Editor's note:

Most peo­ple desire a ful­ly sat­is­fied life. The Bible describes this life by the fruit of the Spir­it. It’s a life of love, joy, peace, patience, kind­ness, gen­eros­i­ty, faith­ful­ness, gen­tle­ness, and self-con­trol (Gal 5:22 – 23). Imag­ine a life that is ful­ly con­tent in every cir­cum­stance (Phil 4:11 – 12; 1 Tim 6:6 – 8). Imag­ine a life that can­not be shak­en, even by the worst tragedy and heartache. This kind of life may be hard to envi­sion, yet in pas­sages like those list­ed above the New Tes­ta­ment teach­es that it’s possible.

In the first part of the arti­cle, Sal­va­tion Is for Life,” Richard Fos­ter described the zōē life, the eter­nal, uncre­at­ed life that orig­i­nates in God alone.” He writes that this is a life of unhur­ried peace and pow­er,” of God’s over­rid­ing gov­er­nance for good,” and of abid­ing uncon­di­tion­al warm regard we feel for all peo­ple.” How does a per­son become the kind of per­son who expe­ri­ences and lives this kind of life? In the first part of this arti­cle Fos­ter wrote that the two dom­i­nant con­tem­po­rary the­olo­gies both fail to address the means for trans­form­ing the human per­son­al­i­ty into Christlikeness.” 

The fol­low­ing is an edit­ed ver­sion of the sec­ond half of the jour­nal arti­cle Sal­va­tion is for Life” where he describes some com­mon ways God works togeth­er with us trans­form­ing us more and more into being like Christ.

—Marvin Norlien

The Every­day Means of Grace

While the clas­si­cal dis­ci­plines of the spir­i­tu­al life are the foun­da­tion for our for­ma­tion, they are far from the only means. Often God uses the var­i­ous dif­fi­cul­ties and tri­als we face dai­ly in life to pro­duce in us a kind of patient endurance (James 1:2 – 3). At oth­er times, God uses the inter­ac­tive exchange that goes on between us and the Holy Spir­it to devel­op a spir­it of trust­ing sur­ren­der with­in us. Or to grow our faith. Then again, God will often use human beings and oth­er phys­i­cal means to medi­ate his life to us. All of these things shape us, form us, and make us sub­stan­tive­ly dif­fer­ent peo­ple, to the extent we become will­ing par­tic­i­pants in this work of grace. We can stop our grow­ing con­for­mi­ty to Christ at any point. God in his wis­dom and sov­er­eign free­dom, has giv­en us veto pow­er over our own transformation. 

The trans­for­ma­tion of our­selves into the like­ness of Christ will not be ful­ly com­plet­ed in this life, for as [C.S. Lewis in Mere Chris­tian­i­ty, 161] Lewis notes, death is an impor­tant part of the treat­ment.” How far each one of us moves for­ward into Christ­like­ness here in this life depends upon a whole host of com­plex fac­tors, not the least of which is the emo­tion­al, men­tal, and psy­cho­log­i­cal pack­age we were giv­en at birth. Such fac­tors can either give us a good run­ning start or hand­i­cap us enor­mous­ly. Even with all the com­plex inter­play between hered­i­ty, envi­ron­ment, and oth­er fac­tors too numer­ous to men­tion, we still can and should expect sub­stan­tial move­ment for­ward into Christ­like­ness in this life. 

Two Con­tra­dic­to­ry Sound­ing Comments 

I want to make two com­ments about this growth in grace”; com­ments that will sound strange­ly con­tra­dic­to­ry but in fact fit togeth­er quite nice­ly. First, in our think­ing and liv­ing, we need to make gen­er­ous allowance for infu­sions of divine grace that pro­duce in us quan­tum leaps for­ward. These, as best I can under­stand, are utter­ly sov­er­eign acts of God. We in no way cause them to hap­pen, and they seem uncon­nect­ed to our efforts in any dis­cernible way. These are glo­ri­ous acts of God for which the only sane response is to fall to our knees in wor­ship, ado­ra­tion and praise. 

My sec­ond com­ment stress­es the oth­er side of the coin. We have a part to play in this grow­ing in god­li­ness,” as the Puri­tans are fond of call­ing it. Effort on our part is called for. Real effort. Gra­cious­ly God invites us to work in coop­er­a­tion with the Spir­it through spir­i­tu­al dis­ci­plines appro­pri­ate to our needs and through the var­i­ous oth­er means of grace. 

Now this ordi­nary, every­day means of char­ac­ter trans­for­ma­tion lacks the fire­works of the spe­cial infu­sions of grace. Also, to us it seems painful­ly slow, though the trans­form­ing work is always at a rate con­sis­tent with the nature of the virtue being sought. 

It is easy for us to under­val­ue this most fun­da­men­tal means of grace. It appears to be so com­mon­place, so qui­et, so mod­est, so unim­pres­sive. But it is our pri­ma­ry means of growth. God has ordained it to be so. 

Besides, these two real­i­ties actu­al­ly work hand in glove. Our bod­ies, minds, and souls need shap­ing and prepar­ing for any spe­cial infu­sion of grace. On our own, we are insuf­fi­cient recep­ta­cles to con­tain the divine bless­ings. We would sim­ply burst apart, like old wine­skins filled with new wine (Matt 9:17; Mark 2:22; Luke 5:37 – 38). There­fore, we should always val­ue this ordi­nary way (this intol­er­a­bly slow way) of growth, for through it God pre­pares us for things we can hard­ly imag­ine: heav­en, for exam­ple. This is all part of the sal­va­tion that is in Christ. 

Jesus the Escha­to­log­i­cal Prophet 

Put sim­ply, [this zōē life from God] is medi­at­ed through Jesus’ active, liv­ing, func­tion­ing pres­ence. Jesus is not only alive and present in the midst of his new covenant peo­ple; he is alive and present among us in all his many offices.” To say this is to con­fess a high­ly func­tion­al view of Christ. At one point, the sev­en­teenth-cen­tu­ry Chris­t­ian leader George Fox exclaimed, Christ Jesus, who was dead and is alive again, and lives forever­more, a prophet, coun­selor, priest, bish­op, shep­herd, a cir­cum­cis­er and bap­tiz­er, a liv­ing rock and foun­da­tion for ever­more…” This was Fox’s way of express­ing Jesus’ mul­ti­ple func­tions among his peo­ple. Jesus for­gives, teach­es, guides, com­forts, over­sees, rules, and so much more. The point is that Jesus acts and works.

John Calvin brought the three­fold office of Christ as prophet, priest, and king into dog­mat­ic the­ol­o­gy. A good deal of the­o­log­i­cal reflec­tion has been done on Jesus’ priest­ly office, and some has been done on his king­ly office. How­ev­er, the­o­log­i­cal reflec­tion on Jesus’ prophet­ic office is near­ly nonex­is­tent. This is unfor­tu­nate, for the office of Christ as prophet has much to teach us with regard to sal­va­tion as a life.

Oscar Cull­mann sug­gests that, in Jesus’ day, one strand of mes­sian­ic expec­ta­tion was of an escha­to­log­i­cal prophet like Moses who would teach the peo­ple. The key Hebrew pas­sage for this expec­ta­tion is Deuteron­o­my 18:15 – 8 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me [Moses] from among your own peo­ple…” In the acts of the Apos­tles, both Peter and Stephen quote from this pas­sage, iden­ti­fy­ing Jesus as the ful­fill­ment of the prophet like Moses.

And what is the func­tion of this prophet like Moses?” He is to speak to and teach the peo­ple. In the great trans­fig­u­ra­tion event, the voice from the bright cloud declares, This is my son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; lis­ten to him!” (Matt 17:5). The let­ter to the Hebrews which makes so much of Jesus’ priest­ly office, opens with the dra­mat­ic words, At var­i­ous times in the past and in var­i­ous ways God spoke to our ances­tors through the prophets; but in our own time, the last days, he has spo­ken to us through his Son” (1:1 – 2 JB) There we have it; Christ, the prophet like Moses, is to speak and teach; we, his dis­ci­ples, are to lis­ten and obey. 

Mean­ing for Today 

What does all this mean for us today? It means that Christ is alive and active. He con­tin­ues to speak and teach. His voice is not hard to hear. His vocab­u­lary is not dif­fi­cult to under­stand. He will teach us. Now Jesus is a liv­ing Sav­ior and the sal­va­tion that is in him includes teach­ing us how to live and re-form­ing our very selves. Dal­las Willard puts it well: I am learn­ing from Jesus to live my life as he would live my life if he were I.”

And so, today, God is call­ing you and me to accept Jesus as our life. We are to trust Him for all things. We are to band togeth­er as his dis­ci­ples, learn­ing from him how to live and being formed by God, through Christ and the Holy Spir­it, into the kinds of peo­ple capa­ble of this trans­formed life. This is the sal­va­tion that is in Jesus Christ.

This arti­cle is an edit­ed ver­sion of Sal­va­tion is for Life” by Richard J. Fos­ter and was orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in the jour­nal The­ol­o­gy Today, Vol 61. Octo­ber (2004) 297 – 308.

Pho­to by Bernard Her­mant on Unsplash

Originally published September 2004

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