Do Grace And Obedience Collide?
To farmer: "Do you think these crops are God's gift to you?"
Farmer: "Of course, were else would they come from?"
"Do you think you're earning them?"
"Of course not! God gives them as freely as he gave us the land."
"You don't think that since you have to farm for them that you're earning them?"
"Are you serious? Of course not!"
Like every right-thinking person that farmer knows that all our blessings come from a gracious God. But how does a gracious God do that? Genesis 18:17-19 illustrates the way things work.
And the Lord said, "Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing, since Abraham shall surely become a great nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have known, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice, that the Lord may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him."
Note the primacy of God in all this. The initiative and the sustaining power are God's. Shall God hide what he is doing? Of Abraham God says, "I have known him in order that..." It isn't that Abraham has known God but that the Lord has known him. "That the Lord may bring to Abraham..." That the Lord may bring to Abraham not what Abraham will bring to him.
Note what's involved in the gracious operation. Grace operates in and through a responsive human. The responsive human doesn't initiate the process; the responsive human is part of the gracious process. Grace doesn't annihilate genuine human response; it initiates and nurtures it. The human response is not something outside of the whole gracious process; it's part of it. But the human response is real, it isn't make-believe and it occurs in the human and not in the gracious God who is working it all out. God is not "responding"; the human is.
If we say the human response is something outside of the gracious process we're ignoring the text. If we say the human response is independent of the gracious process we're ignoring the text. Only when we allow both elements to operate are we taking the text seriously.
So anxious to give God the glory for all the good some of us refuse to allow a free human response to God to be part of that gracious work of God. We want the two realities to be so severed that one ends before the other begins. But there is no human response without the prior work of grace! And grace has not completed its work until there is the free human response.
The text tells us that God means to make Abraham a great nation and a blessing to the whole world. Abraham will not do this for himself! God says, "I have known him in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice..."
Part of the whole gracious process is so that Abraham will raise his children to keep the way of the Lord. Abraham becomes part of the gracious process not because he has the grace or the power to bring all this about but because God would have it so!
And why has the gracious God known Abraham in order that Abraham will teach his children to keep the way of the Lord? "That" the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has spoken to him. Grace doesn't obliterate the appropriate human response it generates it. It doesn't only generate it; it completes its work through that response. To say "Abraham's obedience is a response to an already completed task" is clearly false to the text. Abraham's obedience is a response to an already existing gracious God who has already purposed a gracious purpose but Abraham's obedience is part and parcel of the accomplishing of God's gracious purpose and Abraham is an active agent in that purpose.
How does God's grace accomplish the task of bringing blessing? It depends on the nature of the blessing. Abraham and Sarah were blessed with the baby Isaac. Whatever else we are ignorant about in this matter, we're sure of this: Abraham and Sarah had sexual intercourse and a baby was finally born. Grace didn't obliterate the human activity, without which the baby would not have been born. The human activity without God's superintending grace would not have produced the baby. The whole process comes under the heading of "grace" and "promise". It's foolishness to say the physical involvement was not part of the grace process. It's foolishness to make it appear that to say a human has anything to do with God's fulfilling his gracious purposes is Arminianism or Pelagianism. It is no such thing.
If God's gracious purpose to save has an ethical and moral element in it, why shouldn't we be pleased to see humans strive for moral uprightness? Why can't we say, "This is how grace completes its task"? The case of Abraham shows that grace and human response don't even collide much less obliterate one another.
©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.
Many thanks to brother Ed Healy, for allowing me to post from his website, theabidingword.com.