Yesterday I re-blogged a post from the Anti-Itch Meditation blog that expressed some of Jeff Weddle’s concerns about the way grace has been misrepresented in commonly held doctrines. I also have a few things I want to say about that topic.
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
People love to quote the PARTS of scripture that seem to support the doctrinal stance they prefer – often ignoring the very next sentences. Therefore, it is common to view the above quote from Ephesians 2 with an emphasis on “not of ourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast”. As a result, a passive understanding of “grace” and salvation is developed, promoting the view that grace not only makes works unnecessary, but they are made to seem counterproductive, even harmful, leading to boasting and claiming credit that isn’t ours, and robbing God of His glory.
However continuing on, the next sentence of that quote doesn’t fit with that passive definition of grace. Salvation doesn’t divorce us from works, or make works redundant, unnecessary or even detrimental to our Christian lives. The second sentence of the quote states clearly that our purpose as followers of Jesus is to do the good works that God has prepared for us, not only to do them, but to WALK IN them.
Grace is not intended to lead to passivity, but grace is intended to prepare and equip us to live effective Christian lives. As an example of that equipping, I want to repost the following. It’s something I posted in a slightly different form on this blog in November 2013. .
A few thoughts about Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”…
Despite common assumptions, there is no indication that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was a health issue – the scriptures describe it as a messenger from Satan sent to buffet Paul.
Paul had the understanding that God COULD remove it and would possibly be willing to remove it and therefore was able to ask for it to be removed.
After seemingly having his request rejected, Paul was open enough to God’s Spirit to seek and hear God’s reason for the non-removal. He didn’t merely assume God wasn’t in the thorn-removal business.
2 Cor 12 spells out the nature of this “thorn in the flesh” and God’s revealed reason for not personally removing it:
“…because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations [given to Paul], a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
The reason for the non-removal of Paul’s thorn was because its presence prevented him from becoming conceited (proud) due to the revelation he’d been given.
God told Paul that His grace was sufficient, but sufficient for what? Sufficient for Paul to endure, or sufficient to equip Paul to personally deal with that messenger from Satan?
An interesting parallel dealing with similar issues of pride, humility and Satanic harassment can be found in James 4:6-7. I find a comparison between the two scripture passages suggests a viable answer to my question above about sufficiency.
“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
Receiving grace from God does not lead to passive submission to the world around us or to circumstances, or to the devil or his messengers.
Our starting point is submission – submission to GOD – then God gives His grace. The grace that is sufficient, grace that equips with the power of Christ, enabling us to live the life and do the works HE has prepared for us, freeing us from anything that would hinder us.
We are not saved by grace in order to remain weak, ineffective sinners crippled by “total depravity”. Salvation by grace brings about change – we are created in Christ Jesus, “a new creation, old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” Created in Christ Jesus for good works.