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On Faith Preceding Works

On Faith Preceding Works

Some time ago I wrote an essay titled A Fruitful Faith, in which I maintained that there is a pattern of grace before law that is consistent throughout scripture, both Old Testament and New.  One can also express this idea as call before response, or, as I’ve been thinking today especially, faith before works.

Frequently faith and works are seen as contradictory, and there is, of course, an approach to works that contradicts faith.  There is also an idea of faith as abstract belief that divorces it from any form of works.  I’m reminded, however, of the reformation formulation “by faith alone, but not by the faith that is alone.”

I found two quotes in my reading on Hebrews today (Hebrews: Ancient Christian commentary on Scripture, New Testament X).  The first is from Athanasius, Festal Letters, 11.3, and is found on page 178:

[Paul] deemed it necessary to teach first about Christ and the mystery of the incarnation.  Only then did he point to things in their lives that needed to be corrected.  He wanted them first to know the Lord and then to want to do what he told them.  For if you don’t know the one who leads the people in observing god’s commands, you are not very likely to obey them.

I like the way this is expressed.  Works done to earn God’s favor or to learn about God are very different from works done because one know and loves God.  The former are futile; the latter rewarding.

Again, St. John Chrysostom, On the Epistle to the Hebrews, 22.4, on page 179:

How was it “by faith” that “Enoch was taken up”? Because his pleasing God was the cause of his being taken, and faith the cause of his pleasing God.  For if he had not known that he should receive a reward, how could he have pleased God?  But “without faith it is impossible to please” God. How? If a person belives that there is a God and a retribution, that person will have the reward.  (emphasis mine)

God’s grace, received by faith, is the cause of doing good, and doing good pleases God.  But clearly none of that comes from us; it all proceeds from God and comes to us because God has called us.

Church Sign: An Eye for an Eye

Church Sign: An Eye for an Eye

An Eye for an Eye church sign
An Eye for an Eye Church Sign

At first glance, this is a good sign for a Christian.  After all, Jesus replaces “an eye for an eye” with “Do not resist the one who is evil” (Matthew 5:38-39).

But I think it illustrates the way we fail to understand certain phrases as they were intended.

“An eye for an eye” or lex talionis was originally also a way to keep the whole world from going blind.  It was intended not to mandate revenge, but to limit it.  Modern Christians understand it as some sort of command to mass mayhem, and are thankful that Jesus overruled it.

But in fact Jesus simply moved us further along the same path.  Limiting revenge was good.  Forgiveness was even better, though in justice we still find some value in the idea of proportional penalties.

This sign demonstrates a quite frequent response to the Old Testament, and in many cases to other things that are old.  In seeing the New Testament as good, these Christians have to see the Old Testament as bad.  It is almost as though there was no grace for thousands of years and then suddenly at the appearance of Jesus God’s grace came into being.

But in fact the grace that Jesus taught was also taught in the Old Tesament, with the teaching accommodated to time and place.

So yes, I think Jesus improved on the attitude of “an eye for an eye.”  But “an eye for an eye” was, in its time and place, also a forward looking measure of justice.

A Calvinist Complementarian defines Arminian and Egalitarian

A Calvinist Complementarian defines Arminian and Egalitarian

… and does so very well. Not surprisingly (to me, at least), this is from C. Michael Patton on Parchment and Pen. To quote his definitions of “complementarian” and “egalitarian”:

Complementarianism: Belief in essential equality, but functional hierarchy in the sexes. This hierarchy is by God’s design and is not due to the fall. Man is to be the leader in the church and home. Women are not to be in positions of authority over man in the church or home, but are honored due to their role in the same way as men.

Egalitarianism: Belief in the essential and functional equality of the sexes. All role distinctions which imply leadership belonging to the man is due to the fall, not by God’s design. Therefore, women can serve in positions of authority over man in both the church and the home. Role is assigned by individual giftedness, not gender.

While I would say that many in each group take things a bit further, for paragraph length definitions, I would describe those as fair, balanced, and even accurate. The same goes for the definitions of “Arminian” and “Calvinist.”

The whole post is worth reading, especially as he discusses how a church can show, and not just teach, grace.