It’s the gift and the thought that count

Photo used under Creative Commons license from Flikr user lara68

Photo used under Creative Commons license from Flikr user lara68

It’s the gift and the thought that count

I’m pretty terrible at buying gifts. I’m especially terrible at buying gifts for those about whom I deeply care. I think that if such things were tracked, you could probably classify it as a mental deficiency of mine. I lose all sense of judgement when shopping for gifts.

No joke; for father’s day this year, my wife talked me out of purchasing a bug zapper for my dad. I saw it in a store and thought back to the many evenings we’ve been visiting my parents on their deck and as the sun fell, insects ruined what would otherwise be a perfect evening. So while I was thinking of practicality and demonstration of love through meeting needs, my wife was speaking plain truth: “I don’t know. I just don’t think that a bug zapper says ‘I love you.'”

This has proven to be yet another reason why my parents should love this woman as much as I do.

I stumbled on the above link a long while ago. It’s an excerpt from a “literary device” written by Rod Rosenbladt, a Lutheran professor. It’s accompanied by an article written and posted by the White Horse Inn. The simple summary of all of this is that saving faith is a gift from God. We get no credit for any part of the salvation process, except for being in the state where salvation is required.

I’ll let the article and “literary device” do the heavy lifting in explaining that. The article tries to identify the cause of the belief that we can take credit for our faith in Christ, his work, and God’s promise. However, I think it’s a little wide of the target insofar as the vast majority of fundamentalist, Bible-believing, American evangelical protestantism is concerned.

I’ve seen the attitude written of in the article, so it’s not like they’ve fabricated something. I’ve seen it frequently among the Pentecostals I spoke with years ago (but it’s been quite some time since I’ve spoken with a Pentecostal regarding theology). But among the Wesleyans, Church of God, and Christian Missionary Alliance believers I’ve spent time with, and also among the Baptist believers with whom I had identified myself for so many years, it’s not common to find people beating their breasts with pride and claiming that their own volition has earned them favor with God. No, these are often humble believers, grateful for God’s grace in Christ.

So what’s the matter, then?

I think that the prevailing mindset is one of error that stems from wanting to please God.

…Huh? In error from wanting to please God?

Yes. These folks are quite able to articulate that they are sinners in desperate need of Christ’s atoning work, yet they are not comfortable in affirming that contrition, repentance, and faith are all gifts from God, from beginning to end, and that there is absolutely no part of salvation that is even the slightest bit contingent on our own will or effort. None. Nada. Not even our own faith in Christ. In fact, the sinner’s necessary cooperation in salvation is so engrained that this last point is most likely to be interpreted as “faith in Christ is not requisite for salvation,” which is entirely false.

Why?

It is because as Dr. Rosenbladt points out in the full version of his sermon, by nature we are uncomfortable with gifts. We’ve all heard the saying that “there is no free lunch!” and to a normal FE, salvation is no different. In the FE view, God has cut a deal with man: an exchange of simple faith for eternal salvation. Granted, it must be faith in Christ’s work on the cross, but the FE salvation economy is still built on faith currency. This plays out in a very popular view of election/predestination: that God has looked down the corridors of time and conditionally predestined those whom he foresaw would have saving faith. In the FE view, faith qualifies one to receive the “free” gift.

And therein lies root the problem, pertaining to how sin and salvation are viewed in this paradigm. Sin is not seen as a condition and outworking of human nature since the fall, but rather merely as disobedient thought, deed, or speech. Likewise, faith becomes a work. It’s something positive that you do to earn salvation. It’s difficult to pin this down too, because most FE’s would strongly condemn these classifications because it is blatantly obvious how unscriptural they are.

I doubt that many would ascent to this synopsis, but I have found that it is the functional definition of FE believers’ faith: something we have done for which God agrees to grant eternal life, a strange quid pro quo where they affirm the lop-sided nature of the transaction. This is how it plays out with sermons, lessons, and hymns teaming together to achieve a reaction (for one to “make a decision”). Form follows function. To many, this is the definition of grace! The insidious effects of this belief upend the gospel in all matters: view of sacraments (memories rather than means), view of the church’s purpose (subjective, feeling-based reception of God’s distributed gifts rather than objective reception of God’s gifts), view of authority in the church (the pastor isn’t doing his job if he isn’t stirring my heart the way I like), vocation (the value of daily actions are attributed solely to the quality of feelings that come from performing them, rather than resting in the fact that God looks on us favorably whenever we fulfill our roles, regardless of our own perceived value of our roles), and nearly every area of Christian life.

But true grace does not depend on human effort. It is a gift of God, given by the spoken word and the sacraments, that nobody may boast. There is no quid pro quo. God’s gifts are true gifts, and if there’s something that we have that can merit them, then they aren’t gifts; they’re wages.

God help me! Do not give to me the wages I’ve earned!

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