good work then becomes motivation by selfish interests.

The other problem with boasting: it's too often tied to pride, and that one person has an ability the other lacks. Given human nature, if salvation was a matter of doing enough to earn it, think of how quickly that would descend to: "I did 300 more good works than you did, so God likes me better." Or "I'm more worthy of salvation than you."

Instead, Paul almost seems to be saying to not worry about the works. They're already prepared for us, and they're taken care of. We're doing what we're supposed to be doing. Just relax and let go.

However, in a way, works do still 'save' people. Not by the concept of works earn salvation, but that good works demonstrate how grace works in one's life. Works are a way of expressing love, gratitude, compassion, light, and show that one chooses a life away from sin.

10 comments:

The Gorgon said...

Heather, I love your posts. They are so straight to the point, something I greatly admire! I have a blog I'd like you to visit. I'm trying to create a women only, matri-focal space where we can discuss our ideas without patriarchy intruding. If you are interested in such a space, email me at luv2rede@gmail.com and I'll give you the link. You know me as someone else on Wordpress. For now, the other blog is a secret. We could use your insights. :-)

The Gorgon said...

The link is right there. Duh. I meant email me and I will let you know my identity. :-)

Heather said...

I like the name. :)

Brendan said...

"Instead, Paul almost seems to be saying to not worry about the works. They're already prepared for us, and they're taken care of. We're doing what we're supposed to be doing. Just relax and let go."

This theme resonates throughout the genuine Pauline letters. Paul's notion of grace is better understood as another version of living at peace with the universe, along the lines of the Tao. Understood as referring to a supernatural deal with a being makes an incomprehensible mess of Paul's philosophy.

This notion of "God" as a thing or being has terribly polluted with cultural noise our ability to read mythology and philosophy in the Bible for its meaning. It becomes nothing but superstitious nonsense and delusion.

joeyanne said...

The answer to this dilemma lies in results. Can you live at peace? Does this way of reading Paul's letters give peace? fulfillment? joy? love? I'm not disputing, just asking. Are you at peace? I don't know because I've never thought of these books being read this way. All I know is what I've read and what I've experienced. The peace I find in a real, living relationship with my Creator are the results that confirm my beliefs. I can't make an argument for others based on my experience, but it is what convinces me. If your experience convinces you, then who am I to argue? But it would be difficult for me to be convinced of something that goes against the reality that I have experienced.

SocietyVs said...

"Works are a way of expressing love, gratitude, compassion, light, and show that one chooses a life away from sin." (Heather)

I haven't quite figured this out but I can admit easily one thing - we have a very similar theology on this issue. I also see that we are so tied to works (via our beliefs about good and bad) and the gospels seem to point to this idea over and over. In some sense we truly show our belief in Jesus (following Him) via our works (as outward signs of inward beliefs) - and this is inseperable (this is what I think Christ taught). I also think salvation is a 'here and now' concept in some regards - a way of living that Jesus also showed us. Maybe the cross was the salvation for 'all' - but how would 'all' know if we never lived salvific ideals around them - so they could also see the greatness of the idea of 'salvation'.

Like I said, I am open on this one - I do know I think works plays a huge part in Jesus' teachings - I believe he says somewhere 'if you love me, you will obey my teachings'. I may be saved by grace - but I am also helping to spread more grace around - like salt.

Heather said...

Brendan,

**Paul's notion of grace is better understood as another version of living at peace with the universe, along the lines of the Tao.** I would agree. He seems to keep telling people to stop focusing on the little things, and consider everything as a whole.

Joeyanne,

**But it would be difficult for me to be convinced of something that goes against the reality that I have experienced. ** Which would be the case no matter what we were discussing. But this is why I don't hold to the inerrancy of the Bible -- because it comes down to the subjective viewpoint. For all we know, I could have the inerrant viewpoint, and yet many would not be convinced by my interpretation because it goes against what they have exerperienced.

However, I don't see it as reading Paul's letters with this viewpoint, but reading what is stated in the letters (Yes, I'm aware of the irony of this statement, considering what I just said about subjectivity. I'm fully aware that my perception/experience play a part no matter what I'm reading). ;)

Society,

**I also see that we are so tied to works (via our beliefs about good and bad) and the gospels seem to point to this idea over and over. ** I tend to look at it this way: take school. We are told we need to achieve certain grades in order to be succesful, and get into college. The focus then shifts from the love of learning to learning the right information for the sake of grades. The same would apply to how Paul uses works. If works are a means of meriting salvation, then the focus becomes on doing the works for the sake of a reward, rather than just doing the works because it is the right thing to do.

Brad said...

Man, killer post. That's grace, and it rocks. I wrote a somewhat similar post on the gospel as identity. You may like it:
http://bradedwards.wordpress.com/2007/06/28/the-gospel-as-identity/


And in Re: to Paul's seeming "just relax" style rhetoric, I mostly agree. It depends much on our motivations. If we do the works hoping that God will love us more, He would probably rather we not do them. But if we do them out of gratitude for His grace given freely to us, then He delights in them. Paul says we are "created to (or for) good works." And James says that "faith without works are dead." Faith and works are inseparable, but faith MUST come first.

Thus the gospel is not "I obey, therefore I'm accepted," but "I'm accepted, therefore I obey."

Great stuff, Heather. Consider yourself bookmarked.

Heather said...

Brad,

Thanks for the compliment. However, based on our current conversation at de-conversion, you may want to rethink that. I have a feeling we'd gently butt heads a lot. ;)

Of course, don't let that stop you, as comments from another viewpoint are always helpful.

Dan Marvin said...

Most religions like Catholicism, Mormonism, Buddhism, Hinduism, or Muslims are all “work based religions” and are of the devil for many reasons. God says that there is nothing that we can do to earn our way to heaven and that is what all these religions are about, that if you follow that 5 pillars or confess your sins to a man or if you say hail to Mary, fast, meditate and do good works enough that it will get you to heaven, nothing can be further from the truth. Besides not trusting in Jesus alone they believe they can do something to earn salvation, it is a gift from God, nothing you do will earn your way to heaven. Ephesians 2:8-9 “For by grace are ye saved through faith and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”

Works count after salvation to show gratefulness, but will not get you to heaven. That is why they drove the planes into the towers because they believed they could "do something" to earn heaven but they were wrong and most all religions are wrong. It doesn't mean that all people who are religious are not saved but you must be careful of your theology. In 2 John the 7th verse it is clear "For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist." We are to look to Jesus for leadership not man. The Bible says to evaluate everything to see if it is of God by their fruit, good tree = good fruit a bad tree can never bear good fruit. We don’t even have to address the Catholic Church and the mass pedophiles to determine the fruit, it is obvious.