Salvation from Without not Within: Grace Filled Salvation
September 12, 2013
If for no other reason than an essay I just edited (which I haven’t read or edited them all yet), you are going to want to read the next installation of the Thomas F. Torrance Theological Fellowship’s theological journal, Participatio (of which I am serving as its copy editor, by God’s grace). I am really not going to say hardly anything about the essay; i.e. who the author is, what the primary material thrust is, at least by way of its characters and nuance. But let me, in general, just press the theme that this particularly sweet essay presses; and that is, that salvation is best understood as extra nos, something without us, and not coming from somewhere within us (like a latent quality waiting to be activated, like created or infused grace conjures).
The theme I am referring to above is one that John Calvin presses in hard upon, and in this particular essay, a Patristic recommended by Thomas F. Torrance is someone who also (and ecumenically) presses upon this theme; the theme beyond the formal idea of salvation coming from without us (instead of from within us), in Calvinian terms, has to do with ‘double-grace’ and ‘union with Christ’ theology—two themes, by the way that are central to what Myk Habets and myself have identified as centrums (central focuses) of the Evangelical Calvinist mood. In a nutshell, Jesus Christ is understood as personally, in His life for us, embodying both justification and sanctification. And so justification cannot be relegated to a forensic scheme and contract schema, and likewise, sanctification cannot be abstracted into the realm where each believing person cooperates with God in realizing (or even persevering in) their salvation. Instead, if union with Christ coupled with double grace theology is properly appreciated; what we end up with is a participationist and inclusivist understanding of salvation. That the source—and continually so by the indwelling Holy Spirit as the One who links our humanity from and with Christ’s—is the unified work and person of Jesus Christ for us.
We don’t then look anywhere else to think of our salvation; we don’t try to muster up enough faith each day to persevere, cooperate, and sanctificate in the salvation that Jesus paid for (so the forensic story goes) in the transaction of Justification (this is the usual Protestant understanding of salvation). Instead we rest and move from Jesus’ movement for us and with us and in us by the Holy Spirit. Thomas Torrance sums up how this kind of gracious understanding of salvation fleshes out:
To sum up: Grace in the New Testament is the basic and the most characteristic element of the Christian Gospel. It is the breaking into the world of the ineffable love of God in a deed of absolutely decisive significance which cuts across the whole of human life and sets it on a new basis. That is actualized in the person of Jesus Christ, with which grace is inseparably associated, and supremely exhibited on the Cross by which the believer is once and for all put in the right with God. This intervention of God in the world and its sin, out of sheer love, and His personal presence to men through Jesus Christ are held together in the one thought of grace. As such grace is the all-comprehensive and constant presupposition of faith, which, while giving rise to an intensely personal life in the Spirit, necessarily assumes a charismatic and eschatological character. Under the gracious impingement of Christ through the Spirit there is a glad spontaneity about the New Testament believer. He is not really concerned to ask questions about ethical practice. He acts before questions can be asked. He is caught up in the overwhelming love of Christ, and is concerned only about doing His will. There is no anxious concern about the past. It is Christ that died! There is no anxious striving toward an ideal. It is Christ that rose again! In Him all the Christian’s hopes are centred. His life is hid with Christ in God. In Him a new order of things has come into being, by which the old is set aside. Everything therefore is seen in Christ, in the light of the end, toward which the whole creation groaneth and travaileth waiting for redemption. The great act of salvation has already taken place in Christ, and has become an eternal indicative. The other side of faith is grace, the immediate act of God in Christ, and because He is the persistent Subject of all Christian life and thought, faith stands necessarily on the threshold of the new world, with the intense consciousness of the advent of Christ. The charismatic and the eschatological aspects of faith are really one. In Christ the Eternal God has entered into this present evil world which shall in due course pass away before the full unveiling of the glory of God. That is the reason for the double consciousness of faith in the New Testament. By the Cross the believer has been put in the right with God once for all—Christ is his righteousness. He is already in Christ what he will be—to that no striving will add one iota. But faith is conscious of the essential imminence of that day, because of the intense nearness of Christ, when it shall know even as it is known, when it shall be what it already is. And so what fills the forward view is not some ideal yet to be attained, but the Christian’s position already attained in Christ and about to be revealed. The pressure of this imminence may be so great upon the mind as to turn the thin veil of sense and time into apocalyptic imagery behind which faith sees the consummation of all things. Throughout all this the predominating thought is grace, the presence of the amazing love of God in Christ, which has unaccountably overtaken the believer and set him in a completely new world which is also the eternal Kingdom of God. [Thomas F. Torrance, The Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers, 34-5.]
John Calvin, likewise, provides much fruitful understanding in this regard. The basic idea is that salvation is not something that you and I have done anything to achieve—not even in our sanctification. Jesus did it all, and is all; and as such, we ought to walk from His life in ours by the Spirit; we ought to live out of the good works that we were created for in and through Christ’s sustaining good works for us. Not so we can ‘prove’ that we are in participation with Christ (as Torrance highlights), but because we are; we look to Christ as the proof, not ourselves. And thus, we rest as we work in and through Him, out of hearts of gratitude, the gratitude that only comes from Christ’s heart for us first.
10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. ~Ephesians 2:10