Thursday, January 11, 2007

Saved by Grace...Not By Works

This clip is getting a lot of hits on YouTube and Technorati. It's obviously been brought out to highlight positions taken by Mr. Romney in his 1994 senatorial race against Ted Kennedy, positions that appear to be at variance with some of the things he's saying now as he attempts to garner support from the Religious Right for his presidential run.

In fairness to Mr. Romney, those of us who never change our minds or our opinions are either dead or not paying attention. So, it would be harsh and unfair to accuse him of flip-flopping as some have. He will, no doubt, be attempting to explain these seeming variances in the weeks and months to come.

But, as a Christian, one thing which Mr. Romney said in this debate especially struck me. It came where he asserted that our lives will be judged on what we do for others. That simply isn't true!

A superficial reading of Jesus' portrait of the great judgment scene in Matthew 25:31-46 might yield such an interpretation. That is, until one considers the reactions of the "sheep" extolled for feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, and visiting the imprisoned. They're completely mystified! "When did we do any of that stuff?" they ask the Son of Man at every turn.

The point: These are the forgiven sinners saved by the grace--that is, the charity--of God and judged fit for heaven because they repented and believed in Jesus Christ. Period!

Once they repented and believed, the "good infection" of God's presence filled them and empowered them to do things for others. They were small, often unheralded things, service rendered not to gain Brownie Points in some heavenly scoring system, but simple responses to God's grace.

Mr. Romney's Mormon faith is, in many ways, a peculiarly American belief system and its trumpeting of the individual's capacity to earn his or her keep in the universe is especially appealing to us in this country where we believe in the myth of the self-made person.

In spite of the best efforts of Christian preachers and teachers in the United States, many, if not most, Christians believe, contrary to the teaching of Jesus and the Scriptures, that one can earn one's salvation. Polls indicate that even self-described Christians believe the heretcial notion that we can compile a sufficient number of good works to earn a place in eternity.

Such notions appeal to our egos. We'd rather depend on our own resourcefulness than surrender control of our lives to the gracious God Who commands us to "Repent and believe in the Good News" (Mark 1:15). We'd rather ignore Paul's ego-smashing observation: "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of Godnot the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life." (Ephesians 2:8-10) (And speaking of boasting, that appears to be what moderator Ken Bode nailed Mr. Romney for in this clip.)

So, what Romney says and believes on this matter, though objectionable from a Christian perspective, is nonetheless likely to resonate with many Americans, whatever their religious affiliations. The statement he made in this clip which I find most disturbing is likely to be what makes him most acceptable to the electorate come next year as he seeks the Republican presidential nomination.

I have said before that as a Christian, I am willing to vote for a Mormon for any public office. There should be no religious test for holding public office in the United States of America.

But if a presidential candidate theologizes from the stump or holds up a particular religious teaching as one informing the conduct of his life in the community, my ears perk up.

Such statements can be important clues about the worldview of the politician in question. To that extent, I think, that Romney's statement here is very American. But I also think it's very un-Christian and a bit prideful, if not for himself, then for a human race that needs desperately to depend on God and not its own understanding...on God and not its own good works.

[This is being cross-posted at]


Elaine- said...

i have been researching grace the last few days and i was pleased to find your site.. i will bookmark it and be back for sure!

Mark Daniels said...

Thanks for dropping by!


Charlie said...

Well said, Mark. I like your phrase "good infection". You're right that the good works we have been prepared for in Ephesians 2:10 spring from God's love within us, not a fear of judgment. It's a fine distinction about motives and world view that isn't obvious in looking at the actors or the actions themselves.

As I listened to the video and the mind-numbing political double-talk, I nearly missed the phrase you're talking about. Sometimes it seems that politics is the art of giving mushy answers to direct questions. Good catch!

Mark Daniels said...

Thanks, Charlie.

Thank God for grace!

Oh, I'm pretty sure I stole "good infection" from C.S. Lewis. If I didn't put that phrase in quotation marks, I meant to do so.


Unknown said...

About 3 years ago I dropped into a black hole – four months of absolute terror. I wanted to end my life, but somehow [Holy Spirit], I reached out to a friend who took me to hospital. I had three visits [hospital] in four months – I actually thought I was in hell. I imagine I was going through some sort of metamorphosis [mental, physical & spiritual]. I had been seeing a therapist [1994] on a regular basis, up until this point in time. I actually thought I would be locked away – but the hospital staff was very supportive [I had no control over my process]. I was released from hospital 16th September 1994, but my fear, pain & shame had only subsided a little. I remember this particular morning waking up [home] & my process would start up again [fear, pain, & shame]. No one could help me, not even my therapist [I was terrified]. I asked Jesus Christ to have mercy on me & forgive me my sins. Slowly, all my fear has dissipated & I believe Jesus delivered me from my “psychological prison.” I am a practicing Catholic & the Holy Spirit is my friend & strength; every day since then has been a joy & blessing. I deserve to go to hell for the life I have led, but Jesus through His sacrifice on the cross, delivered me from my inequities. John 3: 8, John 15: 26, are verses I can relate to, organically. He’s a real person who is with me all the time. I have so much joy & peace in my life, today, after a childhood spent in orphanages [England & Australia]. God LOVES me so much. Fear, pain, & shame, are no longer my constant companions. I just wanted to share my experience with you [Luke 8: 16 – 17].

Peace Be With You