For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8 NIV)
Put in modern terms:
For it is by grace you have been saved, because of your faith in Jesus Christ — and this (i.e., grace) is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God
Many clergy, especially Protestants, assert that our obedience (from faith) stems from gratitude for God’s saving grace. In other words, faith is a response to God’s grace. Because we are grateful for God’s grace we become faithful. In other words, faith is our expression of gratitude for the free gift of God’s grace.
I have never been able to accomodate this notion and it’s bedeviled me for ages. So, I thought I’d just jot down some preliminary thoughts for later reflection and study. At some point, I’ll write a more formal post justifying what for now are just assertions (see below).
First, faith is the proper response to truth, not grace. Faithfulness (which is to say obedience that conforms to what one believes) is the proper expression of faith. For example, to place your faith in Newtonian physics is to order your life to accomodate its truths. In other words, you don’t blithely walk off cliffs or jump out of airplanes without a parachute. Thus, to put one’s faith in a thing is to accept the truths of that thing and then act accordingly. Right?
Here’s a negative example: Suppose you know a man who is a three-time loser. He is currently on parole having been convicted of yet another investment scam that left hundreds of elderly penniless. The truth before you is that this man has a history of dishonesty. Do you put your faith in him and invest your life savings in his latest scheme? Exactly!
We respond to truth by behaving in ways consistent with that truth.
On the other hand, gratitude, not faith, is the proper response to grace. When someone does you a favor, you thank them — sometimes with words, sometimes with acts of kindness, or sometimes both. One of the first phrases we teach our children are the words “Thank you”. Faith is not a valid response to grace or graciousness. For example, suppose the swindler in the previous example happens to be your brother-in-law and chooses to donate one of his kidneys to save the life of your dying wife. Does his act of sacrifice, and act of manifest grace and kindness, change your willingness to put your faith in his latest investment scheme?
If these simple examples don’t convince you of the proper relation between grace, obedience, faith, and gratitude, give me some examples to the contrary.
Now, go and study,