Between Heaven and Earth

Operational Grace

We’re talking about culture, religion, technology, and how we can know God. 

Last week, Anon asked: If grace is like oxygen—everywhere, essential to life, and free—then why won’t everybody be saved? In other words, how can grace be rejected? 

In every story of grace in the Scriptures—whether it be Abraham, Moses, Jacob, Joseph, Joe, David, Daniel, even Saul on the road to Damascus—we see grace extended and, in turn, grace accepted. And with the acceptance we see a transformation.

In using the metaphor of rebirth that we talked about last week, and the involuntary nature of birth, we see that who we are does not change. That is to say: Our DNA, our composition does not change; but what we are becomes widely and utterly different as a result of rebirth. Spiritual rebirth still leaves us as a son or a daughter as we were before but now with a completely new spiritual outlook. Grace changes everything. 

In speaking to Nicodemus, Jesus illustrates the transforming power of grace by referring to a story very familiar to any Jew: 

And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,…  (John 3:14)

It is the story of the bronze serpent in the wilderness. The road from Egypt to Canaan is the metaphorical road of life. The road of life is through the wilderness, which is a dry and desolate place. It is a road, however, full of God’s grace, because (as we see in the story) God underwrites the trip in reality and figuratively from beginning to the end, beginning with the plundering of Egyptian jewelry to finance the trip. 

Manna, as we’ve noted before, is a symbol of grace as well as water from the rock, the pillar of cloud by day, the pillar of fire by night, and don’t forget about the quail that came down for the non-vegetarians. 

This is the story:

Then they set out from Mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the people became impatient because of the journey.So the people spoke against God and Moses: “Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we are disgusted with this miserable food.”

Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.So the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, because we have spoken against the Lord and against you; intercede with the Lord, that He will remove the serpents from us.” And Moses interceded for the people.Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and put it on a flag pole; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, and looks at it, will live.”So Moses made a bronze serpent and put it on the flag pole; and it came about, that if a serpent bit someone, and he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived. (Numbers 21:4-9)

The water from the rock and the manna had become detestable. They rejected the very elements that define God’s grace. But rejection of God’s grace has fiery and fatal consequences, visualized here as venomous snakes. This is the condition of mankind apart from grace. Apart from grace, we are in a pit of deadly poisonous vipers. The remedy is a return to grace. Here we see what Jesus was alluding to with Nicodemus, a bronze serpent on a pole really a bronze serpent on a cross, which is of course the symbol of grace. 

Jesus said that he himself would be lifted up as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness. And notice what was required of the bitten: Anyone who was bitten had only to look at the snake to live. This is the price of grace: Look, don’t turn away, and you will live. No statement of belief is required. There is no ritual to perform, no work to do. Just look, if only a fleeting glance. 

About 80% of our sensory input is through sight. That’s why sight is considered by most experts as the most important sense. It takes almost no effort to see. A touch or a taste takes active effort, but a glance is nothing. In fact, a shiny bright bronze serpent would naturally attract a glance. The object of grace is by nature attractive. That’s the power of grace. 

The only thing that limits grace is to turn away from it. Jesus says that the bronze serpent is himself—the true and everlasting symbol of grace. The symbol of a snake on a pole has become a universal symbol of healing. It is even today often seen in medical emblems. 

The fact that it was made with bronze I think is significant as well. This metal alloy is frequently mentioned in the Bible. It is a metal of the common man. Its special use is recorded in the making of the wilderness sanctuary and also for furniture and implements in the outer court of Solomon’s Temple, in contrast to the most holy place where the furniture was made of gold. The outer court is the court of the common man, and its bronze furniture is for the common man. 

It included the bronze altar of sacrifice, the place for the furnishing of blood; and the bronze laver—the washbasin—on the back of 12 bronze oxen. The great bronze tank sometimes referred to as the “molten sea” is used for ceremonial cleansing. Blood and water, both in the temple furniture, both of bronze, both the symbol of cleansing, both the symbol of grace:

… after they came to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. Yet one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. (John 19:33-34)

The bronze serpent becomes grace personified, life-saving grace. So highly valued was the bronze serpent made by Moses that it became over time a highly valued symbol of veneration. 800 years later, the bronze serpent was still around: 

He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, in accordance with everything that his father David had done. He removed the high places and smashed the memorial stones to pieces, and cut down the Asherah. He also crushed to pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the sons of Israel had been burning incense to it; and it was called Nehushtan. (2 Kings 18:3-4)

Hezekiah crushed the 800-year-old bronze serpent because it had become an idol. The very symbol of God’s grace itself had become an object of veneration. Instead of pointing to something, it became itself the object of worship. The symbol had become an object, Grace had become works. This is the condition of fallen man. We always seek to objectify grace. The symbol that started as an object only to be looked at, to be seen just in a glance, an eye attraction. 

Throughout history, God has offered his grace to humanity as an unmerited gift. The story of the bronze serpent in the wilderness demonstrates the ease with which God’s grace can be accepted. The act is single, the act is simple. The act of looking at the bronze serpent served as a symbol of faith and salvation. The narrative reflects on the significance of the simple act of looking. The eye would be even naturally attracted to the shiny object of bronze. 

What makes this story remarkable is the simplicity of the remedy. God did not require the people to do any work, perform no ritual, no recitation of any type. Looking was all that was needed to ensure God’s promise of salvation. It was profound yet straightforward. It was an exercise that required no great physical strength, no skill, no intellectual prowess, and no planning. 

The act of looking at the bronze serpent carries significant symbolic meaning, I believe. It highlights the importance of faith and trust in God’s provision. By looking, the Israelites displayed their reliance on God’s Word and the recognition of his power to heal and to save. 

Also it emphasized the simplicity of God’s grace. God’s offer of salvation did not necessitate complex rituals or unreachable standards, it was accessible to all regardless of social status, age, or ability. Furthermore, it served as a foreshadowing of the ultimate act of grace and redemption through Jesus Christ and His sacrifice. 

The story of the bronze serpent holds valuable lessons for contemporary believers today, I believe, as well. It reminds us that accepting God’s grace does not require us to accomplish extraordinary tasks to prove our worthiness. Whether it calls for a humble acknowledgement of our need for salvation and a willingness to fix our gaze upon Jesus who was lifted up upon the cross for our redemption, in a world often filled with complexity and striving and convolution the simplicity of accepting God’s grace through faith offers hope, comfort, and assurance. 

Does God’s grace needs to be accepted to be effective? The concept of God’s grace is often linked to salvation and the forgiveness of sins. Accepting God’s grace through faith is considered necessary for it to be effective in a person’s life. All humans are sinful and fall short of God’s perfect standards, it says in Romans 3:23. However, God, out of his mercy, offers his grace as a gift to humanity. 

This grace is God’s unmerited favor and forgiveness, freely given through the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus. To receive the full benefits of God’s grace, Christian theology emphasizes the importance of accepting grace through faith in Jesus Christ. The belief is that, through faith, individuals acknowledge their need for God’s forgiveness and salvation and place their trust in Jesus as their Lord and Savior: 

 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Accepting God’s grace is a transformative act that opens the door to a personal relationship with God, for forgiveness of sin, and for the gift of eternal life. It is a response of gratitude and surrender to God for his loving offer of salvation. Jesus told two parables that contrast grace accepted and grace rejected. First is the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15) in which a younger son asked his father for his share of the inheritance and squandered it on life’s excesses. When the son hits rock bottom and decides to return home, his father sees him from a distance and runs to embrace him and celebrate his return. The father’s actions represent God’s grace and unconditional love. The son accepts the grace by acknowledging his mistakes, repenting, and returning to his father. The elder son, however, in contrast, rejects God’s grace and at the end of the story he is is left standing outside the house of the father. 

The same contrast between accepting grace and rejecting grace is seen in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14) who go up to the temple to pray. In his prayer, the Pharisee boasts about his righteousness and looks down on others, while the tax collector humbly prays for God’s mercy, acknowledging that he is accepting the grace for his sinfulness. The Pharisee rejects God’s grace by relying on his own righteousness and not recognizing his need for forgiveness, while the tax collector accepts God’s grace by acknowledging his sin and seeking mercy.

Is grace by itself incomplete then? Is it like a pro drug that must be mixed with something in order to be effective? Must it be mixed, for example, with faith? The concept of faith is often intertwined with grace. Faith can be seen in the channels through which individuals receive and appropriate and respond to God’s grace. Faith involves trust, belief, and reliance on God and his promises. 

In the Gospel of John, Jesus often connected faith with the reception of grace. For example, Jesus would say to those healed: “Your faith has made you well.” The act of exercising faith in Jesus was seen as a response that allowed individuals to experience the fullness of God’s grace. Faith therefore can be understood as the active response to God’s grace—the trust and reliance on his character and promise, and the willingness to surrender to his will. It is the channel through which individuals appropriate and experience the transformative power of God’s grace in their lives. 

And that brings us finally, to grace and free will. If we have free will, then can we reject grace? And can our acceptance of grace be a needed component of the grace equation, like the two needed ingredients in an epoxy glue? 

The concept of free will allows for the possibility (at least, theoretically) of rejecting God’s grace. In the context of Christian theology, it is believed that individuals have the freedom to accept or reject the offer of salvation and grace extended by God. While grace is freely given and available to all, it does require a response from the individual in order to be fully experienced and realized. 

Acceptance of grace is often understood as an active choice, where individuals willingly turn to God, acknowledging their need for forgiveness and salvation. The response involves repentance, faith, and surrender to God’s will. The analogy of the two ingredients needed in an epoxy—resin and a hardener—might be helpful in illustrating the idea that acceptance is a necessary component in experiencing the full effects of grace. Just as the epoxy repair requires both components to bond and create a strong adhesive, the acceptance of grace through faith is seen as the crucial ingredient that allows individuals to be united with God and experience the transformative power of his grace. 

It is important to note that while acceptance of grace is significant, it does not imply that individuals earn or merit God’s grace through their own efforts. Grace by definition is unmerited favor. Rather, acceptance is the response of humility and the openness to receiving the gift of grace that God freely offers. So while grace itself is freely given, acceptance of grace through faith is a vital component of the process of experiencing and appropriating God’s grace in one’s life. It is the act of responsive individuals, made possible through their free will, that allows them to fully embrace and be transformed by God’s unmerited favor. 

So why is not everyone saved, apparently, like the prodigal’s elder brother and the Pharisee, who won’t accept the grace. How easy is it to accept the grace? How difficult is it to reject the grace? Why would you reject grace? Why would you look away from the from the bronze serpent?

David: It seems to me that the acceptance of graces is essentially passive. It’s a recognition—like that of the prodigal son—that what he’s doing is not working and he’s reached the end of his tether, so he goes home, not so much as an active intellectual decision but because the only thing left to him is the grace of his father. 

It’s the rejection of grace that seems to me to require an active decision. When grace is the only option, in order not to have it you have to actively reject it. You don’t have to do anything to get it. The word active seems to me to connote that you still have to do something in order to get it.

Jay:  I’ve been struggling with the same kind of thought process. “Accepting” grace seems to have a very active component, or it the act id accepting feels active. “Acknowledgement” seems more appropriate, like looking at the serpent—acknowledging its presence. This, I think, is where faith comes in. Grace is unseen but faith acknowledges its existence. Rejecting grace almost seems like it requires more action, more initiative, more mental exercise.

Anonymous: I agree. The word acceptance is active on our part, because you have to make a conscious decision to accept or not to accept. Non-resistance seems more accurate than acceptance. It’s like either you accept or you reject; or even worse—you resist. Resisting is worse than rejecting: It is even be an enemy to God and fight his word and fight his grace and try to prevent it from spreading. 

So I would say, if you don’t resist, then God’s work is being done and you are saved even though you took no active part in it. You might even be unconscious of it because you’re not resisting, and you’re not accepting, and you don’t know; but God is at work. God is bringing people to understanding. 

This is where the Holy Spirit role comes into the picture. When you don’t resist, God sends his Holy Spirit to make you aware of his grace and to bring you closer to him. And through your awareness God gives you faith, little by little. My neighbor is an example: He’s an atheist and does not believe in God and does not know anything about God’s grace, so he does not resist. He just passes on taking sides, and his life is an example of God’s grace. 

Just because people are not aware of God’s grace doesn’t mean they’re not receiving it. Because God has given us all the sun and the air and the love and the forgiveness and the food … everything. That’s God’s grace. They’re living in grace passively, without any effort on their part. They just don’t realize it as God’s gift, as God’s grace. The Holy Spirit does something in their heart, and they end up faithful. The Bible has a lot of examples that support this.

Donald: Based on my googling, the consensus on what it means to accept God’s grace seems to be: First you have to acknowledge God; second, you have to recognize your own limitations; third, you have to repent or confess; and finally, you have to surrender and trust. And then you grow in grace. 

So why is it so difficult for people to accept God’s grace? First: Pride and self-sufficiency—that’s what we basically work toward our whole lives; second, guilt and pain—no one really wants to feel guilty or live a life of shame; third, vulnerability and the lack of trust. 

So I think all that fits together but it’s a lot more active than our conversation up to this point would suggest.

Reinhard: God gave us the discernment to know when we do something against his will, but in the desert when the Israelites started dying from snake bites, God imposed only a minimal requirement (a glance at the bronze serpent) to save them. Nevertheless, it was still a requirement to respond. 

Even with faith in God’s grace, I believe we still have to have that active mindset, we have to do something otherwise grace just passes us by even though we didn’t reject it; but we didn’t accept it, either. It’s the same with the Good News: It just passes some people by. They hear it but don’t do anything about it. Some people may not even hear it. God has his own way of accounting for them; that’s his prerogative.

I think we need to have faith and be active participants in the transaction with God in order to get grace.

David: I just had this conversation with GPT-4:

DE: What does it mean to accept God’s grace? What is involved?

GPT-4: Accepting God’s grace refers to a spiritual or religious concept predominantly found in Christian theology, although similar concepts may exist in other religious traditions. Here’s what it typically means within the Christian context:

  1. Understanding Grace: Grace, in Christian theology, is the free and unmerited favor of God. It is a gift from God that cannot be earned through human actions or merit. It includes God’s love, forgiveness, mercy, and help. Understanding this concept is the first step in accepting God’s grace.
  1. Acknowledgment of Sin and Need for Grace: The next step is acknowledging one’s own sinfulness and the need for God’s grace. This involves recognizing the imperfections and mistakes one has made, and understanding that they can’t attain salvation on their own.
  1. Faith in Jesus Christ: Accepting God’s grace in Christianity is tightly linked to faith in Jesus Christ, who is seen as the mediator of this grace. Christians believe that through his death and resurrection, Jesus made God’s grace accessible to humanity. So accepting God’s grace often means accepting Jesus as one’s savior.
  1. Repentance: This is a change of heart and mind, a turning away from sin and a turning toward God. It involves sincere regret or remorse for past misdeeds and a commitment to live according to God’s will.
  1. Living by Grace: Accepting God’s grace also means trying to live one’s life in accordance with that grace. This may involve showing love, forgiveness, and mercy to others, just as one believes God has done for them. It also means trusting in God’s grace in times of trouble or difficulty.
  1. Grace in Sanctification: In Christian thought, grace doesn’t just play a role in salvation, it also plays a role in sanctification – the process of becoming more like Christ. Accepting God’s grace means relying on God to help one grow spiritually and morally.
  1. Receiving the Sacraments: In some Christian traditions, particularly Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, grace is also imparted through the sacraments such as baptism, the Eucharist (Communion), and confession. Participating in these rites is another way of accepting God’s grace.

It’s important to note that the specifics of how grace is understood and what it means to accept it can vary widely among different Christian denominations, and these points may not align with all Christian beliefs or other religious viewpoints.

It’s always best to explore these questions within the context of a specific religious tradition, as teachings can vary. Also, such deep spiritual matters are often best explored in conversation with spiritual mentors, religious leaders, or through personal study and prayer.

DE: Can you answer that question from a non-faith-based perspective?

GPT-4: From a non-faith-based perspective, accepting “God’s grace” can be seen as accepting life with all its complexities and imperfections, with gratitude and acceptance. Here’s a secular interpretation of the concept:

  1. Acknowledgement of Imperfections: No one is perfect and everyone makes mistakes. Accepting this reality is akin to understanding that we are all flawed in some way.
  1. Self-Acceptance: “God’s grace”, in this context, can mean accepting oneself fully, with all flaws and imperfections. It’s about understanding that one’s worth is not dependent on achievements, possessions, or societal standards.
  1. Compassion: Just as grace implies unmerited favor, one could apply this to their dealings with others by being understanding and compassionate, even when it’s not “deserved”. This includes forgiveness and empathy towards others.
  1. Gratitude: Being grateful for what one has and for life’s experiences can also be a form of accepting grace. It’s about appreciating life’s blessings, big and small.
  1. Living Authentically: Accepting “God’s grace” can also mean striving to live one’s life authentically, according to one’s values and beliefs, without letting external pressures dictate one’s path.
  1. Resilience: This concept can also be associated with resilience, or the ability to recover from setbacks and difficulties. It’s about having the strength and courage to continue moving forward, despite life’s challenges.
  1. Embracing Uncertainty: Life is unpredictable and often beyond our control. Accepting “God’s grace” can mean accepting this uncertainty, not trying to control everything, and being at peace with whatever comes our way.

This interpretation tries to draw upon the core values associated with the religious concept of God’s grace, such as compassion, forgiveness, acceptance, and gratitude, while framing them in a non-religious context. Of course, interpretation can vary widely based on personal beliefs and experiences.

DE: Can you repeat that but include relevant citations from the world’s various scriptures?

GPT-4: Interpreting the concept of “God’s grace” in a non-religious context while including scriptural citations is a unique challenge since scriptures are inherently religious. However, I can certainly provide references from various world scriptures that might relate to the secular principles I mentioned previously.

  1. Acknowledgement of Imperfections:
    From the Bible: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23).
  1. Self-Acceptance:
    From the Bhagavad Gita: “A person is said to have achieved yoga, the union with the Self, when the perfectly disciplined mind gets freedom from all desires, and becomes absorbed in the Self alone,” (Bhagavad Gita 6:18). This suggests a state of complete self-acceptance.
  1. Compassion:
    From the Buddhist Dhammapada: “Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal,” (Dhammapada 1.5).
  1. Gratitude:
    From the Qur’an: “And remember! your Lord caused to be declared (publicly): ‘If ye are grateful, I will add more (favors) unto you…’” (Qur’an 14:7).
  1. Living Authentically:
    From the Tao Te Ching: “When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everybody will respect you,” (Tao Te Ching, Chapter 8).
  1. Resilience:
    From the Bible: “But we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope,” (Romans 5:3-4).
  1. Embracing Uncertainty:
    From the Tao Te Ching: “Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you,” (Tao Te Ching, Chapter 44).

Please note that these references are interpreted here in a way that aligns with the secular principles and that the context in the original scriptures might have different implications. Moreover, interpretations can vary widely among different readers and traditions. It’s always best to explore these matters within the context of specific religious traditions and in conversation with knowledgeable mentors or scholars.

I find the AI’s responses really interesting. The list of factors that comprise what it means to accept grace seems pretty significantly different between the purely Christian perspective and a global faith-based perspective.

Carolyn: What does it mean: “There is no condemnation for those who belong to the Lord”? Does it mean that they have accepted grace? And what does “no condemnation” mean? I know Jesus paid it all, but in the context of grace on the one hand and on the other the 10 Commandments and all the other little rules that apply when you become part of a religious organization, what does it mean that we have no condemnation?

C-J: I’m guessing, but I’m thinking that the culture that this is coming from is Jewish and so sacrifice was core to that expression of religion and faith—mostly religion. I think what God is saying, going back to what we’ve heard multiple ways today, is “Don’t look at the past. Don’t feel shame or guilt, be authentic moving forward. Be persistent in that and it will transform you. Live according to what has been revealed to you. What was is no more.” 

If you walk with your scars, you’ll never be free. Being authentic in Christ liberates us and transforms us.

Michael: I think it’s quite fascinating in our discussion that some of us are suggesting that accepting grace is so simple, because it goes against the grain psychologically. We feel that if we work for something, then we’ve achieved something (grace) that has value. Somehow it fits with our psychology much easier than saying, “Oh, I don’t have to do anything.” It is such a fascinating concept because it is a foreign concept to humans.

David: You’re absolutely right. But that’s Jesus all over, isn’t it? “Turn the other cheek” is something we’re incapable of doing. Accepting that grace is dead simple is also something we’re psychologically predisposed to reject. But the right answer is to turn the other cheek, just as the right answer is to accept that grace is there for the taking. They are the right answers. But they’re hard for us to swallow.

Michael: My point is that it’s so paradoxical even if it’s so simple to accept, because we’re wired against it—it goes against our culture.

C-J: Isn’t that the great lie Satan tells humanity?—“You’ll never do this! It’s impossible! Just go play! If you think you’re gonna be forgiven for that? Good luck. Look at what it produced. Look at how much harm it did. No, no, no, that’s a lie. You’ll never be accepted into heaven.” 

It’s a very powerful statement, because as Michael said, it goes against everything that we as humans process—good, bad, deserving, not working for it, and so on. I think that’s the great lie. The beauty of this relationship with God or this recognition of this grace is that I can’t do anything. It is truly a gift that I cannot earn. And I have to trust it. But the lie is powerful.

Don: Donald was making a case for much more active involvement.

C-J: I think there is accountability. We can’t grow without doing the work. But it isn’t the work that saves us. It is a witness and a testimony of this relationship. When you love somebody, nobody questions that. They say “He or she loves that person and it’s evident. You can just see it as a witness. They sacrificed everything for that person.” And that’s how it is with God, but God is not tangible in terms of a husband, a wife, a child, an idea, a country.

Sharon: I’m thinking of grace as an addictive behavior. For me, grace is like an ice cream sundae: The more I eat it, the more I want to eat it. Every day when the Lord and I come together and he gives me this abundant life that comes from accepting grace, I want more of that. My addictive behavior, my bias, just has me wanting more of that.

C-J: Addiction is based on chemistry in the brain. They’re seeking the high for that moment. But the relationship of God and grace is perpetual. You can’t go out and get it. Part of addiction is the ritual of preparation to get your high. And once you get your high, it’s fleeting. But with God, it’s enduring. 

It’s not about the high or the valley. It’s not about the richness of “God blessed me greatly.” It’s that relationship, like between a husband and a wife. You look up and they’re present. They touch you on a shoulder. When you’re not near them, you wish you could share what was happening with them. It’s not an overwhelming presence. It is an abiding relationship.

Anonymous: I agree. There’s a verse that says where sin abounds, grace abounds even more. That’s why God’s grace endures and that’s my reason for thinking that everybody will be saved—because God’s grace endures. He keeps working, even when sin abounds. 

Another verse that comes to mind also generates a question. It says, “By grace, you are saved through faith, and that’s not from you…” (meaning the grace or the faith)…

Don: …or both…

Anonymous: … or both. Since faith is not from us, it’s a gift of God. And grace is not from us, that means we’re very passive. We cannot do anything, so we have no reason to worry about those faceless people, because God is working on building their faith. Good examples on that are the two thieves, one on the right and one on the left of Jesus on the cross. It made me think this morning that God keeps working to the last minute in everybody’s life. We might see a faithless, unbelieving person living in sin all his or her life. But we don’t know the last minute of their lives, what takes place between them and God. They may come to realization of his grace and in that one minute of faith, they’ll be saved. 

So what I’m saying here is that to go all the way with grace means I need not worry about people I care for not being saved. Many verses in the Bible stress that you have to have faith, you have to accept, you have to be obedient, you have to…

Don: …be baptized…

Anonymous: Exactly! These are not just human thoughts or opinions—the Bible itself stresses some of these requirements for salvation. So we have to reconcile these two points, these two views. They can’t be both—or can they? I would have a hard time accepting both.

C-J: I think the problem is that when we look at the 10 Commandments, and what is in each of those envelopes—“Thou shall not lie,…” that we come to an understanding that it’s not a rule, it’s an understanding of the harm that lack of truth creates the soil that we’re planting a seed in, when we lie, whether it’s a white lie to preserve somebody to save them pain, or just a bold-faced self-indulgent lie. 

The reason it’s just, “Thou shalt not lie” is because we don’t understand that what happens is a breakdown of trust. You know the saying that trust is hard won, easily lost. And I think that’s what our relationship with God is, because of the things that Michael said. It doesn’t make sense to us that God would still love me when he knows that I continually either in my heart or actively participate in things I know I shouldn’t. 

But God is always enlarging our borders and saying, “Don’t just look at the face, watch the walk, watch the eye, and learn of me, learn of me.” I believe God is indwelling every creature, even the bird in flight. So when we look at those 10 things that we consider all-encompassing, really what God is asking us to do is be still and know. And then like Michael is saying, we can’t do it in ourselves. We are supposed to keep our eyes on God, not just glance at him.

Donald: Active versus passive seems to be our focus this morning. A boat on a windy sea is becalmed if the sails are not raised.You wouldn’t even know it was windy, absent some active response from the boat, which will move independent of whether you want it to or not. But it does require at least the acknowledgement of the wind. I think

David: The boat is passive. It is just sitting there. If the sails are up, the wind moves the boat, which has no choice but to respond to the wind by moving, so that it’s “active” only in that passive sense.

Donald: The boat won’t move unless the sail goes up. The mast isn’t enough resistance to the wind, it can act independently of the wind. But let’s not push this too hard!

Anonymous: Jesus continued speaking, I think in his discourse with Nicodemus, to the effect that it’s like the wind—we don’t see it, but we feel it, we see the results of it. And this is how God works in us. The Holy Spirit works in us and we are very oblivious to it. We don’t see it. We don’t know what’s going on in the back. But we see the results in the change of heart. It is a passive outcome but when we see the change, it’s as if something convinces us that there must be a reason behind it. It must be God’s grace, it must be the work of the Holy Spirit in the individual, to help them recognize God’s working in him or her. And this is how faith is given to this individual. 

So faith and grace are not our work. The bad thief beside Jesus probably thought he was not salvageable, so he resisted and started talking badly about Jesus: “If you think yourself the Son of God, why don’t you do something? Why don’t you save us and save yourself?” If only he had not resisted, the Holy Spirit that worked on the other thief would have worked on him as well.

Kiran: It took a while for me to really accept the message of the serpent—that all I have to do is simply look and not do anything else—not focus on myself, not focus on others, or on anything else; just simply look at God. It took a while to learn. My problem was disciplining myself not to conflate my salvation with my acts but instead simply trust in the Lord to do everything in his own time. 

It brought a lot of peace and comfort to me. 

Reinhard: The Holy Spirit serves to remind us and correct us, but we have to respond to it. If we make a mistake, we have to repent. We have to show our contrition. We have to learn to live as God wants us to live. We have to receive the grace of God, to internalize it. We have to make corrections in ourselves to really get close to God. 

In the Old Testament we see God always reminding people, whether it’s Israelites or whoever, to come to him, to repent. Believers already know what God wants from them. They don’t have to be reminded, once they are in Christ. With faith and grace we can move forward as long as our relationship with God remains intact, we can move forward without worrying about the repercussions, or about the judgment that we will have to face some day.

Don: There is much to think about: To resist or to surrender? To accept or to reject? Active or passive? There are a lot of ideas about how to operationalize grace. Interesting. Well think more about it.

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