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What Does "Saved By Grace Through Faith" Mean To Underground Christians? A Final Excerpt From Living in the Underground Church

Posted by Rev. Eric Foley on with   Comments

We have now reached the end of our proposed methodology for taking up the Bible in a way that takes us underground. What may we conclude on the basis of this proposed liturgy for life in the underground church?

Specifically, this: That we are saved by grace through faith.

That phrase is typically used as an introduction to the Christian life. And yet, what our proposed methodology enables us to see is that it is also the conclusion of the Christian life, along with its midpoint, length, breadth, and moment-by-moment unfolding. Salvation is more than a juridical pronouncement of the Triune God. It is the lived, daily experience through which the church is constituted and by which it is defined. The church, in other words, is the assembly of those who are being saved by grace through faith.

Grace is not the pronouncement of God, the love of God, the forgiveness of God, or some orientation of God toward us. In the words of Karl Rahner, grace is God’s “self-communication”: the fullness of God’s own self, given to us. George Vandervelde, elaborating on Rahner’s definition, writes,

In grace God does not merely do something, effect something, outside the divine being. Rather God bestows God's very self to human beings. God gives God's self as God, i.e. as infinite being. God gives the very reality, the inner, divine, Trinitarian life. God bestows the internal essence of divine being upon human beings. In keeping with this conception of grace as the communication of God's own being, Rahner insists that God's self communication is an ontological process.[1]

To say it is an ontological process is to say that it is something that actually happens in us (i.e., God enters us) rather than simply something that happens about us (i.e., God pronounces us righteous). As Jesus says in Revelation 3:20, he comes to make his home in us. Or as Jesus says in John 15:4, “Abide in me, and I in you.”[2]

His home in us, his abiding in us, unites us with all those of all time and all places in whom he abides. The communion of saints is his living temple.[3] This is why Scripture does not say that in consummation of all things God will be the all in each but rather the all in all.[4] In this we do not lose our individuality, as if we were subsumed into some universal collective. Instead, as Rahner notes, we only become fully human and fully ourselves when he self-communicates to us, i.e., when he abides in us. Only then are we able to give ourselves fully to him and to each other.[5]

Faith is our trust that God will be, in us, who he has always and everywhere been, that he will do, in us, what he has always and everywhere done. Faith cannot be that God will in the end forgive us for living in a constant posture of mistrust toward him. As Jesus notes in the parable of the talents, if you believe God to be a hard master, then you had better at least live like it and do your best to ameliorate the punishment you are expecting. Such a one can expect punishment, not forgiveness.[6]

Salvation by grace through faith is thus anything but an assurance that thanks to Jesus, no matter what you think of God and others and no matter how you act toward God and others, everything in the end will turn out alright for you. Instead, salvation by grace through faith is a whole life offering of the kind described in Chapter 6: humanly incomprehensible and desperately, dangerously incomplete in and of itself, requiring God to do what he has promised to do in order for any part of it—any part of it—to endure to eternal life. Salvation by grace through faith means that every aspect of our life relies upon the Triune God to act as the Triune God always has, only this time inside of us; and it means that our fate is now eternally conjoined with those in every age and place who are completely reliant on that same thing.

In 1 Corinthians 11:1, the Apostle Paul says, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”[7] This sometimes makes us uncomfortable because it sounds like anything except salvation by grace. But this is only because we are not careful students of Scripture. Christ’s defining characteristic is his absolute dependence on his father. In John 5:19, Jesus says, “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”

Jesus does not strive to be perfect, or personally complete. He simply trusts his father. He acts in the faith that his father will be who his father says he is, and that his father will act as his father has said he will act. Thus, when we say we are saved by grace through faith, we are indeed called to follow Christ in this, and Paul, and the entire “great cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews 11. What all these have in common is the incomprehensibility and incompleteness of their actions from a human perspective. Or as the writer of Hebrews puts it in the great chapter on faith, Hebrews 11:

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.[8]

As we follow Christ, and as we follow Paul following Christ, we become, with the great cloud of witnesses, foreigners and strangers on earth. This is not because Christ is leading us out of and away from the places where we live, though he may do that. Instead, it is because he is leading us into a way of life that makes us foreigners and strangers, often even in our homes. As Psalm 69:8 says, “I am a foreigner to my own family, a stranger to my own mother's children.”[9] Yet Jesus adds in Matthew 12:50 that those of every age and place who live in absolute dependence on the Father have become his mothers and brothers, and thus ours as well. This is the life of the underground Christian. It is how taking up the Bible leads us underground, in the way we have been using the term in these three volumes; namely, not into hiding but rather into non-reliance on the systems and structures from which we have, by Christ, been made strangers.

We began this volume, in Chapter 1, with the recognition that the sacrament of baptism initiates our journey as strangers to the world. We conclude this volume with the recognition that the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper feeds us on that journey underground. There is much more to note about the Lord’s Supper than the present subject permits, but we do well to note at least this: Just as Israel ate the bread of haste in its departure from Egypt,[10] so also we are given the bread of Christ’s body to sustain us in our exodus. Good Christians disagree on how and in what way his body is given to us in the Supper. But what is clear from Scripture is that we cannot be sustained in the moment-by-moment life of salvation by grace through faith simply by means of the juridical pronouncement of God, or by the love of God, or by the forgiveness of God, or by some orientation of God toward us, or by anything God might do outside himself and outside of us. “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,” says Christ in John 6:53, “you have no life in you.”

You cannot, in other words, receive only his love or his forgiveness or his juridical pronouncement. You must receive all of him. When you receive him, he continues to act as he has always acted, only now inside of you, with you joined together with those of every age and place who have longed for this very thing, in accordance with the Scriptures.

 

[1] G. Vandervelde, 1998, “The Grammar of Grace: Karl Rahner as a Watershed in Contemporary Theology,” Theological Studies, 49(8):445-459, p. 446.

[2] John 15:4, ESV.

[3] Cf. 1 Corinthians 6:19, Ephesians 2:21-22, 1 Timothy 3:15, Hebrews 3:6.

[4] Cf. 1 Corinthians 15:28.

[5] G. Vandervelde, 1998, p. 447.

[6] Cf. Matthew 25:24-30.

[7] 1 Corinthians 11:1, NIV.

[8] Hebrews 11:13-16, NIV.

[9] Psalm 69:8, NIV.

[10] Cf. Deuteronomy 16:3.

Tags: faith, grace, great cloud of witnesses, lord's supper, salvation, saved by grace through faith, george vandervelde, karl rahner