Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Gospel as Yes - No!

I have been thinking about what it is that saves a person. That is, what do we have to do to be saved? The writers of the New Testament cite different accounts of response to this question. Jesus responds twice in Luke to similar questions in Lk 10:25; 18:18, 'what must I do to inherit eternal life?' He responds by inviting the enquirer to answer from the Jewish law. The lawyer responds with Lev 19:18, 'love your neighbour as yourself.' Jesus affirms he is correct, if he does this he will live. This leads to the account of the Good Samaritan as the enquirer questions 'who is my neighbour?' The answer seems to be unconditional and unlimited love.

In Luke 18:18 a rich Jewish leader asks Jesus the same question. Jesus answers by asking him if he knows the law to which the man responds he has kept these laws through his life. Jesus then exposes his failing, money! In other words, he has failed to really live the law. Jesus then goes on to say that such people can be saved but God does the saving. The story of Zacchaeus tells us how.

When we come to Acts a similar question is asked of Peter at Pentecost. Peter answers, 'repent and be baptised.' Repentance in Acts is important i.e. a turning from sin to God. When Peter is asked 'what must I do to be saved' in Acts 16, he answers, 'believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.' As we peruse the NT, faith becomes the summative term to describe what is required.

I have been trying to work this through. In Luke, Paul, John, Peter and even James, faith is certainly the dominant way to describe a response that saves. So, if so, what is faith? Faith is more than cognitive agreement to a set of propositions, but it includes a belief in Jesus as the one who saves and as Lord. However, there seems to be more than mere cognitive assent, there is some sense of will and commitment, a sense of submission, a sense of ongoing trust, a sense that this faith must be seen in some action that flows from it. If not, James especially indicates, that faith is not real.

I have pondered how to capture this. It seems the authentic Christian thinking believes that we are saved in and through what Jesus has done, not what we do. He lived the perfect life, fulfilled the law, did all that Adam failed to do, did what Israel failed to do, did what I and all humans fail to do, he lived sinlessly and without flaw. He died and death could not hold him down, so he rose, and he is our salvation. We are to respond to this.

I am pondering an idea around the word, 'yes.' In 2 Cor 1:18 Paul writes that the word of the ever-faithful God to humanity is 'yes.' In v.19, in Jesus God's word is always 'yes.' All the promises of God find a 'yes' in Jesus. This got me thinking. Perhaps the best way to define faith is that it is our 'yes' to God's 'yes.' I find this helpful and I can see how we can run this through the gospel story.

1. Creation as God's 'Yes!'
In creation God says 'yes' to all humanity. He created this glorious world with all its flora and fauna. He created humanity as the climax of his creation, and to us he gave the world to steward, to rule over, to use and care for. He created us for relationship with him, each other, and with the world. Creation is God's yes to us.

2. The Fall as Humanities 'No!'
At the Fall, Adam and Eve said 'no' to God. God gave them everything even himself. He gave them one boundary and humanity fell. Despite his grace to humanity, they sinned and said no. They were separated from him. This is the problem of being human, we consistently go our own way, we reject God, we sin. We are all subject to this, 'because all sinned' (Rom 5:12). At the Fall, we said 'no' to God.

3. Redemption as God's 'Yes!'
Despite our rejection of God, God is relentless. Full of love and mercy, he set to work to save. The history of Israel is his first phase as in relationship with a nation to whom he revealed his 'yes,' despite they consistently saying 'no' to him across history, he persevered setting up Jesus as his ultimate 'yes' to the world. Jesus came and lived the perfect life, refusing to resort to 'no', and lived, loved and even died for humanity. Jesus is a living letter from God to the world saying 'yes.' 'Despite your sin and rejection of me, I will not give up on you, I love you, I say "yes"!' He continues to say yes, offering salvation to us.

4. Salvation as our 'Yes' to God.
In this phase between the coming of Jesus and his return in which we seek to tell the Jesus' story throughout the world, in which we gather as God's people as the church, in which we work to give witness to Jesus working for the salvation of every person and the restoration of the world, we are simply telling the story of God's 'yes.' We are going to the world offering them this salvation to which they will say 'yes' or 'no.' This is the time of choice, how will we respond to this glorious 'yes.' 'Yes' is seen in the initial decision that brings us into the salvation of Christ and unites us with God. His Spirit fills us and we walk with him, partnering him in his work, seeking to see others come into the glory of relationship with God in Christ. Sadly many say 'no', choosing their own way, refusing to surrender and submit to this Jesus, despite his relentless love. This 'yes' is not only a one-off moment, but an ongoing relationship in which day by day, moment by moment we say 'yes' or 'no.' As we walk this life we say 'yes' emphatically sometimes, falteringly at others, and say no sometimes. The point is, is the inclination of our lives 'yes' to God? To say 'yes' moment by moment, is to live by faith. So, this is the phase in which we say 'yes or no.'

5. At the Consummation, God says 'yes.'
At the return of Christ, all stand before God in judgement. We will be asked to give account of our lives. God will assess whether we said 'yes' to him and his offer. If he deems that we said 'yes' to him indicating our desire to live with him forever, his response to us is 'yes' and we live forever with him. If we have said 'no' rejecting him, again he says 'yes' to our response. He says 'I will grant you your wish, and you will live forever without me.' You could argue that God says 'no' when we say 'no.' Actually, I prefer to see it as God's reluctant 'yes' to our 'no'. Hell is the ultimate consequence of our 'no' to God. So, at the consummation, God's word to us is 'yes.'

So we can sum up the gospel as Yes (Creation) - No (Fall) - Yes (Redemption) - Yes or No (Now) - Yes (Consummation) i.e. Yes, no, yes, yes or now, yes.

It also helps us know what it means to live by faith on a daily basis, it is saying yes.

I find this helpful because when I say 'yes' to God, I find something inside me is warmed, and I find myself inclining toward God. Try it, say 'yes' to God, and see how it feels. When you get up tomorrow and you feel like crap, try saying 'yes' and watch how something spiritual happens inside and you find a change, an inclination, a warming, a strength, a power, a desire.

So, for me, faith is saying yes to God. 'Yes Lord, yes yes Lord,' as the song says.