Monday, November 4, 2013

So That No One Can Boast . . .

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (Ephesians 2:8-10)

These verses are seen whenever i open a book lately, as they're printed on my bookmark. And this passage, though short, is such a profound explanation of the Christian mindset.

"For it is by grace you have been saved..."
This, grace, is the encompassing definition of Christianity. It is the Law fulfilled on our behalf. It is the humility of the Son of God, through Whom the universe was made; a King—The King of the universe, of creation in its entirety; from, through, and to Whom are all things and is all glory due. The King of kings, the Lord of Lords, the roaring Lion and the gentle Lamb, the Conqueror of nations and the seeking Shepherd who searches always for the lost sheep. This is grace, that He gave up His place to not only live like one of us, nor just to die for us, but to go to Hell on our behalf. It's by this that we are saved.

"...through faith..."
Faith is the substance of things hoped for. Faith is belief in something, true, but it goes deeper than that. To say i have faith in my closest friend would not be to say i believe he/she exists, but that i have trust in them to keep something entrusted to them, to look out for my well-being; faith is a sort of love. It's always hoping, always believing, always trusting. Faith ensures loyalty; it is not being able to see the entirety of a situation, yet knowing far deeper than words that all is not lost.
And all is not lost, i tell you, because we have faith. We have faith in God. It's not merely a belief in His existence (for even the demons believe—and shudder!). And that faith is what drives us to give of ourselves, to hope that what little help we can offer will, in turn, change the world over the course of generations for the better. We have faith that drives us on to works, but the idea of works will be addressed presently.

"...and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God..."
It's easy to picture this as meaning grace is not from ourselves but from God, but that much is obvious about grace. Grace is always the undeserved gift. It would seem redundant to point this out. Therefore, my opinion is that this is speaking of both faith and grace, the two aforementioned topics. Faith is a gift from God, and this is evident when reading 1 Corinthians 12. It, like prophecy or healing, speaking in tongues or wisdom, is a gift of the Spirit, and we cannot come to faith except, and solely by, the grace of God, the gift of God. Not from ourselves do we enter into the gift of faith, but by the grace of God's calling. We have nothing to do with it except readiness. The moment we think God calls us because we are a good or deserving person, pride has already flecked the heart with blackness. But humility is, like faith, a gift He calls us to; all we have to do is submit. In submission, pride is killed. In submission, the coals of humility are kindled to flame.

"...not by works..."
This is a particularly interesting section to me, because i am of the sort that believes works are a fruit of the Spirit, and that faith brings forth these fruits. Anyone can do "good" works, but no one can become "good" by them. There is none good but God. Works by themselves are for naught; vain. They are often self-serving if not carried out for the sake of God's glory. By doing things, such as giving to the poor or volunteering, we are seeking glory and recognition. There are, however, two motivations to this. The first is self, which is always pushing us to be seen by our peers, admired and congratulated (not that these things are wrong in and of themselves; they should not be the driving force for anything, for if we do things to be recognized, our fleeting and momentary recognition is our reward). The second motivation is the Spirit, which urges us to always love more deeply, and to be nameless in the sight of man so the glory may be directed to God.
Also, i have been discussing works with people lately, and come to the conclusion that people need to earn something. They feel they must earn their way into Heaven, when the man on the cross beside Jesus is too simple a model for us. We must make our beliefs tangible by changing it from solely Christ's work (the Gospel) to also a few things here and there that we do to "win" Heaven. This ideology is flawed, though it gives us something to grasp. All in all, it is grace, not works, that gave us entry into the kingdom of God.

" that no one can boast."
If we think that something we can do gets us a little more recognition with God, we are deceived by our works. Nothing we can do can make God love us more or gain us entry into Heaven (what is impossible with man is possible with God). We have no boast in anything we do, but we do have exceeding reason to boast because of what Christ already did—before we were even born. If we're at a place where we are praying in thanks that we're not like someone else, we're boasting in our hearts. God desires humility; it was the tax collector that went home justified, having been too ashamed of his human nature to even lift his eyes to Heaven or approach the altar, rent his garments and beat his chest, pleading "God have mercy on me, a sinner," not the Pharisee who thanked God that he was not like the tax collector.
Boasting is not as simple as humility in public, but humility in heart. When we approach God, we are to have confidence, not cockiness. We're to be humble, meek, but sure that Christ is our Mediator, our propitiation for sin and that, through His works, and not our own, we can boast and proclaim "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory."
Not by what we can do, but by what He did do.

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