Friday, 12 June 2009

Chickens, Eggs and Failing to be Quiet

Last night our house was the venue for a church housegroup. About ten of us squeezed into our front room to chat through the opening verses of Ephesians Chapter 2. I tend to move from one house group to another week by week and on each occasion try to keep well out of it, letting the group do their thing, working on the basis that I'll learn a lot more about how everything works for them (or not) if I shut up.

Last night I failed.

Maybe it was because it was in my front room but my tongue I did not hold.
Somehow the discussion came to repentance and forgiveness (not that unusual for a church housegroup) but here's the thing: which comes first.
Are we forgiven by God, an encoutner with whose grace then calls us to repent,
or is God's grace waiting for us to respond and we are unforgiven until we repent?

Needless to say I found myself in a different place from many of the others and so i wondered what any of you might think?
This is not a go at theology by democracy, I'm just curious.


Polly said...

Surely if Romans 5:8 is anything to go by,
"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
then we are forgiven regardless of repentance.

I believe repentance is important, and the spirit helps us to recognise our sin, so that we can become more Christ-like. There is certainly something in naming the sin, so that we can move on (like admitting you have an addiction I suppose).

But the logical conclusion of grace only as a result of repentance, is that God would not offer forgiveness if the 'culprit' has not recognised some particular aspect of their life which is sinful. I don’t know about you, but I’ve not yet heard of anyone, bar Jesus, who was/is perfect!

If you break that down to a person-to-person level (as we try to emulate Christ of course!), are we supposed to go around only forgiving those who come to us and apologise? Or forgive 77 times, regardless?(Mt 18:22). Bear with each other and forgive as God forgave?( Col 3:12-14)

Baptist Bookworm said...

An interesting question, as I sit here trying to write a sermon on 'Grace' for a friend's wedding (their topic). Human action or divine gift? I'm reminded of Ernest Lucas who used the scientific analogy of light: Is it a wave form, or a stream of particles? Logic says it must be one or the other, but not both. Yet to describe light, both must simultaneously be true. Do we choose God? Yes. Does God choose us? Also yes.

ashley said...

If I have read him correctly then this is what Karl Barth would say. I'm not sure I either fully understand or fully agree. But it's his contribution to the conversation and one that I believe worth hearing. (It's also proof that I haven't just been wasting my time on my sabbatical!!)

Soteriological objectivism. Two really big words, but the essence of their meaning is that God acts for our salvation in Christ. It is an objective event that takes place in him and to which we contribute nothing at all. There is nothing in us upon which salvation can depend (that is, it is not subjective), otherwise God is not God and grace is not grace.

This leads Barth to turn the Reformers statement, "Repent and believe and you will be saved" (which I recognise has some basis in Scripture - no small point) into, "This is what God has done for you, therefore repent and believe."

Our response is one of acknowledging what God has done, and what we already are in Christ, rather than of responding to what God has done in a way that itself makes effective the work of Christ. I.e. it is a question of seeing what is (or being enabled to, revelation) and living in the light of it, rather than having to do something to make it happen.

Now this leads, logically, and Barth was not unaware of this, to the question, does that mean salvation is universal? As far as I know Barth himself never claimed to be a universalist but it's the direction in which his objectivism takes us.

The real difficulty (better, mystery) for Barth was that God's objective actions in revelation/salvation could be resisted. Frustratingly, for those who like to have tidy theology, with every loose-end tied off, he insisted that this mystery be left to stand.

What does this mean?

Perhaps, if nothing else, we need to ask a different question. Rather than debating whether God's forgiveness is conditional on repentance or not, perhaps we should instead look at the difference both God's forgiveness and our repentance (both of which are biblical whatever the exact nature of their relationship) can make to the kind of lives we live, and the impact the forgiven-repentant life can have on others.

Just a thought...

Craig Gardiner said...

thanks for these, one and all, it is all so much clearer now!