Articles and thoughts by Steve Green.
Is the discussion about faith and works, imputed righteousness and personal holiness merely theological acrobatics or is it really important? I think it is vitally important.
There are those who have climbed the ladder of spiritual success as outlined by many churches, and seem to have an exasperated impatience with those who just can’t get their act together. Simple observation tells us that some are more naturally inclined to discipline and achievement than others. If disciplined rigor is the way to piety, then they will surely win the prize. But the seeming arrogance of such achievers (and I should know, for I am a recovering Pharisee!) contradicts the heart of the gospel. Calvin does not deny that the fruit of justification is sanctification. The two, while distinct, are inseparably linked. Yet he points to Ephesians 2:10, reminding that the good works of the Christian were prepared in advance by God, that is, every sign of growth in sanctification is evidence of grace. Remember that Paul’s statement in Romans 3 is not only for the pagan but also for the believer: “There is no one righteous, not even one.” We had no righteousness of our own and still have none. Of course, there is an observable difference in all those transformed by God’s mercy. “Such were you”, Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers, reminding of all the things they had been rescued from. So what about the positive differences and new way of life? Didn’t the Psalmist recount his innocence and uprightness in comparison to those around him? Yes, but not as the means of securing his acceptance with God. That contradicts the gospel. Instead, Calvin suggests that we should take note of all that is good and right in us as a sign of God’s benevolence towards us. Every change of heart, right response, just action and faithful obedience is a gift of God and “rays of the divine countenance by which we are illumined to contemplate that supreme light of goodness.” Rather than be puffed up, the evidence of a changed life should prompt greater thanks for the unspeakable gift in Christ, since indeed we may triumph and be victors in every contest, but only “on account of him who loved us.” Rom. 8:37
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