January 16, 2021

The Homily


Come, everyone who is thirsty—
here is water!
Come, you that have no money—
buy grain and eat!
Come! Buy wine and milk—
it will cost you nothing!
Why spend money on what does not satisfy?
Why spend your wages and still be hungry?
Listen to me and do what I say,
and you will enjoy the best food of all.

(Isaiah 55:1,2, GNT)

Jesus: When you host a dinner or banquet, don’t invite your friends, your brothers, your relatives, or your rich neighbors. If you do, they might invite you to a party of their own, and you’ll be repaid for your kindness.  Instead, invite the poor, the amputees, the cripples, the blind.  Then you’ll be blessed because they can never repay you. Your reward will come from God at the resurrection of the just and good. (Luke 14: 13,14, The Voice)

Last week I shared a word about God’s grace that upset most of you. Well, I said that it would. Most of you missed the point dramatically. You focused on the telling of the story instead of the moral of the story. The moral of the story is this: We cannot buy food at God’s table. It is only available to us if we receive it as it is offered: free for all. Isaiah proclaimed this clearly. I have repeated last week’s Old Testament reading again this week. I recommend you meditate on these words this morning.

And since you didn’t like my story, I thought I would share one from my favorite author, Robert Capon. I am going to let him doing the preaching this morning. You may not like his illustration of grace any better. As a matter of fact, if you were upset by Brandi of Batavia last week, you will probably also be upset by the party host Capon refers to as Arthur this week. Nevertheless, I will give it a try once again. Yes, God’s grace is scandalous and not respectable. It requires nothing from you but to simply believe. And so many cannot get over that. But let’s try, shall we?

 Jesus is saying, ‘Listen, you are absolutely mired in your scorekeeping, bookkeeping lives. You are so busy trying to hold the world together by getting your accounts straight that you hardly have time to notice that it’s falling apart faster than ever. Why don’t you just let go? Thumb your nose at the ledger! Drop dead to the accounting! Because it’s not just one more thing that can’t save you; it’s the flypaper that catches everything else that can’t save you and leaves you stuck with it forever. Look, I’m on my way to Jerusalem to die so you can be saved, free for nothing. I’m going up there to give you a dramatic demonstration of shutting up once and for all on the subject of the divine bookkeeping. What’s the point, then, of your keeping records when I’m not?’

Do you see? He who was sent not to judge the world but to save the world (John 3:17) will not count our records against us. What the Son will offer the Father at the last day is the silence of his death on the subject of our sins and the power of his resurrection on the subject of our life. Therefore we are to stop – right now – living as if we could have the least influence on that happy outcome by fussing about who owes what to whom. That, if you will, is why Jesus tells his host to invite people who can’t invite him back: to get him to stop doing everything in his life on the basis of debit and credit and to open his eyes to the way God does business. Jesus says to him: ‘Forget about making a social buck by inviting the right people – and forget about making a spiritual buck by doing the right thing. Invite the wrong people! Do the wrong thing! You want to have a dinner party? Have a stupid dinner party! You want to have a life? Have a loser’s life! Spit in the eye of the accounting department! Invite anybody you don’t like and be anything you don’t like; but don’t for a minute mess with anything that isn’t last, lost, least, little and dead. Because that’s where the action is, not in your Guinness Book of Spiritual Records.’

At the end of his speech to the host, Jesus specifically ties this condemnation of bookkeeping to the resurrection. ‘You will be happy,’ he tells his host in verse 14, ‘precisely because these losers and deadbeats you invite won’t be able to repay you.’ He says, in other words, that happiness can never come in until the bookkeeping stops, until the hand that clutches at the dance goes dead and lets the dance happen freely. And he says that the place where that happy consequence will burst upon us is at the resurrection of the just. And the just, please note, are not stuffy, righteous types with yard-long lists of good works, but simply all the forgiven sinners of the world who live by faith — who trust Jesus and laugh out loud at the layoff of all the accountants.

And the unjust? Well, the unjust are all the forgiven sinners of the world who, stupidly, live by unfaith — who are going to insist on showing up at the resurrection with all their record books, as if it were an IRS audit. The unjust are the idiots who are going to try to talk Jesus into checking his bookkeeping against theirs. And do you know what Jesus is going to say to them — what, for example, he will say to his host if he comes to the resurrection with such a request? I think he will say, “Just forget it, Arthur. I suppose we have those books around here somewhere, and if you’re really determined to stand in front of my great white throne and make an ass of yourself, I guess they can be opened (Rev. 20:12). Frankly, though, nobody up here pays any attention to them. What will happen will be that while you’re busy reading and weeping over everything in those books, I will go and open my other book (Rev. 20:12, again), the book of life — the book that has in it the names of everybody I ever drew to myself by dying and rising. And when I open that book, I’m going to read out to the whole universe every last word that’s written there. And you know what that’s going to be? It’s going to be just Arthur. Nothing else. None of your bad deeds, because I erased them all. And none of your good deeds, because I didn’t count them, I just enjoyed them. So what I’ll read out, Arthur, will be just Arthur! real loud. And my Father will smile and say, ‘Hey, Arthur! You’re just the way I pictured you!’ And the universe will giggle and say, ‘That’s some Arthur you’ve got there!’ But me, I’ll just wink at you and say, ‘Arthur, c’mon up here and plunk yourself down by my great white throne and let’s you and me have a good long practice laugh before this party gets so loud we can’t even hear how much fun we’re having.”





  1. ” It requires nothing from you but to simply believe.” How do you prevent the requirement of starting to believe in something (whatever it is, because you’ve left it very vague) from being a requirement of a work? After all, if believing is something I can do, and if acquiring God’s grace is contingent on doing something called believing, then acquiring God’s grace requires that I perform a work called believing. How do you distinguish it from other works?

    • Hi Robert,

      “then acquiring God’s grace requires that I perform a work called believing.”

      I remember encountering this kind of logic when reading/discussing/debating on Calvinism and Arminianism. Without getting too deeply into it (at least not yet), I can only say this: I don’t understand why anyone would call “believing”, to me a very normal and natural human behavior, a type of “work”. It never made any sense to me, and it always seemed to me to be a tactic of the Calvinist to accuse one of trying to “steal God’s glory” by giving man a part in his salvation. I’m sure one can pour all kinds of theology into this, but I just don’t see any kind of deep mystery to it. You either believe or you don’t believe. I just think it’s that simple and I can’t imagine God looking down and accusing a person of “working” for grace in that way. If there’s something I’m missing about it then maybe I haven’t understood, but I honestly don’t think so.

      • Rick Ro. says

        I agree, Marc B. I have never understood the concept that believing is a “work.” I will always firmly believe I had a free will to choose to believe, and just because I chose to believe takes nothing away from the fact God did 100% of the work.

        • Robert F says

          Just because you don’t understand the distinction doesn’t mean there isn’t one from the perspective of rigorous thought; if it’s something I can choose to DO or NOT DO, it’s an act of mine, not God’s. That’s my understanding of a “work.”

          • Then I think we are simply coming at it from a different understanding. Perhaps when we come to sit at the table, God sees the intent of our heart (i.e. out of obedience vs. selfish desire). Each of us can only account for our own belief. When I first believed in Christ (which was a long time ago), I don’t remember thinking of it as a work i.e. something I was “doing” to gain a benefit. Certainly I was aware of the potential benefit (i.e. being saved and going to heaven), but I don’t remember that being prominent. It seemed more of an acceptance of truth and a calling than anything else. It was very much “praying the sinners prayer” at first, with the understanding of Jesus as Lord coming shortly thereafter. (Romans 10:9-10 was a big focal passage)

            BTW, I’m a big believer in synergism, as opposed to monergism.

          • I do not think our decision to believe is ever our own work. It is more of a reaction, or response. God’s saving word of Gospel goes into our ears, and His Spirit cuts us to the heart upon hearing it. We cry out, like those on Pentecost, “what must we do?” because God has already placed within us, by means of his Word and Spirit, the desire for Him. Peter’s response, repentance and Baptism, then become the signs and seals to us that this has indeed happened to us for times when we become skeptical of our prior spiritual experience.

          • Also there are other works before you even get to the descision to believe or not. You have to learn a language, you have to listen or read the scriptures. You have to understand them as at least partly historical and not just myth. Frankly you need enough post reformation theology to even understand why any of this is important. Since you’d be unlikely to read the bible and just get modern Christianity out of it.

          • “Modern Christianity” is painting with quite a broad brush there. I’d agree if you said pop-American Evangelicalism. But some of us hold to forms of Christianity that are quite pre-Modern. And where do you get the expectation that Christianity is best derived by a man on a desert island reading the Bible for himself? That’s not quite how Jesus started it off, and I think he knew what he was doing. You cannot have scripture without tradition, and the further a church gets from tradition, the more likely it is, IMO, to completely miss the point of scripture. And the Evangelical circus just proves my point.

          • I don’t disagree with you at all here Miguel.

      • Robert F says

        Someone please tell me the content of the belief I’m required to have to receive grace. “Believe in Jesus” is not enough content, it’s very vague and can mean millions of different things; that’s part of the reason there are so many denominations. And don’t give me an answer that amounts to “if you don’t understand, I can’t tell you”; that’s a cop-out and avoidance of a real question. Without a fairly well defined content, it is just a kind of mind trick, like the Christmas song a few years ago from “Polar Express”: “….just beliiiiieve….”

        • I don’t know that I could parse out all the millions of different things it can mean to believe…..actually, for me personally I don’t think it’s that vague. But don’t get me wrong, I know where you are coming from. I think one of the steps that helped me was meditating on Romans 10:9-10, Mark 9:14-24, and John 20:24-29. I am not saying these passages gave me an exact definition, but they’ve given me a greater depth of understanding what belief is in different contexts.

        • The Athanasian Creed is more than happy to answer that question for you, quite specifically.
          I’m going to go with the Apostles’ Creed. I think that is a good “bare minimum.” However, you can be saved without being theologically educated to understand that content, or without even have heard it. “Just believe in Jesus” is not enough, but “Jesus is the Lord of the universe and has risen from the dead” IS. Provided there’s somewhat of a framework for understanding what the resurrection signifies and what its purpose is. Back to the Apostles’ Creed. It is the most brilliantly succinct summary of Christian belief. You won’t go to hell if you miss a line or two (well, maybe for some), but you cannot believe all 12 of those compact lines and NOT be a Christian.

          • Robert F says

            “Jesus is the Lord of the universe and has risen from the dead”. Well, Oneness Pentecostals believe this, but they repudiate the Trinity; is it enough for them to believe this? Neither does the Apostles Creed closely define the nature of the Trinity, the Incarnation or the method of salvation. In fact, your Lutheran Confessions say there is a lot more that must be believed to be saved. The Apostles Creed is the baptismal symbol of the church, not an adequate statement of the content of faith; there are ways of interpreting it that do not affirm the basic Trinitarian form of classic Christianity. In fact, the Arians were able to affirm it because it does not contradict their position.

          • Yes, but the fact that the Apostles’ Creed is the baptismal creed argues that it is sufficient for new converts, even if not for all the Christian’s life. I don’t believe the Lutheran Confessions would require anybody to believe more than the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian Creed in order to be saved. We would require much more than that for us to call you orthodox, but we believe there will be plenty of heterodox in heaven. But here’s the thing: it’s not the intellectual grasp and consent of these truths that save you. It’s these truths themselves which are saving. So it’s one thing to have an incomplete understanding. We’re all growing into our faith and understanding it better with time, and one has to start somewhere. But to understand the creeds and reject them IS unbelief.

            Now it’s one thing to say that Arians believe the Apostles’ Creed and Oneness Pentecostals believe Romans 10:9, but it doesn’t mean they really do believe them. If I tell you my car is green and you then believe I am in possession of a green truck, you are believing what you think I said, but you do not hold the message I sent. Similarly, Arians and Pentecostals can deconstruct the language and historic context of the creeds and scriptures to mean anything they want, just like anybody else, but it doesn’t mean their interpretation is equally valid. They believe what they think those words say, but they have in fact misunderstood them, and therefore do not actually believe them.

        • Robert F,

          I just noticed that further down in the comments you showed your hand. I agree with your observations.

          Here’s how Capon deals with the faith/works debate;

          Faith doesn’t do anything; it simply enables us to relate ourselves to someone else who has already done whatever needs doing.

          Illustration: Imagine that I am in the hospital, in traction, with casts on both arms and both legs. And imagine further that every time you visit me, I carry on despairingly about the fact that my house, in my absence, is falling apart: the paint is peeling, the sills are rotting, the roof is blowing away in the wind.
          But then imagine that one day, after a considerable interval, you come to me and say, “Robert, I have just paid off the contractor I engaged to repair your house. It’s all fixed — a gift from me to you.” What are my choices in the face of such good news? I cannot go out of the hospital to check for myself—I cannot know that you have fixed my house for me. I can only disbelieve you or believe you. If I disbelieve you, I go on being a miserable bore. But if I believe you — if I trust your word that you have done the job for me — I have my first good day in a long while. My faith, you see, accomplishes nothing but my own enjoyment.

          Look at it another way. Suppose I had decided, while staring at the hospital ceiling, that if only I could work up enough faith, you would undertake to repair my house. And suppose further that I had grunted and groaned through every waking hour trying to get my faith meter up to red hot. What good would that have done unless you had decided, as a gift to me in response to no activity on my part whatsoever, to do the job for me? No good, that’s what. Faith doesn’t fix houses — carpenters and painters do. And faith doesn’t pay bills, either. Faith, therefore, is not a gadget by which I can work wonders. It is just trust in a person who actually can work them — and who has promised me he already has.

          (from The Astonished Heart, Faith and Sacrament)


      • Marc, it absolutely does become a work. And here’s why: when you emphasize believing certain dogma as the criteria for becoming a Christian, those who cannot believe because they do not find such claims convincing are facing an intellectual barrier to faith. For those who do believe in spite of all the possible intellectual obstacles, their right belief becomes an intellectual accomplishment. “I believe in Jesus because I investigated all the facts, weighted the claims, and discovered that they hold water.” Then it practically follows that those who have not arrived at the same conclusion are either lazy or dull. It’s salvation by my own personal brilliance.

        • Sorry Miguel, I don’t follow your argument at all. This is where I see too much philosophy coming from Calvinism. As I stated earlier, I just don’t think it’s that complicated or necessary to look at it that way. It sounds like what you are describing is intellectual assent. “Believing in your heart” is more than just “personal brilliance”.

          • Rick Ro. says

            Again, I side with Marc B. on this one. Miguel, my own testimony suggests I had a free-will choice to accept God’s saving grace through Jesus’ shed blood or not, and little of it had to do with the kind of work laid out in your post. God was constantly laying puzzle pieces in place for me to believe, some which took Him years to place, some which I ignored for years. It was only after a LONG time that I noticed the life-line dangling down in front of my face and decided to grab it. I believe I had a choice to grab the life line or not, and I personally can’t label call grabbing a life-line dangling in front of my face “work.” As Marc B. wrote earllier, it’s more of a reaction and a response to recognizing it’s been dangling there for a long time, and it would be a good thing for me to finally grab it.

            By the way, I don’t think Jesus died on the cross so believers could quibble about whether believing is “work” or not. This is one of those theological things I often scratch my head about, wondering why certain denominations hold so firmly to “you must believe this way.”

          • Rick, I do not believe in free-will, period. Your experience and personal testimony are not authoritative sources from which Christians should form their doctrine. But I would absolutely affirm what you did experience as a part of the reality of coming to know Christ. I do believe we choose Christ, but I do not believe we have free will. Here’s why:

            The concept of “free-will” is actually compound, combining the idea of freedom with the idea of self-determinism. It claims that not only are we able to make choices, but we are free to make these choices apart from any other intervening forces which might cause us to choose otherwise. It’s just silly, imo. Our wills are anything but free. The single most influential factor dictating which choice we make is our desires. We do not choose our desires. So many things around us influence what we want and what we think is ultimately good for us, by the time it actually comes down to us to make that call, our decision has already been made for us by a wide variety of factors.

            Lutherans believe that man is free to make decisions in the temporal realm. A man can freely choose his shirt, vocation, spouse, etc… But that does not make a man free. A man is free when he can choose to overcome evil. We can not. A man can spend his whole life fighting for righteousness and stil succumb to sin. If even believers were truly free, we could simply choose to stop sinning. I’ve met these Christians, and they are highly delusional (I’ll give Wesley a break this time…).

            Sinful man is by nature in rebellion against a holy God. The forces of his corrupt nature compel Him to not desire right relationship with his creator. This is not the result of his ignorance, it is the result of his brokenness. At some point, the Christian does choose Christ, but between point A and point B, something happens TO him to change him. Something from outside of himself and his will acts upon him to alter his desire, changing him from an enemy of God to somebody who desires reconciliation with God. The kindness of God leads us to repentance. When we hear the good news about Jesus, the Holy Spirit works faith and repentance in our hearts. That is not a decision we make. We ultimately do decide to go along with it, but love for God is not something we can manufacture in our own hearts any more than a dead man can raise himself back to life.

          • Mark, “believing in your heart” is a phrase with OT connotations. The fool says in his heart there is no God. This means not that atheists are fools, but that the lack of belief is a matter of the heart and not the mind. The problem is, the unbelieving man does not love God. This does not change when he comes to himself, reaches inside, and by force of sheer will corrects his own bad emotions. Love for God is produced in us by God himself. We love him because He first loved us. His kindness leads us to repentance. Yes, you either believe or you don’t. But the reason some believe and others don’t isn’t because some made the right decision and the rest were too stupid. Calling faith a decision is an attempt to answer the “why some and not others” which drives one to either Calvinism (where God gets credit if you’re saved and blame when you’re damned) or Arminianism (where you are saved by virtue of your own right decision). Lutherans reject both and hold the paradoxical claim that God gets all the credit if any are saved, yet the unbelieving sinner is damned of his own fault.

          • “Calling faith a decision is an attempt to answer the “why some and not others” which drives one to either Calvinism (where God gets credit if you’re saved and blame when you’re damned) or Arminianism (where you are saved by virtue of your own right decision).”

            This is, of course, a misrepresentation of the Arminian position.

          • Not the one I grew up with. I was raised in a tradition (and I still hear this from Evangelical friends) that taught I can know I”m saved because I made a decision to accept Christ as my personal Lord and Savior (which may or may not have included the sacraments of the sinner’s prayer, walking the aisle, or sending a text message). Jesus died to give me a chance. Don’t screw it up. The death of Christ saved nobody, it simply made all men save-able.

            …and that’s all just direct quotes. I’d be more than happy to learn where I’m misunderstanding Arminiamism, if you care to explain.

          • I’m no expert on Arminian theology, and it’s been some time since I’ve done any in depth research, but from what I know of the basics it’s the closest to what I adhere to. There seems to be more of an emphasis on synergism (which I see all throughout the Bible), corporate election, and prevenient grace. A few years ago I spent a great deal of time in online debates on Calv. vs. Armin. and what you’ve described in your post, with the emphasis on “decision” always seemed to be the go to straw man when it came to disparaging Arminian theology. It’s painted as though God is up in heaven looking down to see which theology gives him the most credit in salvation with the Calvinist claiming the prize. But like I said, I’m no authority on Arminian theology, but I know of nowhere where there is any emphasis on knowing you’re saved because of a decision you made.

            From what I’ve read, Roger Olson seems to have the most knowledge and depth of understanding on the subject, so I’m sure he would be a much better resource than I. However I have little doubt he would tell you the same thing. Not sure if this will help, but here is a site that gives a breakdown of Olson’s book Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities:


          • I’d like to check into Olson’s stuff. I was very dispersed with his debate with Mike Horton. He was outmatched pretty badly, and Horton had a vastly superior exegetical and rhetorical presentation. Olson’s defense practically seemed to boil down to: I don’t care what the Scriptures say, I can’t believe them if it says that. I decide what is good, and Scripture must conform to, or at least, be filtered though that. Personally, I can’t go there: the Word of God is the final word, as far as I’m concerned.

            I read through a book by John Paul II where he described the historic Roman Catholic doctrine of synergism. I found this much more compelling, though in the end I can not accept it. If I was going to be a synergist, however, I would do it as a Roman Catholic. There form of it is the most relentlessly Christocentric, and their deep roots in ancient tradition produces much beauty in its expression. Fundagelical synergism devolves too quickly into manipulative revivalism exploiting the tackiest of trends. I’ve developed somewhat of an allergic reaction to it.

          • *meant dis-impressed, not dispersed.

          • “He was outmatched pretty badly, and Horton had a vastly superior exegetical and rhetorical presentation. Olson’s defense practically seemed to boil down to: I don’t care what the Scriptures say, I can’t believe them if it says that. I decide what is good, and Scripture must conform to, or at least, be filtered though that. Personally, I can’t go there: the Word of God is the final word, as far as I’m concerned.”

            But in the end this is all subjective. You begin by assuming your interpretation of the Word is true, and thus Olson has made an inferior presentation. When you say the Word of God is the final word, what you’re really saying is that your interpretation of the Word is the final word, are you not? What ultimately declares one interpretation true above another? I’m not saying you’re wrong. I’m just saying that neither you nor I have enough information or backing to make such absolute declarations.

            The bottom line, for me, is that while I enjoy reading and studying theology, I try to keep it at arms length. That is my personal conviction. I learn a great deal from this and other websites, even from those I don’t agree with, and I believe through the process I learn something more about God’s nature. But ultimately the reason I try to keep it at arms length is I think it would end up consuming me if I devoted more time to it than I do. It would become an idol of sorts. I believe in synergism because that is simply what I see when I read the Word. It’s not from reading Olson or the Pope or anyone else. Same goes for what I think faith is. It doesn’t mean I believe I have some special insight that other believers do not. These are simply my convictions. I think that is ultimately where each of us finds what we see as the truth. The strange and funny thing is that we are all believers and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and yet for some reason so many of us come to such different conclusions and follow many different paths. It is worth the struggle to keep Christ at the center leading the way.

          • No, Marc, you’re just wrong there. Show me where I have assumed a correct interpretation. When I say the Word of God is the final word, I am not referring to my interpretation. What I mean is that it is the final route of appeal in debate. If you are going to convince me of your perspective, you have to do it on the basis of an appeal to Scripture or exegetical argument. What ultimately declares one interpretation as true above the other are the rules of grammar and logic, combined with knowledge of historical context. Words are not so obscure that they can not be rightly comprehended: God’s choice to use them validates their purpose in this. The thing is, Olson did NOT appeal to Scripture in that debate. He actually argued AGAINST it. He said that if Scripture says this or that, he can not accept it. He will take a position clearly contrary to Scripture if he does not like what it says. He did not appeal to Scripture or make an exegetical argument to support his perspective. I’m sure plenty of Arminians could, but he did not, so I found his presentation very unconvincing. I’m not going to take the side that it doesn’t matter what God’s Word says if it contradicts me. I do not set myself up as the ultimate arbiter of truth. Do you believe it is possible to use language to communicate objective ideas?

          • “What ultimately declares one interpretation as true above the other are the rules of grammar and logic, combined with knowledge of historical context. Words are not so obscure that they can not be rightly comprehended: God’s choice to use them validates their purpose in this.”

            Again, I think you are leaving out personal bias and subjectivity. I didn’t watch/listen to this particular debate so I can’t say one way or another. Personally I don’t care as much for in-person debates because IMHO they rely too much on the communicative skills of the individuals involved and they are too time restrictive. In this case, perhaps Olson wasn’t as prepared, skilled, or quick to make a solid argument (again, I didn’t hear it so I’m not conceding that, just saying that it’s entirely possible). In this case you said “He will take a position clearly contrary to Scripture if he does not like what it says.” Well if I thought you were doing the same I could say the same thing about you, couldn’t I? “He did not appeal to Scripture or make an exegetical argument to support his perspective.” While this may have been true at that particular moment in time, I’m sure you are aware that in Olson’s books and articles he makes more than enough appeal to Scripture. There is plenty of Arminian literature where Scripture is carefully exegeted. I’m not saying debates don’t have any value., but in my mind they serve equally as opportunities for “gotcha” moments. I just don’t think they go much in the way of ultimately validating one idea over another.

            “Do you believe it is possible to use language to communicate objective ideas?”

            Of course, but the more complex the ideas, the more we have personally invested into whether an idea is true or not, the more culture and historical context surround these ideas, the more objectivity comes into question. The moment Calvinists started accusing the Arminians of promoting “man-centered” theology and making statements like “Arminians are saved, barely” (Sproul, Packer) was the moment I started to question their objectivity. Ultimately, I think “In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity” is the best approach.

    • Aidan Clevinger says

      Is it a “work” or a “good deed” for a child to sit down and eat at the table his father has set?

      • Robert F says

        Have you ever tried to get a reluctant child to eat her supper? There is indeed much work involved, and a good amount of bribing for those old enough to understand. I have to assume we are more like a child reluctant to eat than a starving man before we receive grace; otherwise, what is sin?

    • Baptismal regeneration. Either there is a work of God where he acts upon you from outside you to affect a change of heart and mind, or you must simply make that change of heart and mind yourself. The denial of baptismal regeneration is, by implication, an insistance upon intellectual works-righteousness.

      And I do not think believing is something you do any more than palpitating your heart is something that living people do. Just as a heartbeat is a natural function of a living person, so believing is a natural function of a child of God. We don’t adopt ourselves into his family. His Word calls us, His Spirit draws us, and in the Water the voice of Christ places His name on us, to make us His forever. Faith is a gift which is given to you.

  2. Christiane says

    there is non-belief, and then there is ‘doubt’, which is often a first step away from non-belief, I think . . .

    there is so much wounded human pathos within these words in sacred Scripture:
    “Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief”

    • Right on. You cannot have faith without doubt. This doesn’t make doubt a virtue, but just the way it works. He who believes perfectly in the Word of God does not sin. All sin is an expression of unbelief. Non-belief is damning, unbelief is forgivable.

  3. Jeff, I want very much to understand what you are saying. But please tell me what we do with scripture like Matthew 7:21-23 which has Jesus saying, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’ ”

    Do we assume that Jesus is sending them away because the evil they did was not believing in him? Or are they banished from Jesus’ presence because of some evil action that they did in their lives?

    Thanks for any enlightenment on this, Jeff! I would actually like very much to be a Christian Universalist (not a Unitarian Universalist), but this and other scripture passages trip me up. Note that I am NOT saying that YOU are a Christian Universalist.

    • I was just reading in Acts the other day about the 7 sons of Sceva (?) and it sounds a bit like the same story. My take on it is that these guys saw other people doing miracles in Jesus name, and tried to turn the name into sort of a charm. Their own little ‘abracadabra’, if you will. Using the name with no belief in what defines the name. And I wonder if that is kind of what Jesus is talking about here. “Lots of people will want to use my name as a charm. They’ll see the power that flows through it and want to use that for themselves, but they won’t want ME. And to want the power without wanting ME isn’t enough.”

    • Jeff Dunn says

      Joanie, no one will be sent away from Jesus who longs to be with him. He is not going to say, “Remember what you did in the summer of 1983? No? Well, I do. Now get out of my sight!” It is only our refusal to accept the forgiveness freely offered to us that will get us cast out. And why would we ever do that?

  4. Robert F says

    I’ll lay my cards on the table: I don’t think we need to believe anything to receive God’s grace. Every child conceived bears God’s saving grace on his or her soul. We can lose that grace as a result of rejection when we reach the stage of awareness when rejection is possible, and when we reach a point where we understand what rejection entails. When this happens, we must repent and believe, meaning trust, the way we did as children, before rejection was an open, conscious possibility, in order to be restored to saving grace. Jesus words are directed to those who are aware and can hear them, not those incapable because of age or limited capacity. And what he asks us to put aside is all the false beliefs we’ve layered upon the simple, child-like trust in him to take care of everything. We have to stop believing lies; the truth will take care of itself by God’s grace.

    • I like what you are saying here, Robert. I agree that children are born in grace and that Jesus reminds us to be like little children because they are totally dependent on God and love of others for their lives. So maybe the only belief that is necessary is believing Jesus when he says that God loves us and wants us to love ourselves and others. So when people have gone astray, they can remember that they are loved and they can turn back to God. Yes, evil things happen and Jesus wants the evil to stop and he knows that accepting God’s love and grace is the only way to get off that evil track and back on the right path. Some may say, “Well, if you are correct, why did Jesus have to die?” I would say that Jesus died to totally release into the world all the love that God has for people and to allow people to enter freely into that love. AND, when he resurrected, he was announcing to us that death is not the end and that what awaits people is a new kind of life after we died.

    • David Cornwell says

      ” Every child conceived bears God’s saving grace on his or her soul. ”

      This is the story of my youngest daughter. There was never a time she wasn’t a believer (if you want to call it that). She has just always, very simply, trusted and loved God. Now, over time she’s had her bouts and arguments with God, but she’s never lost her trust in Him. Her childlike trust has remained a deeply ingrained part of her life and personality.

    • Is this what I think it is? And Anglican arguing for the “age of accountability?” I have surely seen it all.
      Romans 10:9 begs to differ with your first sentence. If children are born pure and without original sin, from whence do their sins come? You are making the argument that our ascent to sin is what makes us sinners. I propose that it is quite the other way around. You don’t need to teach children to lie. They quite naturally do whatever appears to be in their own best interest, whether it concurs with truth or not. We sin BECAUSE we are sinners. It is our nature, so it is what comes to us naturally. It is virtue that must be learned, not vice.

      • Robert F says

        It’s trust that must be re-learned, not virtue that must be learned, with regard to receiving grace. I didn’t say children are conceived pure and without original sin, but that saving grace is imputed to all of them (and was to us) despite their imperfection, and that their trust is what we need to go back to, once we have lost it, to regain a right relationship to God and to again receive saving grace. Neither children nor we could ever possibly learn enough virtue to earn saving grace; but trust is the nature of faith, not virtue, and trust in Jesus Christ is what we must have to be saved.

        This Anglican is still in favor of baptizing infants both as the proper way of totally including them in the community of faith and because the sacraments, baptism and holy communion, are means of grace whereby saving trust may be sustained and supported throughout the life of the faithful.

        • Neither children nor we could ever possibly learn enough virtue to earn saving grace; but trust is the nature of faith, not virtue, and trust in Jesus Christ is what we must have to be saved.

          Agreed! But in what sense if saving grace imputed to infants? Are you saying that all are born children of God? I suppose that would be a necessary explanation if you don’t actually believe that baptism does in fact make one a Christian.

      • Do you think that infants that die go to heaven? They certainty don’t have anything like intellectual belief in jesus as their savior.

  5. When I figure out how to triangulate this with a sacramental understanding of grace, I’ll get back with you guys. The whole grace/works dichotomy that so bedevils you guys is kind of a mystery to me. If you ask me if “salvation” is by “grace” or by “works”, I’m likely to respond “yes, and?”.

    But then, I just went two rounds of ‘one mediator between God and man, the Man Jesus Christ’ with my wife yesterday and my quota of controversy is full for the week.

    • Hi Mule,

      “The whole grace/works dichotomy that so bedevils you guys is kind of a mystery to me. If you ask me if “salvation” is by “grace” or by “works”, I’m likely to respond “yes, and?”.”

      One of the first Bible verses I was taught was Eph 2:8-9:

      “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”

      I suspect the way each of us interprets this passage is a big cause of the “bedeviling”. However as the years have passed and the more I think about it, I find myself less and less bedeviled, meaning I do think there’s more to it than just a straight interpretation of this passage alone.

      • That’s a great verse.
        A lot depends on where you twitch with the highlighter.

      • If it gets to the point where people are looking at faith as a “work”, then what on earth or in heaven do we do? Just lie here supinely as though we are the dust of the earth before the spirit was breathed into it? Carefully scrub our minds clean of anything, because if we so much as twitch a thought in the direction of “I believe”, it’s a work which is dead?

        If that’s the case, then there is no such thing as sin, because you can’t be blamed or responsible for just acting in reaction to stimuli. If you can’t make a choice or a decision towards, then how can you make a choice or a decision away from God or salvation? In that instance, you may as well be a Hindu and leave the whole cycle of your life (and next incarnation) up to the workings of the dharma and karma.

        Of course we can’t save ourselves, but being worried about somehow taking something away from God if we aren’t completely passively acted-upon by irresistible grace and predestined election does not make sense to me. God created and holds in being the infinite multiverse, I really don’t think we can convincingly abrogate to ourselves any power at His expense (it would be like saying that a child dressing up as a princess for Hallowe’en or her birthday is mounting a legal challenge to the right of the Queen as head of the Commonwealth and monarch of the United Kingdom and usurping her authority).

        • Jeff Dunn says

          Martha, believing God anew every day is the fun part of it all!

          • Who gave you permission to be such an optimist? Believing God is fun? My life was going along just fine before I started believing in God. It’s been nothing but heartache ever since!

        • David Cornwell says

          But there are those who have turned faith into work, even faith in Christ. They will tell you “you didn’t have the right kind of faith” or “you didn’t pray enough with faith” or you haven’t repented enough or haven’t belived enough, ad infinitum. All of those things can leave you sweating in the end.

        • Robert F says

          I don’t understand how the reference to dharma/karma fits here; karma is exactly the belief that we are totally responsible for all our own actions and their moral implications, and that what we do is what creates our future and next incarnation. It’s not the same as fatalism at all; in fact, it’s “as you sow, so shall you reap” made into an inflexible cosmic law. In Buddhist and Hindu soteriology, it is WE who turn the wheel of karma and walk the path of dharma by our actions.

  6. Joanie (and all others):

    Think of Lazarus. He was dead and stinking in his death when Jesus arrived. Jesus had the covering rolled away from his tomb, then called to Lazarus to rise from the dead. What did Lazarus do to earn his life? Nothing. He was dead (dead in his trespasses and sins, if you like). While he was dead (in trespasses and sins), Jesus spoke and Lazarus came to life.

    So here he was, alive. He could look out of his tomb into the sunlight and see his family and friends cheering, calling for him to come to them so they could unwrap his death clothes and start the party. Now, Lazarus could choose to remain in his tomb, unwilling to enter into life, wanting to cling to his rights to be dead and stink. He could make that choice for all eternity if he chose, but he would no longer be dead. Jesus saw to that. Lazarus would live forever sitting in his tomb and watching the party unfold in front of him.

    Am I a universalist? If by that you mean Jesus will call everyone’s name—every single person born from day one to the end of time—and every stinking dead person will come to life and be invited to walk out of death and join the party, then yes. But if by that you mean Jesus is going to force those who insist on sitting in their stinking tomb and continue to wear their stinking death clothes for all of eternity and watching the party go on in front of them without ever joining in—for that is what hell is—then no, I am not a universalist. We can choose to cling to our rights, or try to show how we have been really good (or at least not as bad as others), or say we don’t believe in life after death, or insist that we are just having some kind of nightmare and Jesus doesn’t exist. We can demand our ledger be read so all can see that we deserve what we get. We can do any stupid thing we like, but when Jesus calls our name, we live. And that is that. Heaven is filled with dead people who are now alive and have joined the party. Hell is filled with dead people who are now alive but refuse to come into the light and dig into the banquet prepared just for them.

    The grace of God means all stinking people who are dead in their trespasses and sins are called to life. Believing simply means to walk out of our tomb and join the party.

    I hope this helps..

    • Christiane says

      I love the connection with Lazarus.
      I think your understanding is that the great mystery of redemption is open to all of mankind, for some in some ways known only to God;

      and that there will be those who freely choose not respond to the offer, and who will turn away of their own free will

    • Nailed it! And BTW, this happens to be the Lutheran position on the issue. Salvation by grace, damnation by works. The resurrection analogy is quite the best for that.

      • Robert F says

        So Lutherans believe that it is possible for the elect to refuse salvation? In that case, salvation depends on our choice once we have been offered it, and we must perform the work of not rejecting it, which in fact is logically indistinguishable from performing the work of receiving it. I don’t think you and Dunn are on the same page at all, because he believes we can choose to believe or not, and that choice is not a work; you believe, as a confessional Lutheran, that faith is given by God, not our own choice; but then, in a typically illogical Lutheran way, you say that we can reject salvation, because you miss how this in fact turns salvation into a work.

        • Lutherans believe this regarding salvation; God will save whom He will save.

          God elects in Baptism (also).

          He can certainly elect the unbaptized, if He chooses.

          And, faith can be lost. At what point? We’d like to believe that that point (at which God would let us go) is hard to imagine. But we have to allow for that to preserve God’s freedom.

        • Steve is right. Lutherans mean something much different (and homogenous with scripture) than Calvinists when they say “election.”
          Lutherans do not say that we must perform the work of not rejecting it. The requirement is the possession of faith at all, not the maintaining of it. Word and Sacrament nourish and grow faith, which are similarly the work of God. God gives faith, God sustains faith. Man stubbornly resists, and if he is saved at all, he is dragged into the new life kicking and screaming, just like he was his first life. We are saved in spite of ourselves, not because we got over ourselves. We can no more take credit for choosing Christ than an infant can for being born.

          Lutherans believe all men refuse Salvation. But God’s grace overpowers the resistance of some. And not others. We have searched the Scriptures pretty hard and we are certain they will not tell us why. Not resisting is not a good work we must perform. All men resist until they are conquered. Dead men stay dead until they are raised. The power of God’s Word moves sinners from death to life by the power of the Holy Spirit. Our minds and hearts are simply broken instruments upon which God somehow makes beautiful music.

          • Robert F says

            I’m not sure I understand what the important differences would be between your Lutheran theology regarding election and the Calvinist theology, aside from the sacramental focus and their articulation of double predestination, which seems to be implied though unstated in your position.

          • The un-statement is intentional. Key word “implied.” Calvinism is a theological system built on rationally working out all the things scripture could possibly imply. The Bible says that God elects some. Therefore, the implication must be that those are not elected must have been “un-elected.” We just don’t go there. The Scriptures don’t say that, and we believe there’s a reason for that. Our position is called single predestination, and it doesn’t appear to be rationally consistent. We say God elects to salvation only. We do not know why he does not elect everybody, but it’s not his fault they are un-elect. The Calvinist would say that the un-elect were predestined for damnation. It seems to fit. It doesn’t make sense that God could elect some without intentionally passing over others. Unless you take a closer look at how God elects. We believe God elects through the call of the Gospel and the Holy Spirit given in Baptism. This makes us children of God, and is the sign and seal of our election. A Calvinist points you ultimately to your own good works (personal decision to accept Christ in the revivalistic versions, possibly church membership or love for God in other branches). Lutherans point you to God’s work on your behalf on the cross given to you by the power of the Word and Spirit in the sacraments.

          • Robert F says

            This Lutheran emphasis on baptismal regeneration being what determines salvation confuses me. Do you mean that all who are baptized into the Triune name with water are elect? Are you saying that none who are baptized into the Triune name with water are ever among the unelect (or the preterite, those “passed over by God and History,” as Thomas Pynchon puts it in his novel “Gravity’s Rainbow”)? And that though they may after their baptism publicly repudiate Jesus Christ and become neo-pagans, they still are among the elect?

            And if that’s what you mean, all I can say is: Oh, come on now!

            • Lutherans hold that it is possible to repudiate one’s baptism and leave the faith.

              And as for the emphasis on baptism, my understanding is that it is the ordinary means of grace by which people receive cleansing and new life. There are extraordinary circumstances.

          • Robert F says

            Do you agree with CM that it’s possible to repudiate one’s baptism and no longer have faith? If that is the case, then baptism may or may not signify that one is among the elect, and there is a freedom to reject the gift of regeneration even after having been regenerated, if baptism does in fact regenerate as you say it does. The most this can mean is that salvation (ordinarily) requires that one be baptized, but baptism is not sufficient to assure salvation or election. Which lands us right back in the place where sacraments are the ordinary means of grace, but not the necessary ones. And when one refers to something as ordinary, there in not a necessary implication that it is most frequent. For example, even though we both belong to churches that practice paedobaptism more frequently than the baptism of confessing believers, the baptism of confessing believer’s is still the most ordinary form of baptism, since for paedobaptism to occur there must first have been believer’s baptism antecedent to it. Without believer’s baptism there would be no paedobaptism, which makes believer’s baptism the ordinary mode of baptism, even though it is performed in our churches less frequently. Paedobaptism is baptism given under the exceptional circumstances that the parents of the child are already believers.

          • Robert, CM is right on the money. Lutherans do not believe in the Perseverance of the Saints. That is why our concept of Election is so drastically different from the Reformed. Perseverance and Baptismal Regeneration must be mutually exclusive. However, we would not say that one can “fall from grace” by committing X number of sins that finally push you over the line. In order to “loose your salvation” you have to not have any faith at all, not even a mustard seed. If you do not believe that Jesus is Lord and was raised from the dead, you do not have faith, period. And you’re right, Baptism may or may not signify who is among the elect. It is the sign and seal to those who believe. We believe that you can never be certain of the election of anybody but yourself. If you are Baptized, do you believe? He who will not be baptized does not believe (or is simply the victim of severe doctrinal deception). However, Baptism IS sufficient to assure salvation: Christ says “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” Baptism GIVES faith. You can walk away from it if you so will, but you will not fall out of it, and it will not be taken from you. You are secure, but not imprisoned, in your election. Yes, the sacraments are the ordinary means, and not absolutely necessary, but if you really want what they offer, and their offer is a sure thing based on the words of Christ and the Apostles, then to reject them is to reject what they give. What they give is not promised you to be found anywhere else. It can be (thief on the cross, for instance), but to reject the sacraments and insist God create an exception for you is just foolish. The Pentecost proclamation is: “Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins.” To say, “Well, I’ll buy what he’s selling except the part about water” is to not believe the message. And yes, us Lutherans place Baptism right up there at the heart of the Gospel, because it’s where God cleanses us and adopts us into His family. It is priceless.

            And I don’t understand how credobaptism is the norm. It is only the norm for new families in the church. There has been 2000 years of continuity where Christian families have never needed a professing Baptism because the church has consistently taught and practice the baptism of infants. But both are equally valid. Baptism does what baptism does, whether you are a consenting adult or not. God does not need our consent, and our consent does not add to the equation of His work. We would not say that infant baptism is the ordinary means: Baptism itself is the ordinary means, infant or adult. But churches who baptize infants also accept adult baptism. Credo-baptist churches are the ones who limit God and say he can only save consenting adults.

          • Robert F says

            The last first: I did not say that credobaptism is the norm; I said it’s the ordinary means, because without it paedobaptism would not occur, and paedobaptism depends on the antecedent of credobaptism, or believer’s baptism. All subsequent paedobaptism is dependent on someone beforehand having made a confession before being baptized. Without the consent of the parents, or guardians, paedobaptism would not occur.

            Your baptismal theology seems to include as logically necessary that if an infant is baptized against the wishes of her parents or guardians, this is a valid baptism; is that true? If not, then the need for the consent of one in authority (guardian’s or parent’s) over the infant must be part of what constitutes baptism rather than the kind of backroom trick that the Mormons do when they baptize complete strangers in absentia by proxy. In the sacrament of baptism, then, consent becomes absolutely essential; first the consent of the antecedent Christian who was baptized as a believer, and then the consent of those among the faithful who have the right to speak for the infant.

            Thanks for answering my question about baptismal regeneration and how it relates to salvation; with you representing the conservative LCMS and CM representing mainline ELCA, I’ll take your agreement as representing a comprehensively Lutheran answer. Incidentally, there are Anglicans who profess just this understanding. I may come to embrace it myself. It’s very cogent.

            I’ve no intention of scorning the sacraments or neglecting God’s ordinary means for imparting grace. But even though the space you leave for grace to work outside the ordinary means is very narrow, it’s still wide enough for God to drive an entire universe through. Believing that he can and may so do, saving more outside the ordinary means and with the extraordinary means, helps me to sleep better at night.

          • Good thoughts. I’d just add that while Lutherans emphasize God’s work in the ordinary means, we’re actually rather open ended about his potential for extraordinary means. We just don’t build out tradition on extra-biblical assumptions about them, the way that revivalists and Pentecostals do. It’s a very both/and type of position, with the focus on the sure things in order to not drive anyone to despair via unfilled promises God never said. But yes, wide enough to drive a universe through, indeed.

            I would take issue with the consent thing, however. I may be going out on a limb here, but I believe it is the Word of God, His Name being put on us with water and His Spirit giving us the washing of regeneration that is the power in Baptism. I don’t think consent plays any part of that, and the grandparent who sneaks in a grandchild contrary to the actual parent’s wish gets exactly what she schemed for. The baptism doesn’t “not work” because of some spiritual mojo missing from the parent’s lack of consent. The thing is this: if that child isn’t raised to understand what it means to fear, love, and trust in God above all things, that child will not continue in the faith, likely. Children baptized in this way have hope, but unwilling parents do have the potential to destroy the faith that is given them. And this is not completely analogous to the Mormon practice of baptism via proxy because, well, there is no proxy. That is another issue entirely!

    • Robert F says

      So Jeff, do you believe that those in hell now may still accept salvation?

    • Rick Ro. says

      Poor Lazarus. Had to die twice.

      • Assuming he had faith in Christ, he had to be pretty pissed when they brought him back from the heavenly heights to do more time on this dump.

        • Good one!

        • Dana Ames says

          Miguel, this presupposes that as a first century Jew Lazarus would have any notions about “heavenly heights” as some “place” removed from this earth… It is likely he did not, for the first century Jews who were concerned about the afterlife at all (thus not the Sadducees) were concerned about who would be worthy to occupy this very earth as God was making it as it should be (that’s what “judgment” meant to them). N.T. Wright writes extensively about this, and says that 1st C Jewish questions (including Paul’s) were not the same questions as those which came to a head in the Reformation, and that if we think this, then we are reading back into the text.

          I hope that it was only a momentary descent into flip-ness that made you describe the beautiful earth that God Himself created as a “dump.”

          As to the rest of this argument, I’m with Mule. One of the reasons I sought entry into EO was that the western theological train ran out of track for me, Not that there is nothing good in western theology, but there was no one expression of it that was seamless and organic enough for me. This subject is a great example: going round and round in the “grace vs works” arguments began to seem to me like a constantly spinning merry-go-round… once you get on and get involved, you can’t get off without injury, but staying on makes you so very dizzy… This discussion isn’t even part of EO, because of the different understanding of what “grace” is and what it was we inherited, and how, from the ancestral sin.


          • Robert F says

            Hi Dana,
            Are you saying that when Paul was writing in his epistle that he had been lifted up into the seventh heaven, he was not referring to a reality above and other than this earth and existence?

          • Robert F says

            More on the subject: I think even a consummate historian like Wright needs to be very careful when speaking about what people of former historical periods could or could not believe; it sounds far too much like Bultmann insisting in that in the 20th century, in the age of enlightened education,electricity and scientific discovery, people could not possibly believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus. As it turns out, Bultmann was wrong; not only can people still believe in the resurrection of Jesus, they can believe in a ghosts, flying saucers, reincarnation, telepathy, etc. The problem with such historical judgements is that they can take the measure of a time period’s zeitgeist based on whatever documentation exists, but they can’t account for the individual person as an individual rather than a sample of some larger social grouping. Even if Wright is correct about the expectations of all first century Jews (which is unlikely), isn’t it possible, or even likely, that Jesus meant to stretch the understanding of his contemporaries beyond the this-worldly boundaries it had existed within up until that point? I would be surprised if Jesus wasn’t doing that. If you tell me that’s not possible because Jesus was after all a first century Jew, I shall be incredulous; his uniqueness and singularity must undo any merely historical data or reconstructions, and cannot be confined by the term “first century Jew.”

          • Robert F: Right on. The absoluteness of some historians about what could or could not have happened for ancient civilizations or the Son of God bespeaks more of an agenda than it does the relentless pursuit of truth.

            Dana: Of course I was being facetious. I see much beauty on earth indeed. I can appreciate how Orthodoxy opened many channels to it for you, but I insist it is not impossible to live in a beauty enjoying paradigm as a Protestant. Just not as a Calvinist or Arminian. I’d love to learn more of the Orthodox understanding of sin and grace. I went through Ware’s “The Orthodox Way” a few years back, but at the time, I think it was just too far over my head. I think I’ll go through it again sometime soon. Right now, I’m still trying to adjust and adapt to my home in the Lutheran church. So much left to learn!

          • Dana Ames says

            Robert F,

            I think what Paul experienced was an aspect of the one reality that exists; the veil was lifted for him, because of God’s own purposes, to be able to see a facet of reality not normally visible to us. I’m not wise enough to know all the reasons we all don’t get to have an experience like his while we’re going through this life (though I think some have to do with all creation being “subject to futility…in hope”). I think it’s spiritually very dangerous to divide reality into “this earth and existence” and something “above and other.” F. Schaeffer was right about this.

            Re what 1st century Jews believed, I’d ask that you read Wright’s Christian Origins series (“The New Testament and the People of God,” “Jesus and the Victory of God,” “The Resurrection of the Son of God”) and then get back to me on that. Jesus was incarnate into history; his life on earth had a context. We actually have testimony from those years about at least some of the things those folks believed. Of course Jesus was stretching the boundaries of his contemporaries, but not so much “beyond this-worldly boundaries” as you might think. If it were simply that, he probably would not have been crucified. No, he had to be killed, largely because that toward which he was stretching his contemporaries had significant ramifications for *this life* and was extremely threatening to the powers that be. There is no Dualism, my friend; dualities, certainly, but no Dualism. Viewing reality dualistically makes reality into something unreal…


            Sorry I didn’t catch the facetiousness; part of it is that my understanding Luther’s view of humans as “snow-covered dung” colors my understanding of anything else Lutherans say. (I personally could never subscribe to this view of human beings; even as a Protestant I could not go all the way there. I think scripture makes clear that we are much more than that.) Oh well, sorry my ears were not attuned. Of course anyone can live in a beauty-enjoying paradigm. I wish we could sit down over coffee and talk about things… What drew me to O. was theology, theology, theology. I grew up Catholic, and as a Protestant I surely did miss the “smells and bells” from time to time, but when I got to O. they were the dessert, not the main course. I expected the external beauty; what I didn’t expect is how beauty is embedded in everything, most especially the core theology.

            If you really want to learn something of the O. view of sin and grace, the quick course would be Ware’s short book, “How Are We Saved?” The best and most thorough way, short of actually attending the services, would be to read through “The Lenten Triodion” and “The Lenten Triodion Supplement” chronologically according to their content. Since the theology of Orthodoxy is expressed in its worship, you will find the O. “understanding of sin and grace” in the prayer and hymnography of the services, along with the choice and placement of the scripture readings that are appointed for each day. You can probably find these in your library system; if not, go over to Oyster Bay and ask Fr John to loan them to you…


          • Dana Ames says

            I think my response got stuck in the spam filter. Hopefully it will be along soon…


          • Robert F says

            I don’t know, Dana. My own experience has shown me that the very act of observation/attention even in the depths of meditation reveals a duality between that which is observed and the observer, otherwise the observer and the observed would simply fade into each other and awareness would cease. It’s duality which makes perception possible. Without duality, and indeed multiplicity, the boundaries and distinctions between things would disappear, and reality could not take shape. And wherever there is multiplicity, there must be different value inherent in different things.

            That’s why Jesus could say that it doesn’t matter what you eat, because it all is excreted and washed away in the sewage, which is the fate of all temporal things; but its the things that come out of your heart that count, because they last and endure for good or bad. Among other things, he was emphasizing the greater value of the spiritual over the merely physical. And again when he said not to be afraid of those who can merely kill the body, but rather fear the one who can cast both body and spirit into hell, he was calling for placing the spiritual above the merely physical and animal. None of this is to say that at the general resurrection and the renewal of creation that is to come in the eschaton the capacities of the physical and its value won’t change; but that day has not yet arrived.

          • Dana Ames says

            Yes, I affirm dualities. No problem with that; you can’t have true union unless the Subjects are truly unique Persons; and the Creator has to be different than Creation. But those dualities are all held within the One Reality. It’s Dualism that’s the issue for me – being so much Other that there is no connection possible within the kosmos as it is.

            I guess part of what I’m pleading for is at least some more clarity in use of language, and understanding of what’s behind our language and how we use it. Definitions, please! 😉

            Hope you have a relaxing 4th- And I hope you read Wright’s books. There’s a lot of helpful stuff therein.


          • Robert F says

            I am a dualist in the sense of believing that spirit and matter are not the same, and in believing that spirit is higher in the hierarchy of being than matter; I, however, am not a dualist in the sense of someone who believes that creation has more than one cause at its origin. To my thinking, God himself, and his image in human being, is the connection between the higher realm of spirit and the lower realm of matter. Just to be clear, when I speak of higher and lower I’m using metaphorical language, just as you are using metaphorical language as when you talk about the veil being lifted when Paul had his mystical experience. My metaphor, however, has the advantage that it parallels Paul’s language in speaking about being raised up to the seventh heaven; he does not speak about a veil being lifted so that he could see what lies in the heart of reality on a horizontal plane.

          • Dana Ames says

            I don’t believe they’re the same. I do believe they are meant to be united, in such away that they also retain their distinctions. Matter can bear spirit; spirit can be expressed through matter. This is one of the ramifications of the Incarnation (which gets very short shrift among most Protestants) and is also involved with how we actually experience God.

            Paul’s language reflects the thought of his day regarding “layers/levels” of the heavenlies. I’m not saying he’s wrong about that aspect of reality – I know nothing about and cannot gainsay that. There may indeed be “seven heavens” as “divisions” of the Unseen. I’m simply using language according to my understanding, which is that is there is one Reality, made up of that which is seen and that which is unseen, each retaining its particular qualities but not so much “other” that they can never be joined in any way. Otherwise, why would Paul write that creation will be freed from the slavery of corruption to the freedom of the glory of the children of God? Or Isaiah write that the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God (or simply the glory of God) as the waters cover the sea?

            As for their relative value, the witness of the scripture writers and lots of holy people who have trust Christ through the ages is that our focus is to be on the unseen; but that focus is for our benefit for life now, so that we don’t get caught up now in that which is corruptible, so that *we* don’t devalue all God has done – the totality of the repercussions of which we have not yet beheld… But when the Lord returns, he will change what is corruptible into incorruption… Which does not mean that everything will eventually be non-material, disembodied “spirit”. We do not await the destruction of our bodies. We await the redemption of our bodies, in hope.

            Fr Stephen Freeman at glory2godforallthings.com is very good on this. And do read Wright, so that if you disagree, you at least know what you’re disagreeing with.

            Kind regards-

          • Robert F says

            Nothing I said was meant to denigrate the value of the material or the physical; I do accept that part of the Creed which affirms the resurrection of the body. But the resurrected body is a spiritual body, wherein the imperfections of matter, which are the result of the spirits venture into evil and the fall, will be rectified, and the body will be put in right and harmonious relationship to the spirit.

            I was not really disagreeing with Wright, Dana; I was disagreeing with you. And I suspect that the disagreement is more a matter of emphasis than substance. I will read Wright’s book if I can borrow it through my local library system; I’m afraid that I don’t have the resources to purchase books these days.

          • Dana Ames says

            Robert, I’m glad to read this last. I think you’re right; it’s emphasis rather than substance. It just seems to me that people in general (definitely not you!) use language without thinking about what is being communicated, so we have dualities morphing into the chasm of “upper story vs lower storey” division of Reality (Dualism).

            BTW, Wright says that in Greek, the phrase “spiritual body” is constructed in such a way that “spiritual” means “that which is the origination of the body’s life force,” not “that which is not material.” Which is certainly congruent with what you have written last.

            Again, it would be nice to sit down over a beverage and talk about this stuff. Hope you are staying cool.

            Kind regards-

  7. “Faith is a gift of God.”

    it is not something that ‘we do’, or that we can muster up on our own. It comes from above (as Jesus told Nicodemus).

    Faith comes by hearing and the Word of God.

    Why do some hear, and yet not really hear, and come to faith. And other really do hear it and are His?

    Who knows? God knows.

  8. David Cornwell says

    “it is not something that ‘we do’, or that we can muster up on our own.”

    Right, else it is not faith. But yet it’s tried all the time, in one form or another. And maybe by all of us at one time or another.

  9. Thanks, Jeff, and all. Jeff, what do you think about babies who die never having heard of Jesus, never having been baptized? You have probably said what you think somewhere along the line, but I forget. What has Robert Capon written about this? It matters because it helps us to understand what it is that we actually believe about God, grace, love, sin, baptism, Jesus’ words.

    • My pastor always asks (regarding babies who die who are not baptized), “Well…what kind of a God do we have? A gracious one.”

      As far as people who die never having heard of Jesus, the Lord knows all, and He will judge accordingly.

    • Joanie, my pay grade is not high enough to answer this one intelligently, so I’ll just say this. God seeks ways to invite us into his kingdom, not ways to keep us out. Redemption has been woven into creation from before the very beginning. I will trust the unbaptized souls of infants to the One who loves them the most.

  10. Of course, here we are talking mysteries that cannot be totally fathomed. But then, the Gospel is chock-full of mysteries that seemingly cannot be reconciled except in the mind of God. Like Christ being both true man and true God, and we are in peril denying one or the other, or that God can be three Persons, yet only one God.

    I am Reformed in my views, but know that these truths cannot be fully explained to our satisfaction. The truths of God’s choice and our freedom are both taught, but He has not seen fit to know how they connect. And emphasizing one at the expense of the other gets us into trouble. The tension between the two must be maintained.

    I have heard it explained this way: You come to a door, and the sign says: “Come unto me all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” You go through the door, and see another sign, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you, to bear fruit, fruit that will remain.” Both are true, but I don’t have a clue as to how the two connect.

    Paul goes through Romans chapters 8-11 working through these difficult teachings, then finally lays down his arguments and falls on his knees in worship:

    33 Oh, the depth of the riches
    both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God!
    How unsearchable His judgments
    and untraceable His ways!
    34 For who has known the mind of the Lord?
    Or who has been His counselor?
    35 Or who has ever first given to Him,
    and has to be repaid?[q]
    36 For from Him and through Him
    and to Him are all things.
    To Him be the glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36 HCSB)

    And that is where I leave it, in His capable hands. Do we believe, or is even the faith a gift of God? The answer is, “Yes.” I know that answer doesn’t satisfy us, but that’s the only answer I can give. I only call people to believe, and let God do the rest. It’s because we are so infected with the virus of the Enlightenment, which demands absolute certainty in all things, that we want to have hard and fast answers, when the Word doesn’t give them. God only gives us what is sufficient for our salvation, nothing more, nothing less. Even John Calvin backed off from knowing the mind of God, when he said:

    For it is not right for man unrestrainedly to search out things that the Lord has willed to be hid in wisdom, which he would have us revere but not understand that through this also he should fill us with wonder. He has set forth by his Word the secrets of his will that he has decided to reveal to us. These he decided to reveal in so far as he foresaw that they would concern us and benefit us. (Institutes, Book III:XXI.1)

    So maybe both are right. It is SO scary to say those three words, “I don’t know.” But then, if I say them, I admit that I’m not God. Steve Brown gave four spiritual laws about that. (no, not the ones in the yellow booklet, LOL)

    1. There is only one God.
    2. You’re not it.
    3. Admit it,
    4. And repent.

    And that is what I do.

  11. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    And since you didn’t like my story, I thought I would share one from my favorite author, Robert Capon. I am going to let him doing the preaching this morning. You may not like his illustration of grace any better.

    Just read it through, and it hit me.

  12. Jeff,

    Thanks for the homily, especially Capon’s ;o) The point is hard to miss; QUIT KEEPIN’ SCORE, WOULD YA!

    Merton quote which echo’s the same;

    “If I make anything out of the fact that I am Thomas Merton, I am dead. And if you make anything out of the fact that you are in charge of the pig barn, you are dead.”

    “Quit keeping score altogether and surrender yourself with all your sinfulness to God who sees neither the score nor the scorekeeper but only his child redeemed by Christ.”

  13. William M. says

    I may be joining the conversation later than when it started, but there is a point I would like to bring up, namely how Judgement is completed upon every soul, and those who actually get to take part upon the first Resurrection.. Revelation 20: 4-6, 11-13.

    “4 And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.
    5 But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.
    6 Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.

    “11 And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.
    12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
    13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.”

    It is for these words that lead me to believe that faith alone is not enough , but rather acts through that faith, or to put into other words, faith strong enough that every action shows it. Just as it would not have been enough for Jesus to have his faith himself and yet not act upon it through his life and teachings, we must all strive to attempt to live through his example. I believe James 2 : 14-24 says it best.

    “14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
    18 But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! 20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? 22 Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? 23 And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. 24 You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.”

  14. I really appreciate Willaim’s post here, bringing about a much needed balance. There is often a tension in scripture and people make the mistake of choosing one side over another – when scripture authorizes both. The “faith vs. works” debate is an excellent example and the polarity is exactly what causes church divisions and denominational arguments when the body of Christ should be united not divided. “Faith without works is dead”. This is what I kept hearing the scriptures say over and over again when I was reading the earlier posts. This means the two are one. When a person truly believes, they act accordingly. They do not continue to live the way they did before. I’ve known people who have not been concerned about their sinful lifestyle, because they say, all they have to do is “believe”. Can’t help finding that deeply troubling.

  15. Question for William M – how many works are enough to be certain of your eternal salvation?

  16. It occurs to me – Isn’t there is a difference in our own works by our own efforts, and God working through us? It’s true, all of our righteousness is as filthy rags yes, but I’m not so sure we should be so turned against good works. if it isn’t apparant that God is working through us, doesn’t that leave room to question whether our faith is genuine? If it is God who gives us the gift of faith – will he not finish the good work he started in us, seeing to it that we will be complete in every good work? It’s not a question of how many works. It is right that we should be desiring God to work in us and through us continually. It is a work of grace on his part – continuous, miraculous, and beyond our comprehension. We can take no credit for it – but works are no less a gift than faith is.

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