Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Grace in Theology

Nobody who takes the Christian faith seriously would argue that faith is a simple matter that requires little mental effort. No, understanding the full truth of Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death requires that we spend much time in thought, prayer, study, and reflection. There are many other aspects of the Christian faith that also require a good deal of mental energy and all of this is a good thing. If the God that I follow can be easily understood and defined by my limited human mind then my God is not big enough. But, He is big enough. He is more than enough, and so I find that I study and ponder a great many faith issues.

What do I do, however, when I find that I have a disagreement, a true differing of opinion on a substantial theological matter with a brother or sister in Christ? My humanity, that is, the depravity within me, says I must destroy their argument, convince them of my theological superiority and win the day. The Apostle Paul, however, says something different.

In Romans 14:1-3 Paul says.

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.  Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. (ESV)

One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables.

For Paul, the issue was one of Grace and acceptance, both for me and from God. I am to be accepting of those who might be weak in the faith (but in the faith nonetheless) as a brother or sister, but not to “argue” over opinions. (Some translations say “disputable matters” or “over doubtful things). The point, is that we are not to make fellowship a matter of theological unanimity but rather, a common acceptance and practice of Grace that is found only through Jesus Christ. When Paul says “for God has welcomed him” he is telling us that we are not to focus on the performance of man, but the performance of Jesus on our behalf that secured us a place with our God.

Now, I can already hear some of you worrying that I am saying that theology does not matter. On the contrary, Paul thinks it is of the utmost importance to each individual. Look at what he says in Romans 14:5

One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.

Basically, Paul has said that while there will be varying opinions on lesser matters than the Gospel of Jesus Christ, each person should be fully convinced as to what they believe and why they believe it. Paul lists examples of considering certain days sacred, eating meat, and drinking wine as issues that have the potential to divide people of the faith. Rather than drawing battle lines, Paul tells us to take the way of Grace and be fully convinced in our own minds, pursue what will lead to mutual edification (a focus on the Gospel of Jesus Christ) and then Paul plays his two biggest trump cards in the discussion in verses 22 and 23. In Verse 22 he wrote
            The faith you have, keep between yourself and God.

Paul has just told us that we must not go on a crusade to convince the world of our theological position on a disputable matter. We should be fully convinced in our own minds regarding how we live out the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but that it is not necessary for everyone to agree on everything. We can show Grace in theology because it is not about our works, but about the works of Him who died for us. This is where Paul closes the discussion and brings it home. In verse 23 he said

            For whatever is not born of faith, is sin.

Because these types of discussion often focus more on us and our actions than on Christ and His work Paul reminds us that it is not about our performance, but about faith, and faith is about Jesus Christ and His work. When we start focusing on our works we start living by our own strength and we sin. Thus, when we are more focused on a “disputable matter” than we are on Christ, we sin.

 So as you study the scriptures and listen for God’s voice, remember, Grace is about all of life. It is not just the transaction that “gets you into heaven.” It is to become the engine that drives everything, including our theological study and our communities. It is through Grace that we can welcome the one who is weak in the faith without passing judgment. It is by Grace that we refuse theological arrogance. It is by Grace that we are saved, not through convincing everyone of our particular theological nuance. 

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