A Response to "Looking at Christian Obedience"

A Response to "Looking at Christian Obedience"

When someone loves craft beer as much as you they deserve respect. My Lutheran friend Vanessa wrote concerning Christian Obedience recently. Herself being new to the Lutheran church and confessions, she decided to put her feelers out for an edifying look at the subject of obedience. Instead of getting all technical and discussing the confusions of justification/sanctification, it is refreshing to just get down to the practical value of this topic in people's lives.

Given that she and I belong to different traditions there of course will be some minor disagreements as well as preference towards certain language. But in practice, with hearts being bent toward the same purpose, we arrive at very similar conclusions.

What I Like

On one hand feeling tremendous guilt when they failed to "love like Jesus", "love their neighbors as themselves", or adhere to countless other commands. On the other hand tweeting with vanity and pride when they felt they had "loved their neighbors" and saw wonderful results from it.

Both Vanessa and I can agree that any perspective on obedience that ends up as this is not good. Dealing with pride, it might be good for the obedient to learn from Christ to not let the left hand (your twitter and facebook feed) know what the right hand is doing (Matthew 6:3). Perhaps also it would be more fitting to respond with "we are unworthy slaves, we have only done what is our duty" (Luke 17:10). Pride in a believer is more damning than a lack of obedience for God promises to lift up the humble (Psalm 147:6; James 4:10).

Dealing with guilt, one should be emotionally aware if they are grieving the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30). But to feel guilt, in a sense of fearing God's judgment, we are completely ignoring the fundamental principles of the gospel. Christ died and saved us apart from any obedience (Romans 5:8). Put another way, the gospel is in light of our lack of obedience. There should be moderation in serving Jesus Christ, to feel mildly deflated by sin is valid. But to let it consume you beyond "Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner" is wrong.

For it is only in Christ (not in ourselves) that we can be secure in our faith. Only when we look to His Word and to His Sacraments can we be assured of the saving faith we have been given.

All of this is excellent. This really is the driving force of this whole problem. Works never provide assurance and it is stupidity to think so. But I cannot count the number of people who ask me "how can I know I'm saved" looking for something other than Jesus Christ dying on a tree shedding His blood for you and me. How one can find comfort in works, an experience or some memory of a moment is beyond me. But it is prevalent and we must continue to point people to Jesus Christ.

What I Dislike

This section is small. In fact there is no strong "dislike" as much as there is a desire to push further and wider. I am not a Lutheran. And I'm not a Lutheran for very specific reasons. These things are not divisive. But they do occasionally require me to look past certain language and exegesis of Scriptural passages.

It seemed like my friends and loved ones were taking the gospel and turning it back into law.

As I was departing from my Baptist roots I had a brief stop in Lutheran/Westminster West theology land. Both have a strong gospel/law distinction that I no longer support even though I don't think any of us would disagree with Vanessa's application of it. We would agree because all must agree the law can justify no man (Romans 3:20; Galatians 2:16; 3:11). But let's step back, what is it the saves us from our sin? Christ's sacrificial death upon a cross as atonement for our sins. And where is that doctrine/system established? In the law. Christ's obedience to the law (active obedience) and His lawful sacrificial death (passive obedience) are the basis of the gospel. The law always provided a way out. "Obedience" to the law should have naturally taught Jews they couldn't keep it perfectly since the law itself stipulated the specific sacrifices for failures. This why both the law (Deut 30:11) and Christ's gospel teaching (Matt 11:29-30) are not burdensome. But both the law and ethical teaching of Christ can be used for unlawful works of righteousness teachings.

Because of this, I agree Paul attacks people seeking to gain righteousness by works. But James is incapable of separation works from a justifying faith that places its trust in God alone. When Vanessa says what she says I heartily agree but I'm not in favor of the dichotomy that this view sometimes produces. James' justification in my view is the same as Paul's and that is a view not held by many.  And I think a small peak of that dichotomy and its disagreement with my view shows up just a little.

True faith will bear good works. But we must remember these good works are not for ourselves or our own salvation and do not preserve us in our faith, but instead these good works are for our neighbor.

True faith alone justifies (James 2:14, 19). And I agree with Vanessa, true faith will/must bear good works (James 2:17). And this leads me to go so far as say, a faith without works will not justify. These works are not for "our own salvation" and certainly do not "preserve us in our faith" (God forbid) but I can affirm that they are only "for our neighbor." I believe James teaches that obedience is truly for us and can be edifying.

Conclusion

As I stated previously, the places of disagreement are small and in most things we agree. One should not seek assurance from their works. One should not presume to be under God's wrath because they slip up occasionally (or even regularly). But works are valuable both to others and ourselves. They are essential for "saving faith" (Hebrews 5:9). And when we see the fruits of God working in us through the power of the Holy Spirit we should be encouraged and edified. Likewise, when we see the Holy Spirit producing fruits in other we should also be edified.

I agree with Vanessa that there remain "paradoxes" concerning God's grace. But we both agree these paradoxes should point us directly back to God Himself instead of the frail cups (the words "red solo cup" just went through my head) we hold His grace in.

Joshua Torrey is the sole proprietor of Torrey Gazette (don't tell Alaina) and the fullness of its editorial process. That means everything wrong with TG can legitimately be blamed on him.