And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Clement of Rome, ?- 99 AD, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 32, (The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, Philip Schaff, Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2001, p. 23)
How important is it that our salvation is not based on us? How should it affect how we live?
There are those who say miracles must must be rejected because they do not fit our ordinary experience. They say extraordinary events require extraordinary proof. But does this hold up to examination? One factor to consider in examining an event is whether it fits in with our past experience. But to make this the only or chief criterion for evaluating things leads to serious problems long before you get to miracles. David Hume, who invented this test, admitted that by it the man who lived all his life in India (presumably southern India), would be justified in not believing in snow. A test that leads to a contrary-to-fact conclusion is clearly suspect. The truth is, there are many things that exist in the world which I have not personally seen. Should I reject them because I have not seen them? Now in modern times, one can try to get around this by referring to television or other media and claiming they can supply the place of actually being there. But I have seen Vulcans and Klingons on TV. I need something beyond merely seeing it on TV to evaluate if a thing is real.
There are also many events in history that are unbelievable by our normal experience. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 would have seemed nearly impossible to someone back in the 1960s. That an obscure German monk could start a Reformation that would break the power of the Roman Catholic Church seems incredible in retrospect. But it is in science that this idea meets its biggest check. Take the Theory of Relativity or Quantum Mechanics. That objects change in mass or in the rate at which time passes when they are in motion relative to each another does not fit my normal experience. Nor does the idea that something could be a wave and particle at the time or pass through any barrier that is less than infinite. But I do not feel justified in throwing out basic scientific theories based on this.
There is also the problem of how common miracles are. There are those who claim that miracles occur on a regular basis. I am myself somewhat cynical of this. I suspect that clear-cut miracles are somewhat rare but cannot completely be discounted. But I have known personally of events that are hard to explain naturalistically. Before you can judge whether miracles are common or rare, you have to decide what miracles you believe in. Now a person who desires miracles may see them when they do not happen, but a person who is adamant that they do not happen may refuse to recognize them when they do. I agree that we should require more proof for the unusual than the commonplace. But if we require the kind of extraordinary proof they are seeking before we believe it, we will never find that proof. However we must ask if, by putting the bar too high, we are not cutting ourselves off from reality.
It is common to ask, why do the righteous suffer? But the psalmist in psalm 73 struggles with a different problem. Why do the unrighteous get away with it? If we look at the evil things done in the world. At vicious dictators who amass large amounts of money in Swiss bank accounts while their people starve. At criminals who commit brutal crimes against innocent victims. It is easy to ask, why does God not strike them down with a lightning bolt? Now the simple answer is that God is gracious and has allowed them time to repent (Romans 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9; Luke 13:1-5). But underlying this is the idea that we are all sinners (Romans 3:23; Jeremiah 17:9; Isaiah 64:6) and are all in need of God's grace (Romans 3:24-31; Ephesians 2:8,9; Philippians 3:4-11). This is why Scripture forbids us to stand in judgment on ourselves and others (Luke 6:37; Romans 2:1; 1 Corinthians 4:3-5). Now it does call for loving correction where that is warranted (Galatians 6:1; Matthew 18:15-17; Jude 22,23). But we need to do this with the realization that we ourselves could not stand before God without His forgiveness. Now God will ultimately judge sin (Romans 2:16; Matthew 25:31-46; 1 Timothy 5:24,25). We may ask why God does not more quickly judge some people. I do not claim to know the answer. But we might also ask why He does not immediately judge us. The basic answer is that He is gracious.
A common complaint of church leaders is that the people are not committed. So they preach fervently about commitment. And nothing major seems to change. Now I am not not against preaching commitment; it is a genuine biblical theme (Romans 12:1,2; Galatians 5:16; Titus 2:11-14). Though I do believe that beating people over the head with the rules is counterproductive (Romans 5:20; Matthew 23:4; Galatians 3:21,22). But even apart from that, if it is not working, I have to ask if we are doing the wrong thing.
What do we mean by commitment? Too often we are thinking of commitment to an organization or a program rather than Christ. But the purpose of the church is to introduce people to Christ and build them up in Him (Matthew 28:18-20; Ephesians 4:11-16; Hebrews 10:24,25). The organization exists to facilitate this. We also may have a stereotype of a committed Christian that we expect people to live up to. This often involves ignoring the various gifts in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Romans 12:3-8; Colossians 2:19). And it is easy to question those whose gifts do not fit our expectations. Now we need to correct clear-cut sin (Galatians 6:1; Matthew 18:15-17; 2 Thessalonians 3:14,15), but we should be careful of judging others based on a perception of lack of commitment (James 4:11,12; Romans 14:4; 1 Corinthians 4:3-5).
Now in any congregation there are those who are not serious about following Christ. This is what sermons on commitment are for. But there are also those who are discouraged because they do not fit into a particular stereotype or program. And by forcing them into an agenda they cannot embrace, we discourage them from doing what God has planned for them. They should be told that God is at work in them to accomplish their particular purpose (Ephesians 2:10; 2 Corinthians 3:5,6; Colossians 1:28,29). But the main reason sermons on commitment bounce off the majority of the congregation is that they believe they already are committed. They believe if they are moral people who are involved in church work, they are committed. They need to be reminded that they are sinners (Romans 3:23; Jeremiah 17:9; Isaiah 64:6), saved by the grace of God (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 3:9). The result of this is that God is at work to change their lives (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 3:12-16; Galatians 5:16,17). But this is a process, and they are not there yet. Commitment is frequently posed as a yes or no question. Therefore, if the individual does not have obvious spiritual problems, they are unwilling to admit that they are not committed. But if growth in God is seen as a process, we should never be satisfied with where we are, but press on to what we are becoming. Real commitment is to a process of change. Not to look for a fictitious plateau to stop at.