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."

1 comment:

unveiledfaces said...

faith. in a lecture last sunday, the man spoke about a particular rabbi in Jewish tradition from way back when who talked about the nature of charity. lets say that charity is what you mean (sometimes) by the spontaneous work. well the Jewish rabbi said that charity in its meaning to them did not signify unconditional love, but an inherent part of being righteous. if Christian faith makes your righteous, jewish thought that is there are certain aspects inherent to righteousness--- charity being one.

but as where i worked in Africa often said: love has a face, and love looks like something. To the hungry, love brings the naked, clothes...

interestingly enough, the jewish philosopher stated there are different levels of spontaneous work, of love... one being responding and giving when you are asked, a higher level is giving even when strings are attached, higher than that is giving without strings, but the highest is to give in such a way that gives a person a living (reminded me of and my own daydreams of microfinancing) so that they will never be reduced to begging again. for me this is and was inspiring. really if you imagine yourself to have nothing in that you have to beg-- wouldnt it be such a freedom to have human dignity restored so that you will not beg. perhaps this is the freedom component--- human dignity intact.

with that said, as i type i realize though that maybe the jewish philosopher couldnt at that time recognize something that had not happened yet. perhaps the highest charity remains giving your life unto death for the sake of redemption and resurrection.