Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Free Will in Conversion, Part IV

God does not save you because He is pleased with you. Pleasing God is good, but it is not what saves you any more than displeasing Him is what damns you.

God does not even save you because He is legally although not existentially pleased with you. He does not save you because He is pleased with the Christ He sees when He looks at you or because He is in some way pretending to be pleased with you or because He is somehow shielding His eyes from all that is displeasing in you or because He is morally obligated “for Christ’s sake” to save you. We don’t have to go through all those theological explanations, contortions, and shenanigans to come up with how we can be (regarded as) sufficiently pleasing to God for Him to save us. Why not? Because that isn’t why He saves us in the first place. God does not save you because He is pleased with you! He was already good and gracious toward you all along, whether you pleased Him or not.

God saves you purely because He wants to. He wants to purely because He loves you. He loves you purely and only because He freely chooses to love you, and everybody else, with an infinite love. Period. Hold that thought. It’s the same thing as saying salvation is not a merit system.

Once we understand that salvation is not a merit system, we shall have no trouble in asserting that yes, a pagan who has never heard of Christ can indeed please God. He can do this by desiring the good, insofar as he may understand that good, and by attempting to do that good, as well. He can even succeed to some extent in doing the good, too. I’m not the one saying this; St. Paul is, in Romans 1. Our hypothetical pagan can potentially rack up some merit!

Bear in mind that the merit no more buys him salvation than Monopoly money does. We do not even need to point out (although it is true) that the good is highly imperfect, or that he will indubitably rack up some demerits as well, or that the merit is not enough to save the man. And why do we not need to point out these things? Because even if the merit were infinite, that is not why God saves anybody! Much less do we need to resort to calling good evil by saying his righteousness is only apparent, but in reality is “filthy rags”. This only applies to someone who, having heard Christ rightly preached, has outright rejected Him. In such a person, his “good” works amount to hypocrisy; but in the person who has not rejected the true Christ, his good works are really, truly, in some degree, good! Which still does not obligate God to save him. God cannot be obligated at all, by anything whatsoever, nor needs to be, since He already, without any inducement, wishes to save both the good and the wicked.

When anybody is saved (put into intimate, eternal communion with God) it is simply and only because God wants to save him, because He loves him, because He freely chooses to love Him. God in Christ has already accomplished all things necessary for our salvation; the one remaining thing is our consent. To save us apart from our consent is a contradiction in terms, a flat impossibility. There is no “salvation“ that does not also save our will, rendering us free as Christ is free, so that we freely participate in God’s own life. Our will is an essential component of our very humanity, let alone of becoming participants in divinity. There is no such thing as a love we can offer God that was extorted from us. That’s another oxymoron.

Our ultimate destiny depends upon God’s love, which, however, is a given, and upon our giving our free consent to it at some point. God’s love alone is the cause of our salvation; our free, genuine, and active consent, enabled by Him, and with all this consent implies, is only the condition, the thing that gives His saving work the go-ahead, makes it possible.