Having Faith to Work the Plan

AA_MeetingMany of us have been taught that Bible doesn’t allow any mixture of works in the appropriation of our salvation, but Paul, James and, especially, Jesus don’t necessarily support that contention.

Part of the problem is that we treat gaining salvation as a single point in time—one second I wasn’t saved, the next I was—the fruits of which mainly have to do with life (or death) after death.

But as I pointed out in the last post, the Bible speaks about a way of life that leads to life and a way of life that leads to death, and a way of life is clearly not a single point in time.

Deciding which path to go on may be a single point in time—although sometimes the decision comes in a series of points spread out in time—but clearly the way of life isn’t a single point in time.

Paul says that we are slaves to sin—that we have chosen the way that leads to death, and we are powerless now to anything about it.

Although the language of slavery may not be as helpful to modern ears as it was in Paul’s time, I have found that the language of addiction is helpful to understand what is going on.

For a person addicted to nicotine or alcohol or any other substance or behavior, initially they chose to partake but at a certain point they no longer had a choice. They were slaves to the substance or behavior.

When an addict admits they are powerless to overcome their addiction, they need a plan, a process, a series of steps that they can take that will deliver them from their addiction—in many cases that will literally save their lives.

It’s important to note that at this point forgiveness isn’t really the issue. Their family members, the ones most affected by the addiction, may have already forgiven them.

There may not have even been a time in which they weren’t forgiven. They were forgiven, but still addicted. What is needed is deliverance from the addiction.

So they hear about a 12-step program for their addiction. Perhaps someone comes to them and says, “I have what you have; what saved me was this program.”

Maybe the addict believes them and attends their first meeting with confidence and hope, if also with fear and trembling. Maybe the addict doesn’t really believe that anything will help, but they go anyway because it’s the only hope they have. They don’t go with confidence, only fear and trembling.

They learn about the program, about each of the twelve steps. They hear stories of people who have been working the steps for five, seven, a dozen years and have been sober.

So they begin to work on the steps, one by one. It’s hard at first, and there are many setbacks, but slowly they begin to realize that whenever they work the program, the program works. The stretches of sobriety get longer and longer.

And the longer the stretches get, the more they believe in, have faith in, the program. They find that it works when they work it.

We could diagram it like this:

FAITH (in the 12-step program) image_thumb[14] WORKS (actually doing the program)  image_thumb[5] SALVATION (they are delivered from the addiction and to the freedom of sobriety)

Notice the double arrow between faith and works; they work together in a feedback loop, one leading to another, one increasing the other. It takes both for sobriety to be sustained.

If you believe in the program but don’t actually work it, there won’t be any sobriety. If you work the program but never really believe in it, then the inevitable setbacks will be taken as evidence that they program doesn’t work, or that it’s too hard, or that you don’t have what it takes.

But the more you believe, the more you work the program, and the more you work the program, the more success you see, and you believe in the program all the more.

And even the setbacks aren’t seen as absolute failures; you recognize that in that moment you didn’t work the program—you didn’t call your sponsor, didn’t attend a meeting, etc. So even the setbacks are taken as evidence that the program actually works, as long as you work it.

But isn’t this salvation by works? Well, it isn’t salvation by works alone. And it isn’t earning your salvation in the sense that we do something that puts God in our debt and he owes us something, like when we do work for an employer and after two weeks he owes us our paycheck.

God doesn’t owe us anything, good works or bad. He is free to do what he wants. He is free to forgive sinners in any fashion he decides, and he is free of any obligations we think our good works put him under.

That’s grace. God gave us a plan of salvation not because we asked for it, not because we earned it, not because he has to. He does it because he loves us.

And it’s a plan that will work, if we will find just a little mustard seed of faith enough to trust him, believe in him, and start working the plan.

Like the addict, we can’t find deliverance any other way, not with any plan of our own. We have trust him, and work the plan. And we work it with fear and trembling, not because we have to be afraid of God, but because the stakes are so high.

Our lives literally depend on it. But we can have confidence, knowing that we don’t have to go it alone. His Son lives in us, his Spirit enlivens us, and he is always there for us, just like a good Father is.

This is what Jesus lived to model for us, and it is what he died to free us from and for. This is what the Law pointed to, what the prophets before him understood and taught, and what Paul and the other Apostles understood and taught.

Have faith in the Plan, work the Plan, and trust the one who designed the Plan and put it in place.

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