In a recent conversation on the blog, the common conservative Evangelical conversation point was brought up, which envisages God asking a recently-deceased person “Why should I let you into my heaven?” When asked what his own response to such a question would be, the person who brought it up provided a lengthy speech.
While such answers may seem to those providing them to be expressions of the Pauline/Lutheran conviction that salvation is by grace alone, through faith, in fact it seems to be saying something different.
For many Christians, salvation is about being sure that you will avoid hell. And so the key is to have made the right profession, to offer the right answer. And while that supposedly right answer involves words like “grace” and “faith” and “alone,” in practice it sounds like what actually saves you is not casting oneself on God’s mercy, but giving the right answer about God’s mercy.
In that case, what is being posited is really salvation by being right.Perhaps this explains why some Christians use the rhetoric of absolute dependence upon God’s grace, and yet sound arrogant rather than humble. One would expect humility to characterize someone who is truly depending on God’s mercy alone rather than one’s own rightness – especially if one is familiar with the Bible.
And so it needs to be pointed out that for many Christians, giving the right answer has simply been substituted for doing the right things, and self-righteousness about one’s own understanding of divine grace has been substituted for self-righteousness about one’s elect status or one’s accomplishments.
Such Christians make it sound as though they are adopting Paul’s stance on these things. But I suspect that if Paul were to write to Christians today, they would not receive praise. Much like the case of the Corinthians, who could quote Paul and yet were criticized by him for their understanding of his words, I think that Paul would have much to say in criticism of precisely those Christians in our time who most gravitate towards and use the language found in his letters.
What might it look like if such Christians, rather than boasting in their salvation by grace alone, actually behaved as though they believed that they were completely undeserving recipients of mercy?