Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Grateful For Grace

The other day I read an article titled "How to become a Christian" by Billy Graham. I was actually quite impressed. I thought it was good and I couldn't find a single thing I disagreed with. (This must mean I'm a Christian after all, despite the fact that some probably think Billy Graham should have inserted a disclaimer: "unless you're a Mormon, in which case this won't work for you").

I especially liked how he described Christ's free gift of salvation. Naturally, we don't pay anything when we receive a gift. The giver of the gift pays for it and we receive it joyfully, ever grateful for the giver of the gift. Graham writes:
"The word grace means 'undeserved favor'. It means God is offering you something you could never provide for yourself: forgiveness of sins and eternal life, God's gift to you is free. You do not have to work for a gift. All you have to do is joyfully receive it."
He then goes on to talk about how to demonstrate commitment back to Christ as a response to the free gift of grace. (We Latter-day Saints would also have more to say about how to appropriately respond to Christ's grace, namely, through covenant). But in short, I think it was simply an excellent article.

The next morning I was reading to my daughter. The book she chose was "You Are Priceless", a simplified version of the Parable of the Bicycle that Stephen Robinson teaches in his book "Believing Christ". The father in the story sees a broken-hearted daughter who realizes that her 61 cents isn't enough to purchase the bike she desires more than anything else. So he tells her to give him all that she has (in this case 61 cents), a hug and a kiss, and he'd buy the bike for her.

A empathetic light bulb went off in my head. I began to see why some Christians could have a problem with that analogy. They might mistakenly think that Mormons believe we help pay for or contribute to our salvation. I also realized that some Mormons do have the impression that we must somehow pay for part of the free gift of salvation--that our works somehow contribute to our salvation. But these folks misunderstand what the Parable of the Bicycle (not to mention our own Scriptures), actually teaches.

Those 61 cents should not be understood as a partial "payment", because salvation is a free gift. It should be understood as a representation of "giving our all"--our commitment--to the Savior (who does 100% of the saving). We give our hearts back to the Lord in gratitude.

For those who think I'm twisting what Stephen E. Robinson was teaching, he himself made a clarification in "How Wide the Divide?" when pressed on this issue by Craig Blomberg. He responds:
"In my parable of the bicycle, "sixty-one cents" is symbolic of our inability to earn our own salvation and also of the commitment in principle required of the saved. The believer who has only forty-one cents, or twenty-one, or eleven--or none--is still justified if he or she holds nothing back. It is not the quantity, but the commitment that matters. Without a commitment that translates into behavior, we are not saved. With such a commitment, be it ever so small at first, we are." (pp. 222-223)


Jared said...

Great post. I think the only quibble, and it's a very small one (and I even hate to quibble because I don't want to come across as pedantic or dogmatic), we as Latter-day Saints might have with Billy Graham's statement that we do not have to work for the gift of eternal life.

As Mormons our definition of eternal life is a bit different from our definition of salvation, although the two are highly related (salvation is essentially a superordinate category with eternal life a subset of that category; all eternal life is salvation but not all salvation is eternal life). For most other Christians, they are not different.

While we do not earn the gifts we receive from the Lord, we do need to place ourselves in a position to receive the gifts. Firstly, we all chose to come here to earth and support the Plan of Salvation. Coming to earth is a wonderful blessing we did not earn, per se, but by our choices to come here, we were placed in the condition where we could progress further along the road to salvation.

We do not earn forgiveness but we do place ourselves in a position by our repentance where we can receive forgiveness. It's the same with eternal life. We do not earn resurrection but we did make the decision to come to earth, which decision placed ourselves in a position where we could receive the blessing of resurrection. That decision also places us in the position where we can additionally all receive some measure of glory in the next life - but again, we did not earn it.

Those who are faithful in receiving and keeping the necessary covenants and ordinances place themselves in the position where they can receive the gift of eternal life. Did those who receive this gift earn it? No, that's the grace of God, but they did expend the effort, however large or small, to receive that bicycle.

So, my quibble is with the statement that we don't have to work for the gifts. We do have to work for them but that does not mean that we earn them; that does not mean that we purchase them. We give our hearts, as you said, which means we give our wills to our Father in Heaven. That is work but it's not earning salvation. It's like standing out in the sun rather than hiding in the shade. Do we earn the light? No, but we did walk out of the shade.

Once again, great post. I enjoy reading all of your posts.

Tom said...

Psychochemiker's parable of the pie is my current favorite way to explain this. Christ bakes the pie. We eat it. We have to "work" to sit down and eat the pie, but in the end Christ is the baker, not us. We have to accept the gift through our actions, but it's not our actions that provide the gift or pay for it or earn it. We just show up and eat.

Tom said...

I think one other potential problem with the parable of the bicycle is that in theory, the daughter could have continued to save her pennies, and eventually would have enough for a bike. In contrast, no mortal can ever merit salvation.

Obviously Robinson cleared this up with the statement you quoted form HWTD, but this clarification doesn't always come through when we tell the parable to other Christians.

Clean Cut said...

Jared and Tom--great points. All excellent and very appropriate. Thank you for your contribution to the dialogue!

Jared said...

I wanted to add that I really shouldn't have used the word "quibble" because that implies that I disagreed with you, which I didn't. I just wanted to jump in and offer my unsolicited opinion and expansion on the topic. :)

Papa D said...

Amen, CC - and I really like the pie analogy, Tom.

You weren't reading my blog when I wrote the following post (only three months after I started writing it), so I'm not sure if you've seen it:


Clean Cut said...

Ray, I just read your "Embracing Grace" post--it's fantastic. I want to endorse all that you express by spotlighting it in a new post of my own; it's exactly the kind of thing I'd write too! Thanks for sharing.

Kelark said...

I like the analogy to a point.

Isaiah says our rightous works are like filthy garments to the Lord.

The little girl not only did not have enough she had the wrong currency. The required payment is perfection. The wages of her sin is death. Her money is not perfect, her efforts are not perfect, nothing about her is perfect.

Everything about Christ is perfect his love, his sacrifice everything. Therefore he is the only one that has enough to pay for the bike.

He is the only one that had the right kind of payment. He said on the cross paid in full. He paid with his blood. Remember he that knew no sin became sin for us. He did not buy a bike for himself he bought it for us.

We merely need to go to the bicycle redemption center and pick ours up.

Here is my 61 cents I say.

Your money is no good here, says the bike maker.

As I begin to walk off he says "hey wait don't forget your bike your dad came in and picked it out for you 2000 years ago.

Thanks I say to God. Then I say what should I do with my 61 cents?

Well he says how about spending it on your brothers that would make me happy.

Yes Lord me too!

Clean Cut said...

Well said, Kelark. Great comment. That's why I, too, appreciated the clarification of the analogy in regards to our "commitment". I also like the pie analogy shared in the comments.