Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Diablog: "Having Christ", Meriting Eternal Life

This is my fourth post in a diablog with Weekend Fisher. She wrote (emphasis mine):
The only way to fill the need for Christ is to have Christ; I'd question whether "having Christ" needs to be interpreted at all. I think that "having Christ" ought to be seen as self-explanatory. Let me use an analogy; since you're a newlywed I'll use marriage as an example. What does it mean to have a wife? Does it mean wearing a ring (what happens if you take it off to do the dishes)? Does it mean showing kindness to someone you love (what happens if you're a grump for a day)? Does it mean sharing a bed (what if you're on a business trip or in the doghouse for a couple of days)? Or maybe "having a wife" just means having a wife, and all those things are pretty darn likely to follow but shouldn't be mistaken for having a wife. Maybe 50 different answers about what it means to "have a wife" are all legitimate if you're making a list of what follows, but are all an exercise in missing the point if they're mistaken for the thing itself. Having a wife (for you) means that a kind-hearted and friendly girl named Kristin is forever part of who you are: having Kristin means having Kristin; the rest follows. Back to "having Christ". Having Christ means having Christ; if we ask "what it really means" we have to be careful. Are we asking what follows? Then there are lots things that follow, none of which should be mistaken for the thing itself. Are we asking if "having Christ" really means something else and we can look somewhere besides Christ (maybe a Bible study regime or participation in charity or attendance at church) for whether we really "have Christ"? Then we've missed the point very badly. I've known people who wear rings and are not married; I've known people who attend church and do charity work and do Bible studies and write theology, and nothing is further from their minds than Christ. So on this one, I want to go back and underline where we started: having Christ means having Christ, just as (in your case) marriage is not primarily about rings but about Kristin.
I agree with the analogy to an extent. But if Kristin is "forever part of who [I am]", that means who I am has changed, and I would expect that change would manifest itself (in ways both visible and invisible). If I "have Christ", I have changed: indeed, whoever is baptized into Christ has "put on Christ" (Gal 3:27), and whoever is in Christ "is a new creation" (2 Cor 5:17). This change manifests itself in various ways. The manifestation is not the "having Christ" any more than the rings and the affection and the gifts are "having Kristin": Christ is Christ (and Kristin is Kristin). And it's the same way with faith and works: works cannot ever equal faith or replace it, but works are a visible manifestation of faith.

In other words, if I have Christ, that reality should manifest itself. If it does not manifest itself, it calls into question whether or not I actually do have Christ. Having Jesus as my Savior and Lord means certain things follow: those things that follow are evidence of "having Christ". And not only are they evidence, but some of them grant me the grace to continue in Christ despite hardships and my sinful nature. (This is why I find the notion of "going to church" absolutely preposterous to anyone who adheres to "once saved, always saved", by the way. In fact, once you're saved, you don't technically need Jesus anymore either, since he's "already" saved you... unless you think there's the possibility you weren't saved, and that calls into question the "eternal assurance".) For a Catholic, receiving the Eucharist is having Christ. Reception of the sacraments is having Christ. Not only do they follow having Christ, they are participation in his divine mission.

She also wrote (emphasis mine):
The question comes when we get to whether believers have "fully satisfied the divine law" by such works, whether believers have "truly merited eternal life" by such works. It's difficult to explain to you just how wild I think those assertions are, made by the Council of Trent, that our human efforts could "fully satisfy the divine law". Where is the acknowledgment that we still sin daily in thought, word, action, and omission, and primarily in lack of love? {note: see chapter XI of Trent Session VI -- japhy} How could anyone possibly imagine that, just because by the grace of God we sometimes do the good works he lays before us, we have somehow "fully satisfied the divine law"? "Be holy" and "be perfect" are divine law. Not to hate is divine law. Not to lust in our hearts is divine law. If the one without sin were to throw the first stone, even in a church today or a convention of supposed saints, the wrongdoer would still walk away without a scratch. Nobody "fully satisfies the divine law". Nobody gets through without forgiveness and mercy, neither before nor after the gifts by which we slowly learn to love God's will.
(In addition to my answer, check out vivator's post on the matter on his blog, Viva Catholic.)

It's not "human efforts", it's the strength of Christ permeating ourselves and everything we do. And as for "the divine law", it is qualified by "according to the state of this life", meaning, as I show below, the avoidance of those behaviors which disqualify one from inheriting the kingdom of heaven. Of course we all need forgiveness and mercy, but the kindness of God is meant to lead you to repentance (Rom 2:4). But if we do not continue in His kindness, [we] too will be cut off (Rom 11:22).

Clearly none of us hopes to go the grave as an adulterer or a thief. The commandments of God are not burdensome: the yoke of Jesus is easy and his burden is light (cf. 1 John 5:3; Matt 11:30). As Trent (Session VI, Chapter XI) said: "no one should use that rash statement [...] that the observance of the commandments of God is impossible for one that is justified". It goes on:
For though during this mortal life, men, however holy and just, fall at times into at least light and daily sins, which are also called venial, they do not on that account cease to be just, for that petition of the just, "forgive us our trespasses" (Matthew 6:12), is both humble and true; for which reason the just ought to feel themselves the more obliged to walk in the way of justice, for being now freed from sin and made servants of God (cf. Rom 6:18, 22), they are able, living soberly, justly and godly (Titus 2:12), to proceed onward through Jesus Christ, by whom they have access unto this grace (Rom 5:1-2)
I think it is clear that God wishes those who have accepted His free gift to, in turn, be worthy of it (after the fact, and only through His grace). Here is a smattering of Scripture (emphasis added) with comments where I think are needed...

"He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me." (Matthew 10:37-38) Unless Jesus is being coy, we can reason that to be worthy of Jesus we must love him more than father, mother, son, and daughter, and take up our cross and follow him.

"But his master answered him, `You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed, and gather where I have not winnowed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.'" (Matthew 25:26-30) This is the end of the parable of the talents. The servant who received a talent and did not invest it is deemed worthless: his talent is taken from him and he is cast out. We can recognize the other two servants as worthy of the gift they were given, not beforehand, but only afterwards.

This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. (1 Cor 4:1-2) Paul is saying that the stewards of the Gospel must be found trustworthy; what is the consequence for unworthiness? See Matthew 25; see 1 Cor 9:27, where Paul admits to his need to subdue his flesh lest he be disqualified.

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. (1 Cor 11:27) It is then possible to eat the bread and drink the cup of the Lord in a worthy manner, and if this "meal" is really more than just a symbol or memorial, but an actual partaking of the sacrificial Lamb, and food which endures to eternal life (John 6:27), then by the grace of God we can be worthy to receive it!

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Eph 4:1-3) Here begins a series of admonitions to the various churches to be "worthy of the call".

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel... (Phil 1:27) We are asked to live in a manner worthy of the Gospel.

And so, from the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, to lead a life worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. (Col 1:9-10) We can lead a worthy life and be fully pleasing to the Lord not by any strength of our own, but by being filled with the knowledge of the will of God in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. Thus the common versicle of many Catholic prayers, "Pray for us, N. / that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ".

You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our behavior to you believers; for you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. (1 Thess 2:10-12) Paul and his companions showed by their example holy behavior, so that the church in Thessaly might know how to lead worthy lives.

To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his call, and may fulfil every good resolve and work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thess 1:11-12) Again, Paul prays that the church be made worthy of the call they have answered.

(These next two excerpts of Scripture were added after I responded to preacherman in the comments below.)

We must not indulge in immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put the Lord to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents; nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. (1 Cor 10:8-10) Paul tells the Corinthians not to indulge in immorality, not to put the Lord to the test. This testing of the Lord includes living on in sin under the presumption that God will forgive you because you claim to believe in Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Forget not Paul's words to the church in Rome: What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? (Rom 6:1)

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are holding to your faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you? -- unless indeed you fail to meet the test! (2 Cor 13:5) How brazen of Paul is that? To tell a church to examine themselves to see if they are holding to the faith! And then to tell them that Jesus Christ is only in them -- baptized Christians! -- if they meet the test! This holding to the faith does not simply mean believing the right things, it includes behaving the right way as he continues: But we pray God that you may not do wrong -- not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. [...] What we pray for is your improvement. [...] Mend your ways, heed my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you. (2 Cor 13:7, 9, 11)

Why all this concern with being made worthy? Because there's a whole laundry list of people who won't inherit the kingdom of heaven (idolaters, thieves, fornicators, etc.). Such behavior is not found in a life worthy of God. Of course, we are sinners, so we must repent and ask forgiveness often. Trent doesn't say that these good deeds which merit eternal life make up for our sins. What it does say is that the gift of eternal life, granted to us on the merits of Jesus, also becomes our reward and inheritance by a life that is lived in a manner worthy to the call of God. Our shortcomings and sins which sully this "worthiness" are only able to be forgiven because we cling to our faith in Jesus Christ, not because of or through our good works.

3 comments:

preacherman said...

Japhy,
We are not worthy. Yet, God loved us so much that he sent His only Son Jesus Christ. It blows my mind sometime when I think of the love that God has for us. Yes, it is not works that we are saved but by the grace of God. (Eph. 2:1-10). I believe we should cherish the gift of grace of God by living the Christian life daily (Rom 12:1-1) & (Romans 6:1-6). I think we should understand that God is God and our status, his creation. Thank you for this reminder, that we are all sinners, in need of the gift of eternal life and change to clinging to our faith in Jesus Christ.

japhy said...

Preacherman, I entirely agree with you (and Scripture) that it is not by works that we are saved, but by the grace of God. It is that grace that makes it possible for us to have faith, and it is that faith that challenges us to produce fruit.

No works can ever replace or equal the sacrifice of Jesus Christ; of that I think we are all in agreement. BUT as Jesus makes clear (cf. Matt 25) and as Paul continually pleads (see my post), we are called to perform good deeds /works (or produce good fruit), and refusal or failure to do so is breaking the command of Jesus (who is our Master as much as he is our Savior).

We are not worthy, that is certain, but is Christ's worthiness just plastered onto us when we "confess him" or are baptized? Scripture shows otherwise. When I said "I think it is clear that God wishes those who have accepted His free gift to, in turn, be worthy of it (after the fact, and only through His grace)" I meant that, although we are not worthy of the gift of eternal life which is offered to us by God's grace (not by anything we can offer, because of our unworthiness), God seeks to make us worthy of it. Again, this is not BEFORE the fact, this is AFTER the fact. Paul was afraid of disqualifying himself; so too ourselves!

It is not a matter of us saying "gee, have I done enough to be saved?" Rather, it is a matter of us ever striving to purge sin from every corner of our being -- not just to be forgiven of it, but to purge it from us! It is a matter of us constantly working out the will of God as He commands of us. "We must not put the Lord to the test" (1 Cor 10:8-10) ... "Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you? -- unless indeed you fail to meet the test!" (2 Cor 13:5-8).

Scripture confirms it: we are not worthy now, but we must live a life worthy of the Lord and be fully pleasing to him, showing ourselves to be trustworthy stewards of His grace, and meeting the test.

Weekend Fisher said...

Jeff, do you have a preference whether I respond after this post or whether I should wait til you've looked at the Unam Sanctam one also? You were kind enough to suit my preferences last round, so I thought the least I could do, y'know ... let me know if you have a preference.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF