Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Grace: Well Worth the Effort

Catholicism, throughout the ages, practiced sacraments. Let's take a look at what sacraments are:
Council of Trent:
CANON I.- If any one saith, that the sacraments of the New Law were not all instituted by Jesus Christ, our Lord; or that they are more, or less, than seven, to wit, Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, Penance, Extreme Unction, Order, and Matrimony; or even that any one of these seven is not truly and properly a sacrament; let him be anathema.
CANON IV.- If any one saith, that the sacraments of the New Law are not necessary unto salvation, but superfluous; and that, without them, or without the desire thereof, men obtain of God, through faith alone, the grace of justification; -though all (the sacraments) are not necessary for every individual; let him be anathema." (highlights mine).

The "New Law" is the New Testament.  The Old Law contained five books of things TO DO for righteousness. With the "New Law", according to Roman Catholicism, the five books, called Mosaic Law, are whittled down to seven.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines the sacraments as "efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions."
Let's look in layman's terms what a sacrament is, according to the Catholic Church.  "Efficacious" is "achieving the desired results" or "bearing fruit". Hence, according to the "Council of Trent", sacraments are the seven activities which are a demonstration of God's grace. There's no problem so far, until one looks at Canon IV:  If at least one sacrament is not evident in a Christian, they are not saved (my paraphrase). This Canon precludes sola gratia (by grace alone) because it requires Christians TO DO something for their salvation.

Lutheranism and Calvinism are founded upon sola gratia. People are saved by God's grace alone and there is nothing that we can do to either supplement God's gift nor avoid it for that matter because Calvinists call it "irresistible grace"!
Romans 6:23 "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."
Romans 5:15 "But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many."
First off, Calvinism is right. Salvation is a "free gift". That's truth and that's as demonstration of God's grace!

However, Our very existence is by God's grace. Our lives are a gift of God. We did nothing to deserve birth and do nothing to deserve living. Hence, not only is salvation a gift from God, but so is everything; even things we take for granted!  Since our present lives is a gift, then it follows (Romans 6:23 above) that ETERNAL LIFE is also a gift. We might expect to live forever, but our expectations don't change a thing. Grace is a gift and God's not a genie. He decides who will be graced and who's not!

However, God doesn't dispense grace randomly. He has powers which we cannot even fathom. His gift to all men was our will. It's the part of our minds which makes decisions. It operates freely; God provides the stimulus and man the response. The stimulus is the Holy Spirit.

Titus 2:11 "For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men..."
Romans 2:4b "the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?"
John 6:44a "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him..."
Philippians 2:12-13: "...work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God that worketh in you according to his good pleasure, both to will and to do."
As can be seen God draws all men! That's grace. However, all men do not repent, Hence, they are drawn, but make one of two decisions: accept or reject. The exercise of that decision is made by the will. Since God does not coerce anyone to love him, willing to follow God is done of man's own volition. Even that "free will" is a gift of God, but God gave man that will so we will be more than automatons! He could have created "Stepford People" who were perfect without cognition. He, however, wanted men to love him out of their own hearts!

Hence, salvation, although by grace, is a combination of grace, attitudes and actions . We all know that "faith without works are dead" (James 2:17), but that's not "works" toward salvation. What are those things which we must DO to exercise our free will? Let's look at what it takes to accept any gift.

Let's say a great man desires to make me happy. He has a grand gift for me. He encourages me to take the gift. Let's take a look at this scenario. First off, I must recognize the giver is able to give. A bum on the streets could hardly offer me a grand gift. The receiver must recognize the power of the giver.

Secondly, the receiver (me) must believe that the situation is real and he's (me) not fantasizing. There must exist the giver and the gift.

Thirdly, the value of the gift must be "grand". It must be a gift to be desired! No one will accept a junk gift or a gag gift.

The receiver must be sincere in the desire to have the gift. It can't be of the attitude that "I'll try this gift and use it if it's good, but discard it if it's not!" Some believe that it's "gracious" to accept unwanted gifts, but real grace is taking the gift with appreciation.

With that said, the receiver must be ready to appreciate the gift. The appreciation is shown by our emotion of love. That too is a gift of God, but we can either use that gift or not!

The receiver must understand the gift. It can't be taken with the attitude "I don't know what it is, but I want it!"

Withe all the understanding thus far, the receiver must accept the gift. In order to accept it, the receiver must understand the conditions for use! (Yes, the gift is given conditionally). It's a great gift and so far, the receiving person has abused the givers gift. For this gift he must feel sorrow for not being gracious for all that the giver has given before.

It's gracious of the recipient if before he takes this gift from the giver, that he apologizes for all the past gifts which were used wrongly. He tells the giver that he's sorry! He (or she) repents of past injustices.

With this all done, the recipient can now accept the gift. He (or me or she) recognizes the authority of the giver, knows that what he's doing is real, appreciates the value of the gift, understands that the gift is given out of love and what the gift truly is, feels sorrow for formerly wronging the great giver, and apologizes to the giver for the wrongs of the past!

Within these thoughts and conditions are ACTIONS; things we must do and/or  feel! Applying this practical example of receiving gifts, let's apply that to God's gift of his only son!

  • God is recognized as great and capable of giving what he is giving. (God is all-powerful)
  • The recipient must understand God and the gift (the Eunoch example and Philip)
  • God and his gift is known to be real (believe God is real and salvation his through Jesus only)
  • That the gift is from God (man cannot achieve it himself)
  • The value of the gift is considered great. (Jesus' sacrifice)
  • The person must desire the gift ("drawing of the Spirit")
  • The recipient must have a humble attitude (non-deserving of the gift)
  • The recipient must value to gift and desire to have it.
  • The recipient must accept the gift.
  • The recipient must desire to use the gift optimally (service to God)
  • The recipient must feel badly for previous disrespect to God.
  • The recipient must repent to God and say "I'm sorry".

With all these things accomplished (done, acted upon, felt, behaved, worked, and the like), the gift is ready to be received. There is scripture to support all these aspects of salvation  and I leave it to the reader to examine each point. As a result of salvation, then there are two results: love God for his mercy and show it by loving others just as we love ourselves! We get baptzed and take communion to testify and love God! Those are works.

Notice that all the pre-conditions for salvation can be summarized by "belief and faith". Our ability to believe and have faith is too a gift of God!
Ephesians 2:8 "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God..."
So even our "belief mechanism" described within the steps above are a gift, and hence are by grace. There is one "work" required of ourselves:
1 Thessalonians 1:3 "Remembering without ceasing your work of faith..."
 We are saved "through faith", but it's faith which is never through. It takes "work" to have faith and faith is for all time. We work for our faith through prayer, meditation and scripture. Faith is grown by exercising the twelve gifts of the Spirit. It takes "work" to have and maintain faith, but even that work is a gift of God. Our ability to do anything is all a gift and all our steps to salvation which we do, feel and think are all because of God's grace.

Now, not one thing. None of the things we DO cause us to deserve mercy. They're steps to accepting the gift of mercy which is freely given. If we fail to do any of these things, we reject the gift and as such, reject God. Think how he feels when he offers this grand gift and his children turn up their nose in pride and refuse to take it! Most people reject the gift, but even of one of his children accepts it, the angels sing!

There are things we don't do for salvation:

  • We don't have to walk anywhere.
  • We don't have to be a certain place.
  • We don't have to perform a certain ritual.
  • We don't have to clean up our act first.
  • We don't have to wash our bodies first.
  • We don't have to breed, grow and burn the sacrifice.
  • We don't have to even love first!
  • We do come as we are. Our sacrifice is ourselves. 

We are a blemished sacrifice, unlike those of Moses'  time. We come to the altar of God (a supernatural place in our minds) and submit ourselves at the altar. We are "the living sacrifice" which we present to God along with all our flaws. We can't eliminate all those flaws to be worthy of receiving the gift because those flaws are many and we'll never be worthy of the gift which we are about to receive!

In summary, sacraments stand against salvation. We don't do works to get our free gift, but we do have an understanding, believing, accepting and willing spirit. That's our sacrifice. That's our part in receiving the gift. As such, none of the seven sacraments are a pre-requisite for salvation, but all can be done to show our love for God giving us his gift. As such "sacraments" are not really "saving". They are ordinances! Ordinances are works we do to show our love.

We even differ on what works demonstrate love! Evangelicals for the most part use the "Lord's Supper" and baptism as a testimony to our faith. Others throw in foot-washing as a show of humility and love. However, unless done in the right attitude, these are merely eating, getting wet and cleaning feet. It's our attitude which allows us to submit to God and it's our attitude in how we remember God's grace!

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