Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person - though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die - but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (ESV)
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Nike Theology Nothing New
Monday after the Transfiguration of our Lord
3 March 2014
Augustine of Hippo (d. 430) turned the church's attention to the salvation of the church by the gift of grace around the turn of the fifth century of our era, when the doctrines of Pelagius started to have currency in the public teaching of some Western churchmen. Up to this time, the church was fully committed to the resolution of the Christological controversies that began in the early fourth century with the heresy of Arius. Augustine began with the fruit that came from the resolution of those controversies. He helped to settle the issues that arose when the question was asked, "What does it mean to the salvation of sinners that Christ is God and man in one indivisible person?" The second half of the question had been decisively answered by the Nicene orthodoxy of the church catholic. The first half of the question remained for Augustine and his era and in some ways still remains. We know who Jesus Christ is when we see what He does to save sinners like us. Luther's reformation of the sixteenth century cultivated the ground originally plowed by Augustine more than a millennium before, clarifying yet further the implications of Christ's grace for sinners.
Pelagius and his followers were committed to the unimpaired moral power of human nature as created good by a good God. Things were deceptively simple for the Pelagians. God had created humans. God gave the law. Those whom God created would have been created to keep the law. So those humans needed to get to work in keeping that law. Grace was fundamentally unnecessary where such high earthly gifts had been conferred by God upon His creation and His foremost creatures, human beings. This was the ultimate Nike theology: "Just do it!" long before athletic shoes were invented. When pressed about the need for grace to complete nature the Pelagians argued that it was gracious that God had conferred free will upon humans and given them the created gifts to make use of it. The Pelagians were adept spin-masters in that they were trying to co-opt the language of the Bible to cover their fundamentally pagan views about the moral powers of human nature and free will.
Their view called into question why God should become incarnate in Christ. If humans have the power to become right in God's sight by their obedience, then Christ's life, death, and resurrection are superfluous. The Pelagians anticipated the deists of the seventeenth century by making the divine economy of salvation in Christ unnecessary. The Pelagians have many adherents in the twenty-first century; as a quick scan of "TV Christianity" makes clear.
Pelagianism empowers humans and eradicates Christ. In this sense every heresy is at bottom a heresy of the person of Christ. Such heresy doesn't merely nibble at the extraneous edges of the divine revelation but it is finally a head shot to the Truth who is Christ. Nature has not the power to make right in God's sight, because only Christ has done what is necessary to save us and the Holy Spirit has conferred the merits of that doing upon us. Once again, it must be clearly confessed that Christianity is about God's work in Christ.
|Augustine of Hippo|
"We must resist with the utmost ardor and vigor those who suppose, that without God's help, the mere power of the human will in itself can either perfect righteousness, or advance steadily towards it. When the Pelagians begin to be hard pressed about their presumption in asserting that this result can be reached without the divine assistance, they check themselves, and do not venture to utter such an opinion, because they see how impious and insufferable it is. But they allege that such attainments are not made without God's help on this account, namely, because God both created man with the free choice of his will, and, by giving him commandments, teaches him how man ought to live; and indeed assists him, in that He takes away his ignorance by instructing him in the knowledge of what he ought to avoid and to desire in his actions. Thus, by means of the free will naturally implanted within him, he enters on the way which is pointed out to him, and by persevering in a just and pious course of life, deserves to attain to the blessedness of eternal life.
"We, however, on our side affirm that the human will is so divinely aided in the pursuit of righteousness, that (in addition to man's being created with a free will, and in addition to the teaching by which he is instructed how he ought to live) he receives the Holy Spirit, by whom there is formed in his mind a delight in, and a love of, that supreme and unchangeable good which is God. Even now while he is still 'walking by faith' and not yet 'by sight' (2Co 5:7); in order that by this gift to him of the down payment of the free gift, he may conceive an ardent desire to cleave to his maker, and may burn to enter upon the participation in that true light, that it may go well with him from Him to whom he owes his existence. A man's free will, indeed, avails for nothing except to sin, if he
knows not the way of truth; and even after his duty and his proper aim shall begin to become known to him, unless he also takes delight in and feels a love for it, he neither does his duty, nor sets about it, nor lives rightly. Now, in order that such a course may engage our affections, God's 'love is shed abroad in our hearts,' not through the free will which arises from ourselves, but 'through the Holy Spirit, which is given to us' (Rm 5:5)."
Augustine, On the Spirit and the Letter, 1.4-5
Lord Christ, You have done everything to save us. Help us to walk by faith and not by sight, that we might receive what You have done by grace for us poor sinners. Amen.
For Cliff Scherer, Sr., that the Lord Jesus would strengthen him after surgery
For B. J. Hall, that the Good Shepherd would hold her in the palm of His hands as she goes through a biopsy
For President Matthew Harrison, of the LCMS, that his efforts to share confessional theology throughout the world would be blessed with success by the power of the Spirit
Art: MEMLING, Hans Adoration of the Magi (c. 1470)
© Scott R. Murray, 2014