Thursday, August 23, 2018

Faith Versus Works

Not all works are equal, and even "good" works can be differentiated by quality. Some works are self-referent and so are not meritorious in the sight of God even if they accomplish something worthwhile. These are initiated by the self for the benefit of self and so are merely a selfish pursuit, even if they seem altruistic. They are only impressive among those who cannot see them for what they are, or those who do the same kind of works. They gain no favor with God.

There are works which are not self-referent. Those are inspired by God, bidden by God, and carried forward at his instigation, impetus and encouragement. Even though such works are not truly capable of being credited to the ones doing them, God rewards them as if they are. If God rewards them for being done they must be considered meritorious, despite the fact that in themselves they could never force him to declare their doers righteous on the basis of them.

No work is meritorious of salvation, regardless of whether or not it is rewardable by God. No work has the power to erase the record of works which are not meritorious (i.e. sin), only blood can do that and that by concession from God. So at best, God-instigated works can be rewardable with benefits (even eternally) but never with forgiveness or righteousness. That is not surprising because forgiveness is an act of mercy or grace, and as such can never be earned, else it would cease to be mercy or grace.

Faith is always referent to its object. It can be misplaced, as it would be if directed at self or at false gods, and thereby be without any value whatsoever to God. However, if its object is God as he is, particularly his character and power, God does reward it. There is nothing about faith in and of itself which would deserve such reward, the impetus for such lies completely in God's grace. Yet, because God responds rewardingly toward faith in him, such God-referent faith would have to be considered meritorious.

However, even saving faith is not meritorious of salvation. There is nothing in such faith which has the power to wash away sin and restore righteous fellowship with God, even though it is essential to salvation. It is merely the reaction (trust) a believer has toward God's words and deeds, and even then not unaided. God's word (of promise) is what invokes faith, while God's presence (or Spirit) is what aids it.

The Apostle Paul made it clear that works and faith are not the same sort of thing. He treated them as diametrically opposed concepts. While it is true that both faith and works can be rewardable, it is also true that neither is meritorious of salvation. So even though God promises salvation to those who put their trust in Christ, it is the blood of Christ which does the heavy lifting.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

What Does It Mean to Be Regenerated?

Regeneration literally means to be born again. That is a biblical concept beyond doubt (e.g., clearly here and here, likely here), but what it entails and when it occurs is much more in question. Calvinists see it occurring prior to it's recognition in people, many as occurring before faith. Arminians see it as occurring after faith, as a result of faith. Calvinists see it as the fruit of God's monergistic efforts, Arminians see it as the consequence of faith enabled.

But what does it mean to be born again?

Being born again is a work of God whereby the Holy Spirit enters into the very existence of a human being to abide, thereby infusing spiritual life into and establishing an intimate, mutual fellowship with that person. It is a transformative experience, but not so much that it so thoroughly changes the person that he or she does not retain his or her personal self-awareness. It is transformation by addition rather than subtraction, which allows the born again person to begin to to experience communication with God, to perceive life differently, to relate to people differently, to valuate things differently and to live differently than they did prior to the experience.  Before the experience, the born again are singular beings separated from God; afterwards, the born again are people with two natures with one connected to God.

Becoming born again is the result of a combination of faith and the Holy Spirit. We don't need to be born again in order to believe, that is over-stretching a metaphor (i.e. being dead in sin); we are born again because we believe (otherwise, God would make everyone believe). Human beings do have a God-given capacity to believe as is seen in the ability of natural people to believe in and trust all kinds of things quite apart from God. However, to believe in Christ we need an encounter with the Holy Spirit sufficient to convict us concerning Christ and waken us to something we could not waken ourselves to in our metaphorical deadness.

Ultimately, the natural self, the sinful self, will be changed in the born again, completely regenerated into a new nature like unto Christ's. That new eternal creature will possess a singular nature in unity with the Father akin to that which Christ shared with the Father as he walked on the earth. Then, we will be on the same page with God, never to go astray again. Ultimately, regeneration is not being renewed to Adam's nature prior to the Fall, but surpassing it, and being transformed into Christ's nature as the second Adam, the Son of Man.

Our born again experience in the Holy Spirit now is the down payment of that good thing to come.