Augustine was right when he argued against Pelagius that the path to God’s forgiveness and favor lies in trusting Christ’s achievements on our behalf and not in establishing a satisfactory record of obedience to God for ourselves. Luther and Calvin were correct in making the same point more than a millennium later. But many of their evangelical descendants, repeating religious words drained of original meaning, have lost both the sense and the experience of the full-bodied salvation which Scripture assures us is indeed “by grace through faith.”
Grace means that God gives us what we do not deserve and can never earn. God is justified in doing this because Jesus Christ, as our representative, faithfully fulfilled in his own life of self-sacrifice even unto death God’s intent and design for human beings made in his own image for companionship with himself. Faith means that we look outside ourselves both for the grounds and the assurance of God’s grace to us. In both regards we rely on God’s love as shown in the life and death of his beloved Son.
God’s grace calls for our grateful and loving obedience in return. Our faith, if it is genuine and alive, produces just such obedience. Grace always eliminates human boasting but never human effort. Jesus saves us from ourselves to live an authentic life in him. We are created in Christ for good works. Part of the problem these days is that we have over-intellectualized the whole business. A disciple is a learner, not like a classroom student preparing for an exam but like an apprentice who watches the master craftsman in order to do what he does in the way that he does it. Are we academicians only or also Jesus’ apprentices-in-training? It is an important question. The answer we give signifies the difference between theory and practice. It distinguishes between discipleship as Jesus intended it and much that passes for Christianity today.
In describing this living and lived faith, we can hardly improve on these words of J. H. Sammis written in 1915: “When we walk with the Lord in the light of his Word, what a glory He sheds on our way! While we do His good will, He abides with us still, and with all who will trust and obey. But we never can prove the delights of His love until all on the altar we lay; for the favor He shows, and the joy He bestows, are for those who will trust and obey.” Let us sing!