Ephesians, Faith & Grace


 

Today the 2 yr cycle of Reading the Bible I am using focussed my thoughts onm Ephesians Ch. 2. The result is the reflection below:

Ephesians (KJV)

[8] For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: [9] Not of works, lest any man should boast. [10] For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

From St. John Chrysostom’s Homily:

Ver. 10. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them. Observe the words he uses. He here alludes to the regeneration, which is in reality a second creation. We have been brought from non-existence into being. As to what we were before, that is, the old man, we are dead. What we are now become, before, we were not. Truly then is this work a creation, yea, and more noble than the first; for from that one, we have our being; but from this last, we have, over and above, our well being.

St. Chrysostom tell us to take notice of the words St. Paul is using. Likewise I wish to pay attention the words St. Chrysostom is using! For he is here speaking of regeneration, and second creation, which is the territory that got Origen, Evagrius, and Didymus the Blind smeared with the suspicion of heresy. St. Chrysostom is however unchallenged in his orthodoxy and will be of great help in setting the record straight. We are saved by grace through faith says St. Paul. The Protestant Reformers would like to add to this the word alone which is of course not to be found here. It is found elsewhere in the Bible to deny that we are saved by faith alone (Jas. 2, 24). We are not to set aside the importance of faith though:

Faith is the beginning, foundation, and root of justification, and the first of all other virtues, without which it is impossible to please God. Haydock Comm. on Eph. 2, vs. 8.

St. Chrysostom is equally adamant that faith is of fundamental importance here and that it excludes human work (though not free will). Some place works is reserved but not in the sens that they save us, in fact, says St. Chrysostom, not even faith belongs exclusively to our own efforts:

Neither is faith, he means, of ourselves. Because had He not come, had He not called us, how had we been able to believe? For how, says he, shall they believe, unless they hear?  So that the work of faith itself is not our own. It is the gift, said he, of God, it is not of works. Was faith then, you will say, enough to save us? No; but God, says he, has required this, lest He should save us, barren and without work at all. His expression is, that faith saves, but it is because God so wills, that faith saves. Since, how, tell me, does faith save, without works? This itself is the gift of God. Homily 4, on Ephesians.

Faith is an effort of our free-will and in that sense ours yet without hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ faith is useless. It does not save, it cannot save. Faith must be our response to the offer presented us in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but without God’s movement toward us. Without having heard the Gospel – and thereby having been exposed to God’s calling us to His salvation – we would be unable to have faith. The hearing of the Gospel is not the mere registering of a message, in hearing the Gospel preached we are enabled to have the kind of faith which saves. The message is not mere presenting of information it is itself a power working on us, enabling us. This is a gift of God not of works. It is not that God rejects our works and efforts, but that we can never earn salvation and that we are therefore dependent upon His grace. Salvation is not earned by works, not even the faith by which are saved is a work we perform to achieve salvation. Faith does not save as if it is a hand wrestling salvation out of God’s hand, but faith saves because God graciously wills to save. Salvation is God’s gift. So were the Protestant Reformers right after all? No. They were terribly wrong. St. Chrysostom continues his exegesis of Ephesians 2, 10:

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. Observe the words he [St. Paul] uses. He here alludes to the regeneration, which is in reality a second creation. We have been brought from non-existence into being. As to what we were before, that is, the old man, we are dead. What we are now become, before, we were not. Truly then is this work a creation, yea, and more noble than the first; for from that one, we have our being; but from this last, we have, over and above, our well being.

The saved are created twice. This asertion ahs (in)famously been misinterpreted as implying a bodiless pre-existence from which dis-incarnate spirits fell (by sin) into bodies and became human beings. The dis-incarnate state has been misunderstood as the first creation here. What St. Chrysostom (and Origen, Evagrius and Didymus) were in fact talking about is in this first and second creation language is our coming into existence from non-existence (first creation) and our regeneration in Jesus Christ by the Sacrament of Baptism (second creation). For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus is another way of saying we are his creation, created in Christ Jesus. This creation in Christ Jesus is Baptism pure and simple. This second creation was necessary because the first creation had been corrupted by sin. We are not, however, created in Christ Jesus without purpose. St. Paul adds that we are created in Him unto good works.

… which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

Not merely that we should begin, but that we should walk in them, for we need a virtue which shall last throughout, and be extended on to our dying day. If we had to travel a road leading to a royal city, and then when we had passed over the greater part of it, were to flag and sit down near the very close, it were of no use to us. This is the hope of our calling; for for good workshe says. Otherwise it would profit us nothing.

In other words we are re-created in Baptism to perform good works. For that is the purpose of our re-creation. In other words it all begins with faith which is itself a gift from God, and it continues in good works for the purpose of which we are (re) created in Jesus Christ. Faith and works are both God’s gift to us. Not that God forces us to have either, but in that He creates the possibility for us to have faith and in Baptism He gives us a regeneration of our nature enabling us to perform good works. Thus both are God’s given grace as well as our freely chosen path.

Thus here he rejoices not that we should work one work, but all; for, as we have five senses, and ought to make use of all in their proper season, so ought we also the several virtues. Now were a man to be temperate and yet unmerciful, or were he to be merciful and yet grasping, or were he to abstain indeed from other people’s goods, and yet not bestow his own, it would be all in vain. For a single virtue alone is not enough to present us with boldness before the judgment-seat of Christ; no, we require it to be great, and various, and universal, and entire.

It seems that the polemical opposition of salvation by faith alone or by works alone is a false dichotomy and a misunderstanding of God’s grace. At least as far as St. Chrysostom’s interpretation of St. Paul is concerned. That may not carry much weight with Protestants, but for us Anglicans St. Chrysostom’s thought – consistently held by him and a multitude of other catholic and orthodox Fathers – ought have more authority that the adherents/inventors of the New Learning and its latest understanding of St. Paul.

Gregory +

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About Father Gregory

I am an Anglican Catholic Priest, currently residing in Orvelte, the Netherlands.
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