The Obligations of Grace: Part 2, Faith and Works

John Barclay argues in Paul and the Gift that Paul perfected the incongruity of grace (grace is given to the unworthy), but that Paul did not perfect the non-circularity of grace. Grace, according to Paul (according to Barclay), creates bonds of obligation and reciprocity.

Barclay (p. 446): “[T]he grace of God in Christ is 'unconditioned' (without prior considerations of worth) but not non-circular or 'unconditional,' if that means without expectation of return.”

True, God's election, as an act of grace, was 100% God's work and initiative. And it was unconditioned, ignoring human categories of worth. But having become recipients of that grace there are some definite strings attached.

This language of obligation is everywhere in Paul. Some examples from Romans:
Romans 6.1-2. 12-13
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.

Romans 8.1, 12-13
There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

Romans 12.1-2
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind
Such are the obligations of grace: Do not let sin reign in your mortal body, do not offer yourself as an instrument of wickedness, put to death the misdeeds of the body, live according to the Spirit, do not conform to the pattern of the world, be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

It all seems fairly obvious, the obligations of grace. None of this makes us deserve or merit God's gift. But covenantal fidelity to God, as our ongoing response to God's grace, demands lifelong work and effort.

So salvation demands both faith and works. Faith in God's gift, and the ongoing work of being in a covenantal relationship with God.

So, is this the solution to the tired old debate about faith versus works?

I think so. As Barclay points out, the friction between faith and works didn't come from Paul, it came from theological debates between people like Augustine and Pelagius, Luther and Erasmus, Calvin and Arminius. The fires of these debates focused upon, distilled and intensified teaching regarding the non-circularity of grace in ways which distorted Paul's message of grace. As children of these debates, we've inherited the distortions, along with the debate, pitting faith and works against each other in ways that don't jibe with Paul's covenantal imagination.

For Paul, it was never Faith versus Works. It's Faith and Works.

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