October 20, 2017

Charles H. Featherstone: Lent – By Grace Alone

Hubble Image of M13's Nucleus

Hubble Image of M13’s Nucleus

Note from CM: I preached on Abraham from Genesis 15 last Sunday. I love what Charles says about the patriarch here, and wish I had said it half as well as he does.

• • •

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
    and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

What did Abraham believe? A simple promise of children — because Abraham thought his chief servant, Eliezer, would be his heir. Abraham had no children, no one to pass his wealth, his name, his story onto.

But God says no, and pulls Abraham outside. See the stars? You will have more children than you can count. And childless Abraham — desperate, anxious, fearful Abraham — believes. This promise of God.

He will never live to see it. He will die long before his descendants become that numerous. He will father many sons — and probably more than a few daughters too. But he will never to live to something like that dark sky full of stars. He will never live to see the world full of “his” people.

Abraham trusted God. Trusted a promise. David trusted God, a promise that God forgives our lawless deeds, blots them out, erases them from whatever accounting ledger God keeps.

To live as a people justified by the God who forgives, and covers, who blots out and does not count, means that we must also forgive and cover and blot out and not count each other’s sin. It means we must not continue to hold misdeeds against each other. We are all recipients of a gift, a gift of grace. We have not earned it, no matter what we think. We cannot earn it.

Our redemption is relational. It’s not just a feeling. To be real, we must live it amidst and with other forgiven people. We must forgive as we are forgiven.

And yet, we must also live with the faith of Abraham. The faith that trusts in something it may never see. The world — the church — may never treat us as redeemed people, instead counting our sins against us as indelible marks of “character” that can never be changed. Proof of an essential nature which is so corrupt it is beyond the saving grace of God. We may never live in a world where we are considered forgiven and redeemed people. That doesn’t matter.

We are called to trust. To believe. In the promise of God alone.

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Check out Charles’s blog.

Comments

  1. The fruit of love becomes evident when we stop trying. When we experience the living presence of Christ in a tangible way it begins to show. Certainly life presents times for correction but if we commune with those around us, not with some ongoing agenda for their improvement but with a real adoration, finding pleasure in who they are, a certain resonance is born and people are drawn to it. I think that is what it means to walk by the spirit or to be our genuine selves. Keeping that mind which is in Christ, that’s the challenge. Seeing as He sees we can’t help but love. True, not everyone will see it but it’s what we’re about. Easy to say and tough to do.

    • Chris…Thank you for this.

    • Easy to say and tough to do.
      No kidding. It’s strange. To stop trying is the only way to start doing, but you fall and scrape your knee a lot.

    • –> “The fruit of love becomes evident when we stop trying.”

      So true. The only “trying” we can do is to get closer to Jesus. The more attached we are to Him and His vine, the more likely we are to bear good fruit.

      I still love the Message’s paraphrase of Matthew 11:28-30, specifically “Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.”

  2. Whatever the dynamics of the Christian life, and they certainly are different from one person to another, it starts in grace, continues in grace, and finds its goal in grace. Grace is not the place we only arrive at after a long and arduous struggle; and whatever progress, or regress, we make in our spiritual lives, grace is always the starting point that we never leave, and yet must continually return to. Most importantly, grace is not a thing, process or principle; Jesus Christ is grace.

  3. If Abraham was a friend of God way back then and David a man after God’s heart, why do we now need the Atonement to walk with God? What changed and when?

    • Kings only hang out with Kings. Or patriarchs. Maybe.

      It’s a very good question.

    • Does the Atonement work backwards in time, too?

    • We don’t need “Atonement” to walk with God. Psalm 139.

      What we need is to be delivered from Death and corruption/dissolution – because death and fear of death are the motivations behind all our unloving, self-survival-seeking mistreatment of one another, and if we die and stay dead we can’t be united (appropriately as creatures) to God, which was his plan in creating us. What changed was that in the Garden mankind chose to find life outside God, which is to reject that union. We have to see sin as linked with Death in order to understand the Cross – God’s declaration of forgiveness and complete identification with humankind, and the means by which Christ entered into death, and the Resurrection – not the Father’s “stamp of approval on Jesus’ sacrifice”, but the breaking of the jaws of Death from the inside out. The Incarnation was not “plan B”. God knew what would happen before he created anything, and in love went ahead and said, “Let there be… Let us make man in our image…” The Lamb was slain before the foundation of the world.

      A note on the word “propitiation”: it was not known in English before the beginnings of bible translation into English in the late 14th century. It was cobbled together from some Latin roots and reflects the penal aspect of the theology that developed in the western Church. The meaning of the Greek word so translated (hilasterion) is MERCY SEAT – the place where God and The Man meet, where The Man offers himself – bringing blood as the image of LIFE – as representative of all people in worship. A kind of substitution, yes, but not penal.

      Dana

      • Dana, if word of this got out, it could put a lot of preachers out of work.

        • 🙂

          D.

        • It might put a lot of preachers out of work, but it might bring more people into houses of worship!

          • Rick,

            There’s probably an Orthodox Church somewhere near you. The “temperament” of each parish is different, so it’s not going to be like mine – but this is what you will hear in the Orthodox Liturgy and all the other services.

            If you’re ever in my neighborhood, I’d be happy to take you to church with me.

            Forgive me, my convertitis is showing today…

            Dana

          • —> “Forgive me, my convertitis is showing today…”

            LOL. No worries. If I thought my church was perfect, I might’ve gotten offended. 😉

      • The Lamb was slain before the foundation of the world. One man died and took upon himself all the punishment for all of creation.

        How can anyone be a Christian and not be a universalist or secretly hope the universalist position to be true? Unless there is a ton of hating the other involved.

        Now, stepping back and asking if all of that is even true or necessary is a bigger question.

        • Stuart,

          The only place I have found where God is truly good, scripture is respected, and theology is seamless and organic with no loose ends is the Orthodox Church. If there’s anyplace in Western Christianity where those three things can all be found together, I have not encountered it.

          The theology of the Orthodox Church does not cotton to the “took upon himself the punishment for all creation.” It is as I wrote in response to Charlie. The Greek fathers did not interpret scripture to mean that, nor did they view God the Father as someone we need to be saved **from**. Punishment by God in any way is not part of the picture.

          The Orthodox Church is also the only place I have found where theologically and dogmatically the question of universal reconciliation is open. There are many Orthodox who believe in the never-endingness inner torment (“hell”) but that’s not actually something that has been made dogma. Some very holy Orthodox saints and others have held that God is big enough and good enough to somehow bring about the ultimate healing of everyone, because whatever torment we will suffer in being confronted with our own un-love as we come face to face with Christ is for our healing and purification, and will not last forever. The Greek word translated as “eternal” can also mean “of an age” – and so not everlasting. There’s actually a different Greek word that means “everlasting” and it’s not the one that’s used in the scripture passages that have been thought to teach eternal conscious torment.

          The Orthodox Church is the only place I have found where one may hope and pray for what is described in Acts 3:21 as the times of recovery/renewal of ***all things***.

          Dana

    • The cross is not where God’s justice is satisfied; it is where the Father’s love is revealed.

      Andrew Purves, Exploring Christology & Atonement

  4. Amen and Amen to this post.

    What amazes me is the number of Christian leaders who want to add requirements to the gift of grace and forgiveness. Just this week I’ve read articles that contend it’s really not enough to believe or call on God’s name to be saved; they contend you have to do much more than that to prove you are truly saved. The result of this is constant fear and uncertainty — the absolute opposite of life in the abounding and continuing grace and love of God.

    When you get to know someone who has received God’s grace and forgiveness and knows it, however flawed and failing they are in themselves, you get a glimpse of God’s kingdom in the making, and that is something unfathomably beautiful.

  5. Reading this post and the associated comments might lead people to think, “Wow, this is good news!” 🙂

  6. Imagine a group of Christians who don’t stand in judgement over ‘those other sinners’ . . . in their humility, you may find ‘grace’ as it was meant to be present in our kind

    as much as the word ‘grace’ and the phrase ‘Sovereign grace’ is tossed around, you can’t find the real thing among judgmental people who point the finger

    as far as buying into a lot of homophobic, Islamophobic, patristic, misogynist dogma, in order to be told you are ‘saved’;
    the Holy Gospels tell of a different story: a son who went out into ‘the great empty’ and, suffering from his foolishness, turned instead towards home, hopeful of finding some meager job for his keep;
    and when he turned toward home,
    his father came out to meet him, with open arms . . . no conditions, no punishment . . . just the kind of love we call ‘forgiveness’, which is unearned, and which we don’t deserve

    good to be able to be a Christian without having to hate ‘those other sinners’ . . . better not to harbor that hatred which is designed by satan to destroy all hope of grace for any of us in this world

  7. Cocalico

    They call it a creek
    but it sounds like a river
    after the deluge.