Friday, December 23, 2011

Friday in Advent 4: The role of faith

Opening Sentence
In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Isaiah 40:3

Collect of the Day
Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Psalter: Psalm 93, 96

Lessons: Jeremiah 31:10-14; Galatians 3:15-22; Luke 1:67-80, Matthew 1:1-17

Faith, as Paul presents it in Galatians as "the promise by faith in Jesus Christ" that is "given to those who believe" is not merely mental assent or rudimentary human response to God's gracious initiative in giving his Son to die for our sins. True faith, the faith through which salvation is wrought in the life of the believer, involves abandoning oneself so completely and utterly to Christ as to be literally "crucified with Christ," to use the phrase Paul uses earlier (Galatians 2:20). Such abandonment of oneself is impossible for fallen human beings, left to their own devices. Only God, who by his grace created human beings in his image and likeness, is able by that same grace to awaken faith within the heart of his chosen ones.

It may even be something of a misnomer to say faith is a condition of salvation, although such a term has been used in times past when, perhaps, it carried less humanistic connotations. Christ's sacrifice on the cross is effective for all humanity. This is not to say that all persons are saved whether they know it or not. To the contrary, only those with faith who accept this gracious gift will enter into salvation and eternal life; those without faith who reject it will enter into judgment and eternal torment. Ultimately, however, it is the cross itself, being an act of unspeakable self-giving on the part of God, which determines the destiny of all humanity, faithful and unfaithful alike.

Salvation is not possible without faith. Faith, however, is impossible without God's grace awakening it in the heart of the believer. Faith, then, is not (as some present-day fundamentalists claim) the "necessary first step" in salvation. The "first step" was taken by Christ at Calvary and it was neither necessary on God's part nor requested on humanity's part. Rather, it was an act of total self-giving by a God whose love, mercy, and grace were so boundless that he would literally move heaven and earth to win back those whom he created in his image.

The role of faith can best be described as that of the necessary means through which God effects salvation in the life of the believer. He who gave of and abandoned himself completely, unconditionally, and sacrificially to rescue a fallen race requires nothing more and nothing less than the same complete, unconditional, and sacrificial act of self-giving and self-abandonment (literally being "crucified with Christ") on the part of those to whom his gift of salvation is offered.

(JAG)

Love Came Down at Christmas