So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.(ESV)
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I Don't Know
St. Joseph, the Guardian of our Lord
19 March 2014
The will bound by sin which Christ frees through the work of His Holy Spirit now believes in the One who sends that Spirit and all His attendant gifts. What was bound becomes free through the intervention of the God who gives all that we receive (1Co 4:7). Here again we are met by a deep and confounding mystery. Faith is by grace. Faith in this sense is not meritorious. It doesn't "do" anything. It merely receives what God grants it for Christ's sake. Yet, it is also true that the particular believer is the one whose faith is reckoned as righteousness in the presence of God. Saving faith is not someone else's faith. It is the believer's own faith. Nor is that faith forced on Him as though He were a rock or a stump. The unwilling become willing. The unfree are freed. The bound are unchained. Not by their own power, works, or merit, and yet not against their will.
Do you remember the truism: "God doesn't take anyone kicking and screaming into heaven"? Like all truisms, there are times when this is totally correct and when it is completely misleading. On the one hand, this statement does remind us that the person whom God saves is brought into a saving relationship by a renewal of His whole will, person, and mind. This is what Christian conversion is about. Conversion is not a reorientation of a misguided person but a violent turn about. It is not a re-vectoring of life, but a full stop for the sinful past. One does not tack on the way back, but sails right into the storm of God's presence. The person once headed into death apart from Christ is now turned completely around and set upon the road of life. Here there are no half measures, no equivocations, no return to the past; the dead must bury their own dead (Mt 8:22).
However, the phrase "God doesn't take anyone kicking and screaming into heaven" also can lead away from the evangelical truth, when it is used to support the idea that we must make ourselves willing by our own preparations, works, or volition. Those committed to the power of free will in conversion, rather than God's power to make the will truly free in Christ have used it to mislead those who are baffled by the experience of freedom in Christ and have concluded that they have been free to choose to believe all along. No Christian ever has the impression that he has been constrained into the faith. He has been freed and is free. This is what he experiences and knows about his own conversion. Unfortunately then he sometimes extrapolates from his experience of freedom and presumes that free will was always free to choose the faith of Christ. In the great mystery of the faith the chooser is Christ; the chosen is His church. What He chooses is not the better, the freer, the more pious. He chooses the worse, the bound, and the wicked. He forestalls our question and forces a full stop. We cannot know why we have been made free and others have not. God's Word does not tell us why some unworthy have been counted worthy by God and why others are not. A hearty and faithful "I don't know" will have to suffice.
Augustine of Hippo
"We must take heed lest someone should suppose that the sin would have to be imputed to God which is committed by free will, if in the passage where it is asked, 'What do you have that you did not receive?' (1Co 4:7) the very will by which we believe is reckoned as a gift of God, because sin arises out of the free will which we received at our creation. Let the objector, however, attentively observe that this will is to be ascribed to the divine gift, not merely because it arises from our free will, which was created naturally with us; but also because God acts upon us by the incentives of our perceptions, to will and to believe, either externally by evangelical exhortations, where even the commands of the law also do something, in so far as they admonish a man of his infirmity that he betakes himself to the grace that justifies by believing; or internally, where no man has in his own control what shall enter into his thoughts, although it pertains to his own will to consent or to dissent.
"Since God, therefore, in such ways acts upon the reasonable soul in order that it may believe in Him (and certainly there is no ability whatever in free will to believe, unless there be persuasion or summons towards someone in whom to believe), it surely follows that it is God who both works in man the willing to believe, and in all things goes ahead of us with His mercy. To yield our consent, indeed, to God's summons, or to withhold it, is (as I have said) the function of our own will. And this not only does not invalidate what is said, 'What do you have that you did not receive?' (1Co 4:7) but it really confirms it. For the soul cannot receive and possess these gifts, which are here referred to, except by yielding its consent. And thus whatever it possesses, and whatever it receives, is from God. Yet the act of receiving and having belongs, of course, to the receiver and possessor. Now, should any man be for compelling us to examine into this profound mystery why this person is so persuaded as to yield, and that person is not, there are only two things occurring to me, which I should like to advance as my answer: 'O the depth of the riches!' (Rm 11:33) and 'Is there injustice on God's part? By no means!' (Rm 4:14) If the man is displeased with such an answer, he must seek more learned disputants; but let him beware lest he find presumptuous ones."
Augustine, On the Spirit and the Letter, 1.60
Lord Christ, You have chosen those who never merit the gifts that You freely dispense. Give us grace to receive what You have given without doubting. In our freedom keep us bound to Your written Word that we might believe what You, the living and breathing Word of God, have revealed to us. Enable us to use our freedom in service to others every day. Amen.
For all supporting loved ones who suffer from chronic illness, that they might be strengthened in their sacrificial service
For President Obama, the Congress of the United States, and the Judiciary, that they would rule with equity and wisdom
For Bud Obert, who has undergone surgery for a broken hip, that the Lord Jesus would give him full and complete healing
In thanksgiving to God, that Rebecca Parsons has been brought safely through surgery and that God grant her a full recovery
For all farmers, that they would be granted good weather and fruitful crops that we might all enjoy the bounties of the earth
Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias Isenheim Altarpiece (1515)
© Scott R. Murray, 2014