Many times I have sat with people who are bruised with themselves and others. They have anguished over life and all its frailty, their sufferings, the sufferings of others as well as their part in all of this.
Sometimes I have been asked, “What do you think? … You can’t fall out of grace can you? Isn’t grace what catches you when you fall?”
“…. and what about a believer who’s heart is hardened by sins deceitfulness and is maybe filled with anger and walks away from God?”. “Can it be that somewhere, somehow, grace dissipates ?”
This is mostly a very controversial issue and it is sure to raise a storm but I am going to post an answer I gave to these kinds of questions which may or may not help some. You see, I too have wrestled with these self same issues more often than I can recall to count. I am an expert, not in my theology or my success in the matter, I am merely an “existential expert” – one who has walked this road many times – alone, and with others over the decades. … and if you disagree… that too is ok… as long as we all keep learning.
….there is strong implication in the biblical text that the ‘faith’ we live by is not really ours but God’s.
Galatians says, “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. …..”
A learned and great theologian as well as a scholar of classical Hebrew and Greek told me once that the original text here is not very accurately interpreted in the bible. It should read, “The life I now live in the body, I live by the faith OF the Son of God.”
It’s God’s faith that sustains us not ours. We just use the little faith we have to respond to his call to ‘come’ towards him – he does the rest and then he sustains the contract by his integrity … the contract is in no way sustained by our ability to understand the smallprint. That would reduce the act of grace immediately to a lower order legislated process of works.
The Gospel of John says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, AND THEY SHALL NEVER PERISH; NO ONE WILL SNATCH THEM OUT OF MY HAND. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” (CAPS mine)
For me that sort of sums it up more succinctly – it’s God’s strength and not ours that is the operative dynamic in this.
This is grace as I believe the bible tries to portray it. Mostly the church has not seen this clearly at all and instead has had to develop a legislated code of conduct in order to prop up their sense of religious pride and sustainable collateral power to ratify their existence. A tragic state of affairs if you ask me.
My view is that we can fall out of our perceived notion of grace which is usually linked to socio-religious doctrinal formatting endorsed by cultural and social pressure…. even the concept of ‘sin’ is socially negotiated to a large extent.
However, the radical argument could be that those who have been ‘impregnated’ by God’s ‘seed’ cannot produce thorns or briers. Genesis, Jesus & then Paul all go on about the concept of a seed producing after its own kind… etc. Paul even charges us to “examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith” – note: we are to examine “ourselves” – others, leaders, the church, whoever, are not the jury, WE are, for ourselves, …. as the Spirit witnesses with our spirit that we are sons of God. All the institutionalized control does is to reduce the righteous holiness of the Living God to a commodity, a measurable, negotiable, trade-able, malleable currency much like a bathplug or a toothbrush.
Our passion can grow cold
Our love can grow cold
Our focus can wane
Our attention can be diverted
… but even these are mostly socially determined values.
Look at most if not all of the greats in the bible… most were psycho-social basket cases. Defective in and at various aspects (sometimes key aspects) of their character… Moses was a murderer, Abraham and Jacob misrepresented the truth. David was an adulterer as well as a murderer, Samson, Gideon, Paul, Thomas, etc. etc. yet God had other ideas and used these frail, often faithless, cowardly, even sinful individuals significantly. It is clear to me that God’s view or ethics, morality, sin, righteousness, virtue, social appropriateness, etc is far removed from ours…. Read Ezekiel 43: 6-12 for a snapshot from God’s perspective on our values vs His. (but wear a crash helmet when you do – it can get quite bumpy)
Look at the life of John the Baptist (read Matt 11 where John is disillusioned, doubting, confused, humbled, devastated, crushed, imprisoned and in this extremely low point of despair he sends his followers to ask Jesus if he is the one or if they must look elsewhere (the very Messiah he personally heralded as the ONE, the anointed Christ of God) – a very clear picture of failure, unbelief, loss of faith, disillusionment, etc, etc. – a very, very broken man!
Jesus responds to them and in an indirect, careful way rebukes John by reminding him of his destiny and then turns to the masses who most probably heard this potentially damning exchange….. and said to them,
“What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: “‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”
John was a great man. He was an offender of the religious elite. He tended to offend almost everyone he spoke to. Yet he eventually became one who himself became offended by the circumstances that overtook him. In simple terms the circumstances never turned out the way he had thought they would. He was beaten and possibly even hopeless. Perhaps he had doubted profoundly whilst chained to the cold walls in the cell that was eventually to be his execution chamber. Perhaps he had said things to God, about God, about himself, his calling, about everything, that he had now deeply regretted, but could not recall?
… but just read again the accolade that Jesus gave him. Soak up the honour if only just for a moment. Absorb the aroma of pride in the mouth of the one whose words really count. Try to get into the mind of Jesus as he dealt with this wonderful forerunner of his. What might have been Jesus’ feelings? Were his words perhaps clumsily spoken as he choked back the tears? Did his heart swell with admiration at the picture of a broken, defeated, beaten man, now desperate and lost, who had nevertheless done a worthy task well? Perhaps to the watching eyes of the multitude John was a failure who started strong but did not end the same. A loud mouth which was now shut up and stilled? But was this what Jesus thought?
So go in peace.
Don’t let their poison drip into your ears.
Ask the Lord himself to speak to you – he will, trust me on this. Don’t go ‘via’ – go direct. I have cried out many a time in deep, anguished despair and doubt and I have yet to be disappointed. It might not necessarily at first be the words you would want to hear, but afterwards they will be the words you are glad you did.
The answer may not come in articulate words (it very seldom does so for me – I have yet to recall hearing an audible voice of God), but it will come. Prepare yourself to be free to hear in strange ways, think of the process of osmosis, plants do great with this and we are a planting of the Lord, are we not?
Listen to the words of friends, perhaps more so those of enemies, for they often speak more truthfully to us than our friends. But whatever you do, don’t stop listening nor asking questions.
Go in peace.