Summary: Continuing the theme of last week's sermon, I explore the common elements of common sense secular and Christian values noting that both are rooted in observation and experience and finding in them a bridge for communication of the Gospel to non-Christians
On Being “Left Behind”
I used to think that citing the original Greek version of the New Testament in sermons serves no real purpose, that preachers who do it routinely are just “showing off”. Nobody really understands all that stuff anyway, nor do we need to. As a result, I’ve not been particularly interested in the subtle nuances of translation. There is, however, one noteworthy exception, the word “faith”. Faith, it would seem, can be thought of as either “an act of will” or as “a gift from God”, and there is evidence in the original Greek to support either interpretation, and I find this to be extremely interesting.
If we think of faith as being a gift from God, as Paul states explicitly in Ephesians 2:8, then faith becomes more easily understood in terms of trust or obedience, which in my mind is preferable to mere assent to doctrine. But faith can also be a decision to accept God’s plan of salvation, and certainly that is an act of personal will—the so called “leap of faith” which is near and dear to my own experience as well.
Comparing various translations of Romans 1:5 from today’s Epistle lesson, we find that the New International Version states that obedience comes as a result of faith; while, the King James Version states that obedience to the faith comes as the result of God’s grace. The New International translation gives weight to the “act of will” interpretation, the King James Version to the “gift of God” interpretation. Other versions compromise by translating the passage as “the obedience that is associated with faith.”
Is there really anything of importance at issue here? Personally, I don’t think so. I feel quite secure in my relationship with God even though I don’t fully understand all of these things, and I thing you should too. You don’t have to understand such things in order to be a child of God in a restored relationship with God, that much I know for certain. Many theologians, however, feel that there is something of great importance at issue and as a result have separated into so-called “Arminian” and “Calvinistic” camps. This has occurred even within our United Methodist Church.
The Apostle Paul writes, “For by grace you are saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast.” Not only does this passage suggest that “faith” is a gift from God, it also suggest that God has allotted to each a measure of faith. All of this lends itself nicely to the Calvinist viewpoint. But Arminian theologians argue that preachers of the Calvinistic or reformed bent wrongly conclude that the pronoun “it” refers to “faith”, and that what Paul is really teaching is that SALVATION, not faith, is the gift of God. And that argument to me seems very reasonable.