Monday, April 25, 2005

Living by faith

I'm wrestling with two lectionary texts for May 29. Yes, it's a while away but I was doing some planning ahead today.

The first is Matthew 7:21-29, where Jesus says, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom, but the one who does my Father's will will enter in." (Slightly paraphrased) This does not sound like a 'pray this prayer and you're in' type of situation.

The second text is Romans 1:16-17, in which Paul quotes Habakkuk: 'The righteous will live by faith.' Now what's that mean? Where's the emphasis? Is it on 'will live,' and does that mean 'will not die' or 'will structure one's life'? Or is the emphasis on 'by faith,' and does that mean 'assent,' 'trust,' or 'faithfulness?' And if the proper rendering ends up being, 'shall not die because of one's assertion,' how does that square with Jesus' words in Matthew 7? Or does it?

This is partially why I continue to think that the categories of faith and works aren't as stark as some would have us think. Attempts to speak of the importance of acting in the world are often met with accusations of advocating 'works-righteousness.' 'Faith without works is dead,' we hear James say. There is a connection between the two that I can best describe as God transforming us from selfish to selfless, through grace realized through faith to do those works to which God calls us. This is really a muddled answer to my earlier questions though.

Greg is currently talking about similar issues. He describes Biblical renderings of salvation as 'contextual,' that is, we cannot ascribe overarching themes to texts where such themes might not properly fit. As I mentioned, Paul quotes his line roughly from Habakkuk 2:4, where the prophet talks about the righteous living properly; are faithful to God's decrees as opposed to the 'proud...[whose] spirit is not right within them.' This rendering still does not square with 'assert and do not die.'