- The major issue at stake in this lesson has to do with sanctification and salvation as they relate to assurance. While Paul’s experience on the Damascus Road is the focal point for the discussion, it might prove helpful to explore wider biblical and later perspectives as well.
- The Old Testament breathes its eastern, cultural holism in which the question – Are you saved by grace or works? – would make no sense. Likely would not have made sense to Jesus either, for that matter. Old Testament writers lived in and spoke of a relationship with God which encompassed faith, confidence, trust as well as response, worship, appropriate ethical behavior. Being relational, if parts were missing the relationship would collapse in on itself. Perfection, however, was not perfect behavior, but a relationship in which resolution for mistakes could easily be found. Divine grace lay at the heart of and empowered these relationships; believers would be surprised if they heard anything different.
- By the time we come to Paul in the New Testament, the world has changed along with the way religious faith is described and debated. The Greek world view based on dissection and dualism reigned among those debating such matters. While Paul moves in this world in order to be all things to all people, he appears in the final analysis to be most interested in establishing thriving communities of faith and service in the Roman empire. His point that only God saves (nothing new as far as biblical writers are concerned!) is framed in his world of either/or Greek logic, but he seems really to be interested in pulling people away from self-dependence in their relationship with God and with others.
- Later theological reflections have added to the intensity of the grace-or-works debate, hoping to avoid both legalism (saved by guidelines) and antinomianism (there are no saving guidelines). Given this background, we should not be surprised by the tensions these discussions at times generate. Nor should we lose sight of the strong biblical assertion that God is the source of forgiveness and nurture.
Relevant Biblical Passages:
Genesis 15:1-6 trust in God Psalm 24 a worship entrance liturgy encopassing faith and response Jeremiah 17:7-8 those who trust in God like trees by water Matthew 5:43-48 on being “perfect” like God is perfect (see Luke 6:32-36) Acts 9:1-22 Paul’s Damascus Road experience (see Acts 22:4-16 and 26:9-18) Romans 6-8 sanctification by faith
Contributions to Study of Assurance:
- For those who take the Bible seriously, there can be no compromise in the quest for assurance with either legalism or ³cheap² grace. People left to themselves discover they can never measure up. God is everything and his grace adequate.
Lessons for Life:
- What are the practical implications of all this cognitive debate and discussion? What stories, biblical or otherwise, might illustrate applications better than theoretical points?