Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Not what you think

Meanwhile, in an earlier passage from Luke’s Gospel, a certain lawyer asks Jesus how to gain eternal life. When queried further by Jesus, the lawyer is able to state that the two greatest commands are required: to love God and to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. In reply Jesus does not say, “Forget the commandments! Have faith in me alone and you will live!” but rather, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live” (Luke 10:28). Then Jesus proceeds to define what it means to be a loving neighbor by telling the parable of the good Samaritan, all of which reinforces the basic point—that it is necessary to perform concrete acts of service to those who are in need in order to gain eternal life

Of course, those anxious to harmonize Jesus’s teachings with their understanding of Paul’s gospel of salvation by grace through faith tend to see any suggestion of the necessity of works as a threat to God’s free gift of salvation and an insult to the sufficiency of Jesus’s sacrifice. So the specific teachings in the Synoptic Gospels pertaining to eternal life are filtered, often ingeniously, through the lens of Paul in order to explain how they do in fact teach salvation by faith alone—that is, if one reads with enough care. The discerning reader should judiciously evaluate such maneuvering. How many beams of good works must we toss aside as we strain to find the sawdust speck of “faith alone” before we start to wonder precisely how this salvation house has been constructed? If we have to read the “good works” requirement out of so many of Jesus’s teachings about eternal life, might it be the case that the assumed Pauline interpretative lens of “by grace alone through faith alone” and “not by works” is causing the distortion? Or could it be that we have foisted our own questionable contemporary understandings of faith, works, the gospel, and salvation onto both Paul and the Gospels?

For reasons that will become clear in due course, I submit that the gospel is not primarily about the necessity of the human response of “faith” in Jesus’s saving work, but rather as about how Jesus came to be enthroned as Lord of heaven and earth. Allegiance alone is required for salvation.—Matthew W. Bates, Salvation by Allegiance Alone, 12–13

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