Five Smooth Stones – Reward

This is the last in our series looking at various doctrines through the lens of the David and Goliath story. (The other four stones were: preachinggrace, faith and election)

Here we consider why it is that the concept of reward is not counter to the doctrines of Christ alone, grace alone and faith alone.

So let’s ask: Why do people consider the concept of reward to be a potential threat to the doctrines of grace?  Well, often the argument runs something like this:

  • Grace means that everything is a gift
  • If everything’s a gift then there’s no room for merit (you can’t earn gifts)
  • Reward is based on merit (otherwise it’s not reward it’s just random)
  • Therefore, grace means there’s no room for reward.

But is this really the definition of grace with which we want to begin?  The whole burden of this series has been to show that Christ – our David, our anointed Champion – needs to be at the heart of our thinking.  And so we saw that preaching is not simply lifting our eyes to some general divine battle plan but focussing us on the King who wins the battle for us.  Grace is not basically God’s empowering of our work but something completely outside ourselves – the victory of our Champion.  Grace is, at heart, Christ’s work for us, to which we contribute nothing. Grace alone is effectively just another way of saying ‘Christ alone.’ It is the affirmation that the victory is secured by Christ without us having lifted a finger to help.

Now with this definition of grace – is there room for reward?  Well yes.  Think of how the Israelites plundered the Philistines

When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran.  Then the men of Israel and Judah surged forward with a shout and pursued the Philistines to the entrance of Gath and to the gates of Ekron. Their dead were strewn along the Shaaraim road to Gath and Ekron. When the Israelites returned from chasing the Philistines, they plundered their camp. (1 Sam 17:51-53)

On the basis of David’s victory they plunder the Philistines.  Without the victory they would all have died.  In victory none of them could claim credit for securing it.  But in response to it, some will have chased hard, killed many and brought back much plunder.  At the same time it’s conceivable (though we’re not told and I don’t think this happend) that some may simply have gawped in wonder at the victory of David and barely moved an inch.  Both kinds of soldiers win the day.  Some participate in the victory more fully.  That’s really the very simple point I want to make with this post.

Again it emphasises that faith is not synonymous with inactivity!  We get these strange ideas about faith since we’re used to playing off faith against works all the time.  We say things like ‘I’m not saved by my works, I’m saved by my faith’ – which is a really unhelpful way of framing things.  It makes it sound like faith is the one meritorious work (an internal mental act) that I summon up to earn salvation.  The message becomes – “Don’t do works (external physical acts), do faith (internal, mental acts)!”  And then we get our knickers in a twist worrying that any external, physical acts are necessarily worksy.  But no. 

Think about Numbers 13.  The spies come back from the promised land with grapes like basketballs.  Caleb and Joshua say “We should go up and take possession of the land” and the people stay put.  A distinct lack of physical activity. Perhaps they were worried about earning the promised land!  Was this a rejection of works and an instance of faith?  No it is utter faithlessness through and through.  Not going up is faithless in Numbers 13 and going up is faithless in Numbers 14.  Why?  Because of the LORD’s promise.  He promises success in the first instance and failure in the second.  Their response to the promise is what constitutes the faith/works divide.  Inactivity can be utter unbelief.  Tremendous striving can be pure faith. 

Faith is receiving the promise appropriately.  In Anders Nygren’s phrase, faith is being conquered by the gospel.  In 1 Samuel 17 terms, faith is looking at the giant fall and understanding who it is who’s won – your brother and king.  From faith – which is simply looking away from self to the Victorious King – may flow all kinds of things like cheering (emotions) and plundering (good works).  And if you’ve really seen the victory it’s pretty hard to see why you wouldn’t cheer and why you wouldn’t plunder.  But cheering and plundering doesn’t win the battle – the king does.  “Faith” is just another way of directing our attention away from ourselves (even away from our joyous response to salvation) and fixing it solely on the Saviour.  The fruit of this faith will come forth in all manner of affections and works which are the organic outflow of the work of Christ alone.  In 1 Samuel 17 terms the plunder comes from:

  • the victory of the king alone
  • is empowered by the bread of David (v17ff)
  • and is the natural overflow of praise which necessarily attends seeing the victory aright.

Now Christ expects us to go hard after reward.  Otherwise, why dangle it in front of us??  (e.g. Luke 19:17!!)  But just as we’re expected to rejoice, so too with pursuing reward, we simply do not have the resources in ourselves.  Nor is it an abstract providence that grants us divine energies to rejoice and to plunder.  Rather it is a focus again on the Champion, our Brother, that will produce both the shout and the charge into enemy territory.

So having looked again at our triumphant King… Go in war to love and serve the Lord.

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Posted on by Glen in faith, gospel, grace, pastoral theology, works

About Glen

I'm a preacher in Eastbourne, married to Emma.

5 Responses to Five Smooth Stones – Reward

  1. Pingback: Exodus 22-24: The law and the gospel « יובל

  2. kc

    Glen this series has been a great blessing to me. In our tradition when we have nothing to add and nothing to contend with we simply say amen, so…. AMEN!

  3. glenscriv

    Anglicans too have Amen! ;-) Which reminds me, I must do a post on Amen…

  4. Pingback: God’s Election [Thawed out Thursday] « Christ the Truth

  5. Pingback: Five Smooth Stones – Preaching « Christ the Truth

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