The apostle James -
"In fulfilment of his own purpose (God) gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures. .....
Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. .....
Those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act - they will be blessed in their doing."
To experience SALVATION - to experience the healing and wholeness which God offers in Christ - we need do nothing. Indeed, there is nothing we can do to save ourselves. It has all been done for us. There is nothing more to be done.
This runs counter to almost everything we are taught in this secular, materialistic, narcissistic, technological age. We live in an era of instant, quick-fix solutions. We live in the age of D.I.Y. - "do-it-yourselfism".
We are continually bombarded with all kinds of do-it-yourself schemes of salvation cultivated by the cult of the self-made man. It is an illusion. There is no such thing as "a self-made man". We are all the product of the network of relationships we experience from the moment of birth (or even before) as well as the complex interaction of genes, predispositions, culture and environment.
For anyone to claim that they are "self-made" is the height of hubris, the ultimate in narcissism. Yet it was a very popular notion in our society in the Eighties.
I am reminded of one historian's view of the British peoples. I am not sure who it was: perhaps Toynbee?
We know what has become of some of the self-proclaimed "self-made men" of the Eighties : Skase, Bond, Goldberg, Herscu.
Yet the idea runs deep in our culture. Surely we have the power to save ourselves?
We are such clever creatures. And the world is full of would-be SAVIOURS.
Much of this "New Age" belief in self-salvation has its roots in the "God in Dead" debates of the Sixties. It found its inspiration in the teachings of 19th C German philosopher Friedrich Nietsche who proclaimed the death of God in the Speech of the Madman ("Froliche Wissenschaft") - much quoted in the Sixties. In place of God he postulated the idea of Superman - "the noble man" - who had it within himself to be a god. We ourselves have the power to be gods.
During the Sixties "God is Dead" debate, a wonderful piece of graffiti went around Universities:
Yet the idea that salvation is in our own hands and that we can achieve ultimate wholeness has been remarkably tenacious over the last 30 years. It runs deep in our culture.
Perhaps we could gain salvation, wholeness, by having the sense to follow the correct political way? Alas, history shows that this is wishful thinking. There is no political solution which can redeem humanity. Both Communism and Capitalism have failed in our time.
Perhaps we can save ourselves if only we could get our economic principles and processes right, with just the right mix of market forces, competition, productivity and growth? What could possibly prevent the progress of humanity then? Yet no amount of economic cleverness and tinkering has found any solutions to the chronic and growing problem of unemployment, which is one of the root causes of poverty. No. I am not being cynical: just realistic. In 1978 I was a member of a "Youth Unemployment Summit" convened by Dick Hamer as Premier, after youth unemployment trebled in three years - from 2% in 1975 to almost 7% in 1978. It is now five times worse!
What could possibly halt our progress?
Some put their hope in the so-called "New World Order" and the process of globalisation. Globalisation is the way to greater resource sharing and economic equity between the First and Third Worlds.
This assumes, of course, that we live in "a global village" in which there is some sense of mutual self-interest and concern. The truth is that we now live in "a global super market", and, as in any market, there are the strong and the weak. Only six or seven national economies are dominant. A few others are strong. The majority are weak and exploited. Of the 100 largest economies in the world today 52 are trans-national corporations. Microsoft alone has more wealth than 40% of the lowest national economies all combined (example - Cashmere). It reminds me of primary school experiments in magnetism and iron filings - the filings rushing together around the powerful positive poles - with the most powerful pole, the United States, practising selective free trade based on "self-interest".
This week Tim Colebatch wrote in praise of globalization in "The Age" - "Shaping a better world" (29/8/2000) - in which he promoted India as an example of its benefits. Most Indians, he says, according to World Bank estimates now are above the international "absolute poverty" line of U.S. $1.00 per day.
Colebatch then wrote:
"Progress always happens unevenly. But the fact is that, gradually, humanity is leaving poverty behind. It could be happening faster if the rich countries such as Australia had not selfishly reduced their development aid, if trade rules were not biased towards the interests of rich countries, if the debt left by past mistakes were written off."There are a few "IFS" there. But they are real. And they undo his whole argument.
In the same week, George W. Bush, candidate for the American Presidency, told a Jewish convention : "our nation is chosen by God and commissioned by history to be a model for the world." What astonishing hubris! God help us all if Americans believe such a Messianic claim!
If we are not convinced by a range of political, economic or globalization saviours then we can always opt for the comforting arms of any number of pop-psychology gurus, who offer salvation by way of personal development, self-improvement. It seems to be a sure way to make a fortune.
Write a simplistic bit of pop-psychology, like "Men are from Mars; Women from Venus", and you are on the path to wealth and people will flock to your seminars paying exorbitant fees.
It is a phenomenon of our time. People are retreating into themselves. Essentially this taps into the individualistic, self-centred, narcissism and greed of our age. What does it matter if a few ancient cultures are wiped out if "I am OK myself"? If "I am OK" what does it matter if a few more species become extinct?
Well, it matters a great deal. As the physicist, Paul Davies, has observed: "The living creation seems to be about increasing diversity and complexity, not less." The human community seems to be going against fundamental forces of nature and creation.
The DIY - "Do It Yourself" - notion of salvation has also taken on many religious guises.
We are offered the possibility of tuning into "the divine essence" by drawing on the spiritual power of crystals, meditating under pyramid forms, communing with nature, or calling on a host of "mediums". They also make a lot of money.
Alternatively, we are told that we may "win" salvation, by a host of quasi-Christian sects, purveyed by televangelists, if ONLY we have enough faith and if ONLY our prayers are strong enough. If our faith and prayers are genuine then we are guaranteed "Health, Prosperity and Deliverance!" It is a false illusion. It cheats people.
There are any number of would-be Saviours, Messiahs, in the world and the church. None of them can save us. The Pelagian, DIY, heresy is very much alive and flourishes today.
The truth is that there is NOTHING we can do for our salvation. The truth is that there is nothing WE NEED do for our healing and wholeness. The truth is that EVERY thing has been done.
According to the apostle James:
"In fulfilment of his own purpose (God) gave us birth by the word of truth."
God has done everything necessary in Christ on the cross. This is extraordinarily hard to believe in this DIY age. But the gospel is that God has done everything for our salvation, for our healing and wholeness. There is nothing we need do! There is nothing we can do!
This is "the word of truth".
Yet, in our culture, we can feel strangely guilty, inadequate and disempowered unless we can DO SOMETHING to win God's approval, to gain salvation, to experience healing and wholeness. Our culture is about a "CAN-DO" mentality. It is then strangely disturbing when we are told "You can do nothing. You need do nothing. All has been done for you."
But this is the gospel!!!
It is very difficult, in our age, to believe that God has done everything!
Yet that is the eternal truth by which we have been saved. There is nothing we need do to win salvation: God's healing and wholeness is a free gift! That is contrary to all we have been told and taught. But it is "the word of truth" by which we have been saved!
All that in needed, then, for our salvation, our healing and wholeness, is the act of faith. "It is by grace that we are saved through faith" (....). But the act of faith is an act of COURAGE. It is an act of great courage, in this day and age, to believe, to have faith in God's work in the cross of Christ.
Paul Tillich has written -
"The element of uncertainty in faith cannot be removed, it must be accepted. And the element of faith which accepts this is courage. ..... Courage as an element of faith is the daring self-affirmation of one's own being in spite of the powers of 'non-being' which are the heritage of everything finite. Where there is daring and courage there is the possibility of failure. And in every act of faith this possibility is present. The risk (of faith) must be taken."
The response of faith to God's work in Christ is an act of courage, even foolishness. But this is all that is necessary to salvation: the extraordinary, courageous act of faith. Nothing else!
The news of God's amazing grace, God's pure, free, unconditional grace, is not an invitation to a life of inertia, complacency, or self-indulgence. Quite the contrary. Those who have been truly struck by God's grace are compelled to RESPOND, to be hearers and DOERS, to express faith in ACTS of mercy, compassion, justice and love. FAITH and WORKS are inextricably bound together. Indeed our WORKS become a demonstration of FAITH.
St. Augustine probably overstated the case when he said, "Love God and do as you please". Unless he meant something like: "If you truly love God, then what pleases you will be for God's pleasure."
Then, whatever we DO, all our ACTS become a RESPONSE to God's grace and an expression of faith.
The wonderful film "CHARIOTS OF FIRE" tells the story of the rivalry between the great Scottish sprinter, Eric Liddell, who was to become a missionary in China, and the American, Howard Abraham. Abraham was driven by a fear of losing. But something else drove Liddell. He withdrew from the Olympic 100 yards when the final fell on a Sunday.
Asked why he ran, Liddell replied:
"God has made me for a purpose. For China.
He has also made me fast. When I run I feel his pleasure."
For him, everything, even running, was for God's pleasure.
In this view, everything in life, everything we do becomes a RESPONSE to God's work in Christ. Faith and work, hearing and doing come together. How do we display our faith?
REPENTANCE, then, is not a precondition of salvation. The 'turning to God' is the response of one who has been forgiven, loved and accepted.
PRAYER is not wishful thinking. It is the response of one who is in-tune with the divine presence and who lives daily in God's presence.
WORSHIP is not a self-indulgent act for our entertainment. It is the joyful response of those who have been loved, forgiven and accepted without condition.
Our OFFERING is not an act of duty to score points. It is an act of deep gratitude and thanksgiving for all of God's work in our lives. Does our offering truly express such joyful thanksgiving? OR is it an act of duty and drudgery?
The COMMUNITY SERVICE we offer for the young and the elderly is not an attempt to gain God's favour. It is faith in action. Our work for children, youth and older people is an expression of faith. It has been said, "By their acts you shall know them". So may we be known!
Faith and works go together. Works are a demonstration of faith. Not the other way around! We are called to express our faith in action!
One of my heroes is Gerard Manley Hopkins, the English Jesuit and poet, which you must know by now. He once wrote:
"It is not only prayer that gives God glory but work. Smiting on an anvil, sawing a beam, whitewashing a wall, driving horses, sweeping, scouring, everything gives God some glory if being in his grace you do it as your duty. To go to communion worthily gives God great glory, but to take food in thankfulness and temperance gives him glory too. To lift up the hands in prayer gives God glory, but a man with a dungfork in his hand, a woman with a sloppail, give him glory too. He is so great that all things give him glory if you mean they should. So then, my brethren, live."
"It is not only prayer that gives God glory but work."
Everything we do is an offering to the glory of God.
Faith and work cannot be extricated or separated. They belong together.