Man’s Response to God’s Grace
What a tragedy it would be if mankind neglected this priceless grace of God. In World War II a sinking Nazi ship was approached by a British rescue vessel. The Nazi sailors spit at their would-be rescuers and refused to be saved. Sinners certainly have this option, but what a sad waste it would be. Even God will not impose life on an unwilling sinner. You cannot keep life in what is determined to die. Man must respond to this loving outreach of God for grace to be effective in redemption.
Even God Will Not Impose Life On An Unwilling Sinner
When a person appreciates the work of the cross, its adequacy for salvation, and its unique nature, he or she will want to know how it may become a factor in one’s life. The preachers of ‘good news’ in the New Testament, as any casual reading of the book of Acts will show, were not slow to communicate the necessity of a response to God’s grace. Thought they never conceived the idea that the human response deserved God’s grace, they did affirm its necessity. Paul’s famous grace-faith statement in Ephesians 2 is a clear model of this approach. A somewhat literal translation follows:
For by the grace you are in a saved condition through faith. And this
circumstance does not originate in you. It is God’s gift; not originating in works,
lest anyone should boast, for we are his created thing, having been created in
Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared in advance so that we could
walk around in them (vss. 8-10).
I prepared this clumsy translation only to illustrate certain points in the text. Notice the definite article in front of ‘grace.’ This article, which is in the original in verse 8, serves to contrast ‘grace’ in verse 8 with the more general use of the same work in 2:5 above. There (vs. 5) grace without the article means that the Divine solution to our deadness in sin is a grace solution. The quality of God’s salvation is grace. Verse 8 makes grace much more specifically available, saying in effect, that the very grace alluded to above as God’s answer to sin is actually available to humans on the basis of faith.
Grace is what places us in a saved situation. “Saved” is a perfect participle indicating our present state is “saved” because of God’s gracious forgiveness of sin. This forgiveness became a reality when we responded in faith to His grace. Then Paul reminds the reader that the entire circumstance—of there being grace to save, of faith as a possible response, and of salvation itself, all is God’s gift. The word ‘this’ in ‘this circumstance’ is a neuter pronoun, which of course would not agree grammatically with faith (pistis, a feminine noun), grace (charis, a feminine noun), or saved (masculine participle). Neuters like ‘this’ are used to sum up the thought of the entire section. Paul is stressing that grace and salvation are from God, yes, but even faith itself is possible because of God! Even our faith possibilities come from God.
God makes faith possible. If God had not graciously sent Christ into our world, in what would we have had faith? Faith in faith certainly does not save. Faith in Christ saves, not faith in faith. But we are totally dependent upon God’s action and revelation of Christ to find out about this possibility. We could never have dreamed up such a radical solution on our own. God’s word in the Good News about Christ is the source of all our salvation possibilities.
God’s Revelation Has Made It Possible For Man To Respond To God.
God being the source of our faith possibilities leads us to realize another wonderful truth. Even the response we humans make to grace is a gift from God. That is to say, we who are sinners cannot create our own response. We can respond, thank God, but it will have to be to what God has revealed. In this sense we see that even our response is an extension of God’s grace, because God’s revelation has made it possible. If we decide to substitute any other response at this point it will be futile since only faith can answer to grace. God, not man, revealed this. The response we make is grace extending itself into our lives. To create our own response would be a true abrogation of grace, for grace takes hold of our concrete lives only in the response of faith revealed by God in the Good News about Christ.
God Has Made It Possible For Us To Be Saved—We Must Make The Appropriate Response To The Real Solution
Just any response will not do. The response must be appropriate to the situation. After all, we cannot create our own physical universe—why should we think we can create our own spiritual universe? Conditions in the physical universe do not respond on the basis of our wishful thinking. We cannot wake up and desire the sky to become yellow, the grass purple, or birds to live like moles in the earth. These things do not respond to our whims; what makes us think God will? We accept the reality we find in the physical universe and adjust to it. The same thing is true in the realm of the spiritual.
An airplane pilot, for example, does not create the possibility of flight. No matter how clever, how warm, how witty, he has to accept the reality of the universe and fly on that basis. He could not announce to the passengers: “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen; welcome aboard Flight 901, which I will graciously permit to become airborne today, and which, as I decide, will stay in the air until we reach our destination.” In fact, his decision to become airborne is a possibility only when he operates to conform to conditions already there long before he ever became a pilot. The action of air-foils in motion and their properties is a function of the real universe. The pilot did not invent them, though by skill and the proper equipment he is able to take advantage of them.
In a way his knowledge serves only to take advantage of what is already available. If our pilot decided to provide adequate power to the engines, keep the plane on a good heading, observe atmospheric conditions, etc., he would continue to fly. But never, never would it be by a mere arbitrary decision on his part. His response to the flight situation is satisfactory only with respect to the comprehended principles of aerodynamics. He created none of these conditions and can add nothing to them. These conditions are there whether he or any other person pilots the plane.
No doubt there are multitudes of possible responses to the problem of flying. Hindu mystics affirm they can fly ‘out of the body’ to the moon and other planets at will. All they have for verifications are their own statements, for they are simply immobile to the objective viewer. One thing for sure, though, no swami has ever brought back any moon rocks from such a journey! This type of ‘flight’ is strictly in the mind. But is it flying? No more than a drug ‘trip’ is a real journey. We are not interested in imaginative flights of fancy about salvation. We need the real thing! Our response must be appropriate or it will be ineffective. We are open to those possibilities that God makes available. We are not apt to fly if we stand around flapping our arms as fast as we can. We are not going to be saved if we substitute our own responses for God’s revelation about faith in Christ Jesus.
Salvation is a real situational need. God has made it possible to be saved (Ephesians 2:8-10). Yet, similar to the pilot who desires to fly, we must make the appropriate response to the real situation. Failing to respond appropriately would be like a pilot who expects to fly without starting the plane’s engines. This would be an inappropriate response. Response which is thoroughly correlative to the object that calls it forth is appropriate. A person who goes on a salt-free died when his physician discovers hypertension is not responding arbitrarily. He does what is appropriate and what satisfies the need. God’s revelation of the faith response is likewise. Nothing is arbitrary in God’s requirement of faith from human beings who expect salvation. God revealed the conditions of the response, as the physician revealed the conditions of the diet, so that the right action might be taken.