Know Your Faith by Nels F. S. Ferré
Dr. Ferré was for many years Abbot Professor of Christian Theology at Andover Newton Theological School. Published by Harper & Brothers, New York, 1959. Copyright 1959 by Nels F.S. Ferré. This material prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.
Chapte 4: Grace Abounding
Sin holds the spotlight among contemporary theologians. We have a new understanding of its depth and stubbornness. Though we are not sure about many essentials, we are sure about the reality and power of sin. We even run the risk of turning sin into a popular topic. To put heavy stress on sin pays off in popularity in some theological circles.
We can be thankful for the rediscovery of the cost and magnitude of sin for it cuts deep wounds into humanity; it even curses nature. If we care for men we must wrestle with the problem of sin. If we ever enter at all into God’s nature and purpose we must do battle with sin. Thus every adequate theology must deal with the deadly power and awful reality of sin.
But we must not put a false and one-sided stress on sin. We can talk about sin in grave tones, without ever really coming to grips with it. We can discuss sin without either repudiating it or fighting its power. We can even become theologically "right" by stressing sin without ever taking up the cross to follow the Christ. By so doing we encourage men to emphasize man’s sin rather than God’s grace; we prompt them to let sin usurp the place of God in human consciousness; we lead them to become more sure of sin than of the Gospel. When sin assumes such proportion in theology, theology itself becomes sin.
We cannot indicate the main dimensions of sin without looking at the meaning of sin, salvation, and sanctification. Each dimension exhibits sin in a new light. As always, our examination of these Christian doctrines must be in the light of God in Christ as universal, holy Love. Only the Person of Christ, as we have already seen, exposes sin in all its ugliness and darkness.
We begin with a look at the difference between sins and sin. In the Prayer of General Confession we acknowledge the many sins we from time to time have committed. We find it easy to confess such sins, if their confession keeps us unaware of our sin. Sometimes deep contrition accompanies the confession of sinful acts not so much out of sorrow for the sins we know we have committed as for the fear we may discover that we are basically sinful. We do not like to think of ourselves as basically evil. So we shudder when we discover the power of sin in us.
Such repentance over a gross or overt act of sin is possible alike for Christians and non-Christians. Why? Because sin is a most pervasive reality; and, too, because our response to it is exceedingly subtle, perhaps even largely subconscious.
Sin is what we are; sins are what we do. Sin is the response of the entire self to God in faithlessness or rebellion; sins are our deliberate acts of faithlessness and rebellion. Because we are sinful we act in sinful ways; we sin and commit sins.
Some distinguish between "material" and "formal’’ sin. They define the former as doing wrong. Man can do wrong without intending evil. He can be both faithful and loyal, yet do wrong out of ignorance; he can break God’s law, fall short of God’s command, or miss God’s mark. Such unintentional instances of doing wrong illustrate the meaning of material sin. But they are not occasions of sin in the formal sense. This distinction readily lends itself to a sub-Christian and unworthy interpretation. God holds us responsible only for what we know or for what we would know if we cared.
So we return to sin as the source of man’s trouble. Sins, though real and serious, are only ugly flowers on the vine of sin. Sin is always intended by the self. Sin is a chosen state. Sin is what we are and do because of what we choose to be and do.
But our choice of sin is seldom conscious and clear. Sin is a work of darkness; it thrives in the shadows rather than in the light. Seldom does sin involve a well-thought-out course of action in defiance of God. Seldom do we consciously tread the path of faithlessness.
Usually the choice of sin takes place below the level of consciousness. Down in the deep recesses of the subconscious, with consummate craft and in self-deceit, we distort our actual situations and true choices into a caricature. We analyze our situation in the light of self-interest, subtly ballooning the points in our favor and quickly belittling the unfavorable aspects of our situation. We let our eyes dwell on what we think we like, until reason touches up the situation to the point where we become convinced we are doing only what is good and wise.
We sin most deeply by refusing to see ourselves as sinners. We sell ourselves on ourselves, not by clear and conscious deception, but by clever and subtle misrepresentation. Self-interest transplants us in a false world, then prompts our minds to work overtime in search of the defense of that world. Thus reason becomes a tool of self-justification, if not of self-glorification.
We exercise reason in the hope of proving ourselves right and others wrong. Seeing a false world in our conscious minds, we act in accordance with our warped reason. Without conscious intention, and therefore without any feeling of guilt, we do many things others deem wrong; in fact, we, too, would think them wrong if our vision were sound. We even pin the label of evil on such actions when performed by others, unless we pause long enough to remember that we are condemning ourselves by this judgment of them. Whenever the true world manages to pierce this picture we experience conscious guilt.
Nevertheless powerful allies work mightily to keep this conspiracy in guilt under cover. Occasionally we even use repentance to distort and falsify our basic situation. Sometimes we "repent" of our sins to protect our sin!
So the self-critical are far nearer the Kingdom of God than the self-righteous; so long as men do not feel the pain of sin, they deny God and deceive themselves. But they do not go scot free. Their self-deception exacts a high toll in the deeper self. It begets a guilt-feeling in the subconscious. This in turn aggravates moral decay. And, worse still, moral decay spreads its poisonous contagion.
Why is sin so hard to detect in ourselves? Because it is the very set not only of the self but also of society. Not that this "set" eliminates responsibility, for sin involves choice at every level. Although we cannot choose sin for others, we can choose sin with others. Our capacity to do this explains our birth into a sinful order. From the very beginning men have joined hands with their neighbors in the hope of making their hiding place secure from God. Clever and ingenious are man’s devices to conceal his depth-hiding from God. Individuals and communities sinning together over long generations have built formidable barriers against the light of God.
Some seek escape in atheistic theory; more seek it in religious practices and doctrines. Because God stands at the center of the human situation, both the self and society feel driven to distort his nature and will. Sinful selves find mutual support and comfort in their construction of some idealistic religion as a refuge from God. Religion in the history of mankind has most often been a product of human fear, and religious practices have usually been a mixture of good and bad. Though the self can scarcely fool itself into looking on the bad as good, or society deceive itself into mistaking darkness for light, both self and society can dim the rays of light in a smoky half-darkness.
Thanks to this mixture, church people can unashamedly defend segregation as an expression of God’s will, justify war as divine service, defend ruthless competition in business as a part of the natural order, and reflect hostile and uncharitable attitudes generally; they can bless personal and social evil in the name of religion.
Only rarely does the self have to invent such protection against the light or build such strong support of sin from a fresh start. Usually he has only to acquiesce in the social order. As a matter of fact, he finds it hard to do otherwise. Afraid of public opposition, he takes refuge from persecution in the crowd. He dares not break "faith" with fellow refugees from the light.
The prophets and saints are the greatest enemies of "normal" social order and practices. Jesus had to be crucified. They are deemed most guilty of social misconduct who expose man’s religious subterfuges and lay bare the sin of churches. Alfred North Whitehead, accordingly, maintains that it is merciful to stone the prophets. Like the ancient High Priest, many can see nothing especially wrong with the practice of letting one person die for the people.
This body of sin, molded through the ages by the set of society against God, suggests the permanent meaning of original sin. In this sense man is generically sinful. We are born into a sinning order.
Theologians illustrate this fact by their tendency to acquiesce in views of God that are unworthy of him. By so doing, they allow views inconsistent with God’s universal holy Love in Christ to rob the Gospel of its full powers of judgment and salvation. Worse yet, they permit themselves to be led astray in their search for the full illumination and judgment of sin. They look for this illumination and judgment in religion or "Christianity," but not in Christ as God’s universal holy Love come to earth. They fail to see that the judgment is the Light: the Light of Love who came into the world!
If sin is so deep and serious, if repentance of sin as well as of sins requires such a wrench in the self and such a break with society, then how can the Gospel be good news? Is it not the part of wisdom and kindness alike not to expose people against their will to the full light of God’s holy, universal love in Christ? By no means, for all men must pass through suffering on the way to salvation. Indeed, to be unsaved is to suffer. Men who do not know God as Father and who run from him down the dark alley of their subterranean life cannot help suffering.
They suffer from their fear of self, from their fear of others, and from their fear of God. Most of such suffering takes place below the level of conscious awareness. It is not only people who lack inward peace and the sense of ultimate reality who experience such suffering. So also do they who straddle the fence between God and ordinary behavior; these latter suffer from an inability to feel at home among either world-lovers or God-lovers.
They also suffer, of course, who take up the Cross and follow the Christ. But they suffer redemptively. They suffer for others, even for those who inflict their suffering. Unlike other sufferers, they experience the joy of the Gospel even in their pain and agony.
To hope for a life without suffering is futile. No one will ever be saved until his measure of suffering is fulfilled. God has ordained suffering for our good. Only by suffering can we learn to know how false the way of the fearful, self-centered self is, in the first place, and want to find another way, that of the self fulfilled in God. Even then suffering comes, but love’s suffering, which, deepest down, satisfies the self and draws us nearer to God. We all must come to God by the way of suffering. The old Gospel song says truly: "The way of the Cross leads home."
By using suffering for God’s glory and for his purpose, and not just enduring it as helpless victims, we can triumph inwardly through suffering; in us, as in Jesus Christ, the victim can emerge the victor.
While men may be regarded as "full of sin" in the sense of being permeated through and through with its contagion, they never become so sinful that they can do no good. God lives and works in all men. In fact, most individuals, apart from undue pressure, are a fairly decent lot; they ask only to live and let live. The theologian who paints men as "a mass of corruption" not only distorts the facts; he betrays both God and man.
The wrench in the sinner does not constitute a hopeless chasm; nor his break with society, absolute separation. After all, all men seek right adjustment, which is what salvation is. Very few sinful men ever fall so low that they can no longer applaud the saints. Sinful man, after all, is a sinner seeking salvation. The sinner remains divided in his own response to the Revealer of salvation. But the Gospel hits too hard and hurts too much to let him remain neutral forever.
Why, then, do we call salvation life’s truest good? Why is salvation "Gospel"? Because salvation means getting right with God, and such a state alone can give man full satisfaction. To be saved means to be right with God, to be in line with his will. Salvation is life’s goal because man is God’s creature. Salvation is man’s main need because God is life’s final goal. So we cannot long continue at odds with God until we begin to be at odds with self. We cannot long enjoy our denial of the very satisfaction for which we are made.
But how do we get right with God? The answer is simple: God has already paved the way for us. God himself came in Jesus Christ as holy universal Love to fulfill the life of past human history in the life of one historical person; his coming paved the way for the fulfillment of the life of every man.
Salvation has two requirements. The first is to be right with God who came in Jesus Christ as suffering and victorious Love; the second, to be right with men.
What does this first aspect of salvation involve? What does it mean to be right with God? The answer is: to accept the only security on which we can fully and firmly rely. Any person who is right with God, by being aligned to his will, knows life’s truest security. God alone never fails. He alone can be trusted implicitly. He alone can lend certainty to our life in a world riddled with uncertainty. He alone can lend permanence to our fleeting existence in time. God alone can give reality to the dream of that part of life we have already lived. He alone can brace us for the walk down the problematic tomorrow. He alone can steady us for the jump off the brim over which we cannot look back.
Certainly the hard facts of human existence justify our search for security. Often the healthy and strong die first, perhaps through accident. Disaster lurks behind every corner. Meaninglessness threatens us on every side. Friends may desert us. Possessions may forsake us. Even when we have them, we fear their possible loss or theft. Nothing seems certain in life except death, and people fear what may happen to them after death, despite the advertising slogan of a cemetery in California: "Permanent protection for your precious departed."
Man can find permanent protection only by losing himself in God. He can find safety only in salvation. He can count on the future only if he counts on God. Man can find eternal security only as he seeks security in God. He cannot be saved except by the grace of God. The saved man knows this. So he endeavors to commit his life without reserve or condition into the hands of God -- come what may! So he turns toward the path of faith and freedom in fellowship with the Father.
Salvation, in addition to security in God, brings deliverance from something. When God gives us a new Spirit in Jesus Christ, he also saves us from the power and pain of self-centeredness, from the fear-ridden, "natural" self. Indeed the presence or absence of salvation can be determined only by the presence or absence of the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit may be thought of as the characteristics of those saved from self: love, joy, peace, and all the other Christian virtues.
The self is a hard taskmaster. No one can be harder on a person than his own self. Self can punish and keep punishing. Self can drive with feverish ambition, keeping him ever restless. Self can plague with blinding fear, denying true peace. The self can dodge discipline and spoil life with fickleness. The self can coddle desire and go to pieces. The self can grieve over self from morning to night. The self can go on, day after day, with no energy and no zest. The self can spurn every attempt to set himself free for faith. The self can go on sinning and still rue his role as slave rather than master.
But when, saved by grace and faith, man finds a new self, the old and all-spoiling self has to release its tyrannical hold on his life. Then he discovers how free and secure the self can be if only he remain within the will of God.
Salvation, insofar as it is effective, also saves us from too heavy dependence on others. We find in God-directedness both a live alternative to and a sure cure for constant fretting over what other people think of us. We neither become overly depressed by their expressions of disapproval nor elated by their words of praise.
Many people suffer from clumsiness in personal relations. They cannot get along with others. They are either falsely aggressive or unnecessarily defensive. They either hurt and blaze forth or hurt and smolder.
Only when we know God as our refuge and strength can we live with others as genuine persons. Only when we have God as our Father and Judge can we live with others and with our own strong convictions without constant tension. Only when we are forgiven by God can we accept ourselves to the point where we feel no desire to blame others.
Forgiveness by God and by ourselves releases us from the tensions which keep us from being generous in our judgment of others. We no longer feel we have to be either sentimental about others’ faults or shocked by them. Instead in proportion to salvation’s being real in us, we view others realistically -- not blind to their faults, to be sure -- but within the hope and purpose of God.
Once we personally experience God’s love in Christ, once we know the Spirit whose we are, we can also be saved from our bad habits. Trivial as this aspect of salvation may appear, it is crucial. Innumerable people long for escape from some habit they loathe but cannot conquer. Many drunkards hate drinking, but cannot leave off. Many sex deviates deplore lust, but cannot resist its drive. Whatever the habit may be among the legion that threaten us, when it rules, we lead an unhappy and enslaved life. God can release us from the tyrannical power of these insidious destroyers of self-respect and freedom.
God likewise sets us free from the bondage of the past. Multitudes find in their own past something they can neither forget nor forgive. Some go to psychiatrists in search of relief. Some try so to change their way of life as to forget their oppressive past. In both instances at least temporarily, the irretrievable past puts under bondage the inescapable present
Multitudes contain in their lives a whole reservoir of past shame that has never been forgiven or swept out of the subconscious. They feel guilty but cannot tell why. They blame themselves but can find no rational basis for so doing. They cringe within but cannot articulate the reason for their fear.
When a guilt-sufferer genuinely accepts God in Christ, he begins to undergo a radical transformation. With a new Spirit comes a reorientation of life, a sweeping clean of the past and a full facing of the present. The light of salvation starts chasing the clouds from his future. He henceforth sees hope not as cowardly escape but as solid reality.
Salvation also includes deliverance from the wrath to come. Often men live as if they could get away with living for themselves in this life. And, sometimes, they do -- in this life! But in the world to come they must face God and face up to what they have done. God’s forgiveness of our guilt does not exempt us from the obligation either of paying for our wrong deeds or of working to set things right. We do not get away with anything before God; we only think we do.
In spite of our persistence as sinners, we can have our reward in this life; we can defy God in this life; we can have fun and folly in this life, but, as sure as God is holy and just, in the life to come each of us shall pay every debt not made good in this life.
Salvation is no bargain-counter product. We have to pay for it in full. Though God pays for the guilt of personal relations and freely offers us full restoration to fellowship, we still have to pay for the consequences of our deeds in works of faith and love within the grace of God. Sin is more serious than any human being can fully understand.
Yet we are saved not only from but for something. We are saved for a new self. The more fully saved we are, the more we are in tune with God. The perverted self becomes more and more the fulfilled self. Only experience can teach us what it means to be rid of the fears, drives, and desires that once mastered our lives. Only freedom from their power can teach us the joy that comes when they no longer dominate our lives and spoil them.
We are similarly saved for a new society. A whole new range of experience begins to open up. Lonesome man finds the companionship for which he was made. Instead of fighting others or fearing them, he lives with them humbly, as friends. The experience of salvation enables us to care what others do or think, because we are concerned with them, while not dependent upon their judgment.
Salvation opens the door to the fellowship of the true church, the new society. Even in the home the church begins to become a reality in family life; we become joined in love and faith to those with whom we are bound by blood and birth. Once aware that life apart from the companionship of Christ can never be full and rich, we work to turn the church into a family fellowship of vital prayer and mutual concern. In short, as salvation becomes real we glimpse that community whose character reflects the meaning and nature of salvation.
Above all, the saved are saved for heaven. Already in this life they set foot on the threshold of a new home. In worship and prayer they begin to pull away from ordinary life and reach over into God’s side of reality. In companionship with God they see with new eyes and feel with new hearts.
As in prayer and experience they even now soar beyond this earth and life and they commence knowing life on a higher level. They start finding a new focus of fulfillment in God. They know heaven as more than a place of imagination. Indeed they often approach its gates. They even carry something of its far-off glory back home with them. Inevitably they spill some of it into the humdrum of ordinary life.
But heaven remains primarily a place awaiting the saved. They know where they are going at the end of this life. They are going where God is. They are going to be with Christ. They are going home to the larger family. They are going through resurrection to the place of many mansions.
He who has lost his heart to heaven knows in this life "the power of an endless life." Death is no longer merely an enemy to be feared. The days of unrelieved doubt are over. He in whom salvation is active knows his Father and his home and he waits, while working, to be called home.
Many who do not know salvation regard such talk as nonsense or, at best, questionable speculation; however, many a secular writer seems almost possessed with man’s longing for immortality as a basic drive. This deep-set want is due to a need rooted in reality. Thus though men may mock, they cry for what they mock.
For the saved, however, though life never loses either its challenge or its beauty, it always remains touched with homesickness. The saved are pilgrims who can never find full rest and peace on earth, for their hearts are in heaven. Although they may know ever so much heaven here and now, they never fail to remember that heaven, even more, is the home that awaits them.
We are saved from sin for God. We are saved from self for community. We are saved from the faults of earth for the fullness of heaven. But such salvation does not come all at once. The decision to let oneself be saved may come all at once. At some particular time each person must cross the line from death into life, from self as central to God as central -- at least in conscious intention -- but it takes time to make the full turn away from self to God. Indeed, God has given us eternity for this purpose. We still can and should, of course, make a significant start on earth.
As illustrated in the life of the Master, when God becomes central to human life how much of heaven’s goal can be realized on earth! The indwelling presence of God as holy Spirit at work in life is called sanctification. To sanctify means "to make holy." God saves us by making us holy.
"To be separate" is the biblical meaning of "holy." Normally, holiness in the Christian’s vocabulary has a more restricted connotation; "to be holy" means "to be separated from evil." So sanctification means separation from sin and from the ways of the world. One of the most crucial misunderstandings of the Christian faith frequently is rooted in the misinterpretation of sanctification for thought and life. For this reason we must look closely at the questions: What does it mean to be made holy? What does sanctification involve?
The very mention of sanctification repels many people. They take it to mean a kind of unctuous pietism. If pressed, they will even say they had rather remain unsanctified than to become unnatural.
Admittedly they have a point. Often, "holy" people do seem queer. And, worse still, some of the "sanctified" are hard to live with! Such people have turned sanctification into a bad word not only for the population in general but also for many Christians. Many devoted Christians still equate sanctification with a stuffy and inhibiting legalism -- a matter of avoiding this or eschewing that, whether drinking or card-playing, wearing make-up or going to the movies.
But true sanctification means something quite different. It denotes the process, sudden or gradual, whereby the person who has been saved in intention becomes saved in fact. It describes the action of God in which he fulfills this intention by education, by intensification of intention, and by teaching us how to enjoy the truly good life. Sanctification is the process of becoming genuine. It is an exchange of the false self for the true self, of the unreal personality for the real person. Sanctification indicates the process whereby we are made holy, within the purpose of God for our life.
A non-Christian or sub-Christian understanding of sanctification defines it as physical separation from people who do not live holy lives. Some even treat the absence of a certain "orthodox" profession as a lack of holiness and a ground for excommunication. This erroneous interpretation, though reflected in the New Testament in some instances, stems from the belief that God himself shuns evil people and expects the "saints" to follow his example.
But the life of Jesus causes embarrassment for this view. Indeed, this attitude bespeaks the kind of "Pharisaism" (as the word is ungraciously used by us Christians) Jesus came to destroy. When God walked in human flesh, he walked into unclean Samaria to talk with a "bad’’ woman, he associated with publicans and sinners and met the accusation of being a winebibber and a friend of the untouchables.
So does he even yet! God loves the sinner completely and comes to him freely -- even into him, to dwell with him, that God might cast out sin and cancel guilt from within. He still offends our natural goodness and self-righteousness.
Not only does he do it by calling "sinners" to repentance. He does it still more emphatically by identifying the worst sinners as those who trust in their own goodness and hold themselves aloof from the sinners and the despised. Then, as if to rub salt into sore wounds, he says these self-righteous "saints" are the very people the true "saints" should be helping with their company and encouragement.
Christian holiness has as its goals the elimination of sin and the transformation of the sinner into a saint. Particularly does it aim at the transformation of the most sinful -- the religiously self-righteous.
Christian holiness means to be like God. It means to partake of his nature and attitude. To be sure, the sanctified in his effort to be one with the sinner does not try to please him by sinning with him. To be holy means to be separate, in thought, imagination, word, and action, from sin and even from needless appearance of sin. The truly sanctified finds no pleasure in evil and no satisfaction in sinful company. He is with sinners because he loves them. He associates with them as a fellow human being touched with divine love for people as people, particularly for those in need, even more for those in moral and spiritual need, and most especially for the religiously self-righteous.
The sanctified separates himself from evil in his inner attitude. The really sinful things, as Jesus taught, are neither what goes into a man nor what he touches. Sinful things, rather, are what go out from his inner self, the lusts that conceive and occasion sinful acts.
Thus a saint seeks out sinners not to judge them but to enlighten and help them, and not too self-consciously, at that. He joins them as a human being who likes and accepts his fellow human beings. By his presence he offers them the only Presence that can truly change them, fulfill them, and thus set them free. Neither threats nor rewards can do that. Only love can rightly fill the self, free it from its false desires and give it peace.
Young women of a new religious order in France choose to live close to brothels and among atheistic labor groups, not to preach, but to be friends, to be of help in need, and to show the lone and lost the heart of God in the midst of human hell. Such living is an example of Christian sanctification.
To be sanctified means, then, to grow in grace. Grace can be had only by being shared. To be holy, we remember, is to be separate from sin. To separate from sin, however, is possible only as, with God’s aid, we live more and more for others. Sanctification is from sin but not for selfish reasons. To be made holy is to be removed from sin but not externally.
To be sanctified means being separate from because we are lovingly for. It is to be separate from sin because we are for God and for others. Just as God, who is ever and by nature sinless and cannot sin, comes to the sinful world because he loves it, so the saint goes into the world because the holiness of God has made him real and overflows his humanity into human fellowship.
Sanctification is, then, for the world. Jesus presents the best example of sanctification. He kept himself pure `’for their sake." His own conquest of temptation was intimately connected with and, indeed, the very expression of, his holy love, his living for others. Jesus learned obedience through his sufferings for others. He identified his life and passion with the welfare of his people. Thus he became in truth the Messiah.
The Son of God sanctified his ordinary manhood into the Son of Man. In just such a way must we become holy by letting the Son of God rule us until we attain "mature manhood" and come, as the Bible says, "to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." Jesus was in his deepest intention the Universal Man. The Universal Man is whoever under God most fully identifies himself with all men.
Being bid to walk even as Jesus walked, we might start by trying to make all people happy, by so living as to let all men know what it means to be free souls. The more we try to make men happy, as Robert Louis Stevenson pointed out, the more we come to realize that no one can be happy by living for himself. Happiness presupposes goodness while guilt brings sorrow. Therefore we must aim at making men good as well as happy. Goodness presupposes good intentions, a possession always of happy people. But good intentions are not enough. People with the best intentions can be most destructive of other people’s happiness.
Goodness requires, besides, the knowledge and the observance of law. Law is a matter of right relations. Right relations are from God for human good. Therefore true happiness does not destroy the law, i.e., right relations. In order to be happy, consequently, we ourselves must fulfill God’s intention that we be our true and real selves. We must also help other people to be their best selves. That cannot be done by by-passing the law.
How does holiness work as law? Law is necessary to show right relations, to teach right relations, to correct wrong relations, and to keep guiding into ever more nearly right relations.
Law, however, is only a help; it is no substitute for love. It is only a crutch that does not take the place of walking. Only love can rightly make use of law in any full sense, for the purpose of all law is finally for love. Therefore love alone, as the Bible says, can fulfill the law.
There is no genuine conflict between law and love for those who see the true nature of love as holy and the law as an instrument for facilitating love. Holiness observes law. But the laws of right relations are the fruit of the long outworking of justice. They can be finally attained and fulfilled only by love. True love, therefore, is never slack or sentimental. It is, rather, holy, austere, concerned for others in their total relationship to one other, to themselves, to God, and to the natural order in which they live.
Whenever holiness becomes separated from goodness, or law from love, God is violated. All law is for love; all holiness, for happiness. Consequently both the safest and the most creative response toward sanctification is to live to make all people happy. We fulfill the law of love only as we become inclusively concerned for other people and work in concrete situations to make them happy as whole personalities and communities.
"Happiness" has become a threadbare and shopworn word, tinged with the superficialities of the ordinary and even with escapism. For this reason we must see happiness in the context of holiness and the law. But even when we have done so, no one has the right to happiness except within the trust of God whose suffering and sovereign Love will in the end gather up all human sorrow into a full and inclusive salvation. This godly happiness we may now embrace. Apart from it we shall have little positive satisfaction to offer a doubt-drenched and sorrow-laden world.
Working with a concerned happiness our minds begin to become free to pursue ways and means of helping people. Only thus do we increasingly realize that happiness comes most truly and most fully only within the inclusive, holy love of God. To be holy in relation to happiness is to live humbly and obediently the implications and involvements of a nonsentimental realistic love.
So fulfilling the law within the love that frees the self, we "grow in grace." The saints who have accepted salvation as the act and promise of God experience its fulfillment in themselves.
"Entire sanctification," a term much bandied about in evangelical circles and life’s hardest and rarest attainment, is the complete surrender to the will of God and the consistent living of it until, within the grace of God, saints find that temptations lose their power. Even though the "totally sanctified" can still feel temptation and their spirits can still be disturbed by evil imagination; even though they can still be troubled in disposition and less than perfect in decision and act; nevertheless their total self rests in God and finds no happiness apart from his presence.
Once for all God has secured the saints’ will against basic disobedience because he has won their hearts for himself by their actual experience of the kind of life he offers. Such steadfastness within the love of God and such experience of its fruit are what total sanctification means. It is far more a hope than an attainment; for most people it is unreal and frustrating; for all, its deepest experience lies beyond this earthly life.
"Eternal security," the claim "once saved, always saved," does not involve the loss of ability to sin. The insight that this claim sets forth is, rather, the towline to the shore of heaven that will not give way. But we, of course, can let go of the towline! Eternal security is the confidence that, no matter how much the waves of earthly temptation toss our bark, we shall reach the harbor.
The biblical and historical doctrines we have just discussed have meaning within genuineness of Christian experience. They should neither be denied nor claimed as attained by ourselves. Beyond whatever experience is granted us, they should be the goal of our lives and our far-flung hopes in God’s promises.
The Christian doctrine of man is a most serious topic. It precludes every effort to hide our illness or to claim what is unreal for the cure. Sin is real and long lasting. The power of sin, even in the life of the saints, is a terrifying force. Genuine faith never speaks of easy or fast victories over it.
Nevertheless, once the hearts of believers have been won by the love of God and their eyes opened by faith, they cannot deny in their own experience the reliability of the grace of God. To that grace they witness: to the greatness and goodness of God.
Viewed 43439 times.