Sunday, November 30, 2008

Spontaneous good works

In Philemon 14, Paul sums up how I'm understanding the Christian life: "...let it be spontaneous and not forced from you..." The good life and obedience of the Christian should be a spontaneous result of his experience of God's salvation. Elsewhere, Paul describes this as Christian "freedom."

Yet, there remains a necessary role for deliberate (consider deliberate vs. spontaneous) Christian obedience. Jesus says "if you obey my commands, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31-32). Here, obedience seems to precede freedom. Of course, to obey in the first place, one must have initial faith. So, the Christian life fully flows from faith, but obedience is a sine qua non of that faith-propelled life. And perhaps it can even be said that there may be an intermediate stage where compelling faith and spontaneous obedience have hidden themselves and what the moment requires is deliberate obedience in order to move onto a renewal of spontaneous Christian life.

An important distinction is made by Watchman Nee, who says that in the process of waiting for spontaneous Christian life to occur in us, we need to continue to be spiritually disciplined. However, he says, we do not ultimately trust in our disciplines; we continue to trust (place our faith) in God to bring about our sanctification. In this way, our salvation continues to be "by faith" even though we do "works" as part of our salvation.

Bonhoeffer summarizes this quasi-paradox well when he says "we must believe to obey; we must obey to believe."

Sunday, November 09, 2008

"What we find abominable in man...the real man, the real world, this is for God the ground for unfathomable love, and it is with this that He unites Himself utterly...

"God loves the real man. God became a real man."

-- Ethics, Dietrich Bonhoeffer