Monday, February 03, 2014


Cause and Effect

Chaplain Mike:
You see, Jesus did not just “save” Paul directly through a personal spiritual encounter, a “born again experience,” a private conversion. It was not Paul’s “Damascus Road” experience that did the trick. It was what happened there plus what happened when Paul went into Damascus. On the road, Jesus got Paul’s attention in a dramatic fashion, introduced himself to him, and then sent him to the Church. There, through such practices as fasting, solitude, prayer, the laying on of hands, baptism, and public witness, Paul became a thoroughly converted, changed man.

As Cyprian of Carthage famously said, “He cannot have God for his Father who has not the Church for his mother.” In today’s world of free floating spirituality and narcissistic consumer-oriented religion, wouldn’t it make sense for the Church in all traditions to make things clearer and more definite for people by presenting them with a structured Gospel rather than the nebulous “personal commitment” we so often hear being recommended?

Again, this is not to be confused with legalism. To paraphrase what someone said in one of our comment threads last week, when you sign up to be a Marine, you enter their world and take up practices that are demanding and life-forming. You don’t get to define the structure of Marine life. It is made clear to you from the start.

Jesus’ Gospel call contains this element too. Not only did he say, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” He went on to make matters clear: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me” (Matthew 11:28-29).

Rest. And a yoke. I know, the two sound incompatible. We usually associate being put under a yoke with the law. But apparently there is a Gospel yoke — signifying a structured, embodied practice that issues forth from the announcement of Good News. There are means of grace to receive, a path of grace to follow, and a community of grace in which to dwell
.James was quite direct about this:
James 2:18-26 - But someone may well say, "You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works." You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS," and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.
The gospel of Christ does not separate faith and works - rather it joins them into an immutable sameness. We cannot take hold of one and not take hold of the other. Either our faith has results or we do not have faith at all.

That last statement will undoubtedly be read by some as a judgement - it is not, it is an observation. We often analogize the wind and the Holy Spirit, but the wind provides us with a good analogy here as well. If there is wind, there is an air pressure gradient. They are inseparable. You may not be able to measure the air pressure - that takes complex instrumentation and technical training. But you can be assured that a pressure gradient exists in your area. If there is no wind, there is no gradient. You cannot separate a cause and an effect.


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