Reflections for February 25, 2018 Second in Lent

Gospel: Mark 8:31-38 tells of Jesus announcing to His disciples, just after Peter had recognized Him as the Messiah, that He  must undergo great suffering, be killed, and after three days, rise again from the dead. When Peter argued with Him, Jesus called him Satan and told him he is setting his mind not on divine things, but on human things. Then He said if anyone wants to follow Him, they must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Him.

Lent is a time for penitence and reflection about our spiritual lives as we seek to follow Jesus more closely. The Thirty Nine Articles of our Anglican faith say that we humans are incapable of turning to Christ in faith by ourselves (Article Ten, Book of Common Prayer p. 869). This doctrine of man’s ‘inability’ grows out of the argument between St. Augustine and the British monk, Pelagius, in the fourth century over the need for God’s grace in salvation. Grace is a free gift of God, not something He owes us (as if God could owe anything to anyone!). Grace may be defined as ‘unmerited favor’–a gift that is undeserved. Grace is the opposite of what theologians call ‘works’, which are earned, for which wages are paid and deserved. Some Christians believe that they do good works and therefore merit God’s salvation and are deserving of ‘salvation.’ This view is called Pelagianism. This matter is controversial and one can hold either position and be Christian but there are some issues involved that are worth reflecting about. It would seem that one must either be saved by God’s grace or can take some credit for one’s own salvation, i.e., that it is one’s own merit that leads to one’s salvation. And if this latter is the case, one can take credit for his/her salvation and can feel that one is better than others who are not saved. This leads to pride as opposed to humility and this is surely sin. Another theological consequence of importance is that if our salvation is partly dependent on our personal human choices and actions (‘works’), then God is not sovereign in this matter, and the Bible seems to teach God’s sovereignty, e.g., ‘…according to the the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel fo His will’ (Eph 1.11). Of course, there is probably a natural human reaction against God’s sovereignty in this, and all, matters. Our natural human self-centeredness makes us unwilling to ceed power to God in any respect, this one more perhaps than most. Our sinful natures demand that we be independent and self-sufficient. But God wants us to be dependent on Him and on nothing but Him. But another consideration is that if we are saved by our choice (works) rather than God’s, we could change our mind at any time and thus lose our salvation. Scripture says that ‘God chose believers in Him (Christ) before the foundation of the world…’(Eph 1.4). There is great comfort and assurance in this text that our salvation is not capricious. We are said to ‘have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace’ (Eph 1.7). Perhaps it causes anxiety to some to think our salvation is not in out hands, but in God’s, so how do we know that we are saved? The answer to that is clear: If you have faith in Jesus Christ that He is Lord and Savior, and was raised from the dead, you can be sure of your salvation (Rm 10.9). Scripture tells us that ‘salvation is of the LORD’ (Jonah 2.9). Another Scripture says God has given believers to Christ, “They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word” (Jn 17.6). This is a matter for us to reflect on during this Lenten period to settle in our minds.

Memory Verse: For by grace you have been save through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast (Eph 2:8,9).

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