Sunday, April 01, 2007

Roman Reflections I: eritheia - the greatest sin of them all

I've been trying to understand the Letter to the Romans which hitherto I've always found difficult, so I've made a point to study the Greek a little over Holy Week. So far I've finished the first three chapters which are proving amazingly rich. I'm not surprised why this letter has been the inspiration for many.

So far I see very much the heart of our sinfulness is the word eritheia meaning "electioneering or intriguing for office". It conjures up images of those who constantly put themselves first, and in the process making light of God.

It is in making light of God in which we ruin our chances of repentance. By ignoring His kindnesses, we find ourselves unable to return to Him, but if we don't think much of God, what incentive do we have to amend our sinful lives? The whole basis of our Salvation is in the honesty in which we regard God as our ruler and Father. Refusal to see ourselves as His children seems to be one of the driving forces behind eritheia, that we look always to increase our standing, our independence, we look to define ourselves in the way that we want to be defined.

However, if we truly seek God, then we should first seek Him as our Father. Do we really expect to know who we are if we are still children? We only think we know who we are because we try to take control of this knowledge in our sin. It is when we submit to God, our Creator that we find definition. It is in hoping in God that we are purified.

Does this mean that we are justified by faith alone? No. I don't believe it, and perhaps my further readings of Romans will help me to clarify my statements. From what I'm getting at the moment, we are justified by the grace of God that is channeled by Faith, purifies us by Hope and brings us to Him in Love, the three things that will remain. It seems quite reasonable to me that if we are to gain eternal life, then we must become comprised of these three things which remain. We must devote ourselves to building our Faith and Hope and Love, and this does mean work. We are not justified by Faith alone, I think this much seems clear.

1 comment:

poetreader said...

I like what you wrote about eritheia. 'electioneering' isn't a definition I've ever run across, but it fits. It's most usually translated as self-will,. which is, of course, just exactly what got Satan thrown out of heaven. If Isaiah 14 is actually about him (the most common opinion historically), electioneering is exactly what he was doing. He was running for God, and wasn't elected (surprise). The same concept dominates Genesis 3. Self-will. Like Sinatra's famous theme song, "I did it my way".

What Luther reacted to in his whole rant about works was the idea, still commonly heard, even though it always was heretical, that I can somehow be good enough to get into heaven. That's the whole point of the Cross. We can't. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. The wages of sin is death. Two quotes from Romans. Any sin condemns. Since God demands perfection, then perfection is no more than our minimum due, and, even then we are unprofitable servants. Any lapse from perfection, no matter how small, leaves us falling short of our minimum due. The average RC or Anglican, even strong AC, and the average Protestant for that matter will assume, "I haven't been all that bad, I think I'm going to heaven." That attitude won't get anyone through the door. The thief on the Criss said, "I have been all that bad. Please let me in." For him the door opened.

Where Luther went dramatically wrong was in asking the wrong question. "Are we saved by faith, or are we saved by works?" Neither, really. 3:25 Whom God set forth as a propitiation to be received through faith ... We are not saved by faith or by works, but by Jesus. The formulation in Galatians makes it clear: " grace through faith..." or in 6:23 (which I began above) "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."

To speak precisely, we are not justified by anything in us, whether faith or works, but by the decree of God. I think Luther actually understood this, but his expression made it very hard to hear from him, and sounded so combattive that those who needed the kind of orthodox catholic corrective he could have given, heard heresy that he (at least intitially) couldn't have meant. Rome, though attempting clarity, found itself saddled with formulations that sounded as though they were giving a value to human effort that they weren't really giving. The decrees of Trent have indeed been interpreted un a way very close to what Lither intially meant, but they tend to sound as though they appoint another way and the average RC has no real appreciatuion of the marvelous grace of God.

How then do we recieve the hustification that comes only from God? 3:28 a man is justified by faith without the works of the law.
My Greek is poor, but "by faith" is a single word, without prepositions, a grammatical construct that probably means more like "justified as regards faith" in other words the justification that comes from God, received through faith, and received, as it says, without, beyond, or outside the law. It isn't earned and can't be, constituting a decalration of forgiveness of offenses that are all too real. No opposition here between faith and works, but a recognition that justification was necessary only because the works of the law were not there. Not a reward, but a gift when no reward was due or appropriate.

Are works therefore unnecessary? Paul couldn't be clearer about that. 3:31 is very clear indeed. The law is upheld. Obedience is not just a nice thing, but of the essence. No less is required if us than before we received this justification. Being justified by faith we are now within the law, but what if we once again become outlaws? We will, you know. Even the greatest of saints declared themselves to be sinners to the end of their days. Well, that's what sacraments are for. How are the benfits of the sacraments received? Through faith. The reality is there, but it does no good without faith.

My problem with the whole question is that the wrong questions have consistently been asked. The main body of Eastern Orthodox scholars listen to the squabbling of RCs and Protestants, scratch their heads, and say, "Will someone please tell me just what those fools are yelling about?" Romans is a very difficult Epistle in the context of the arguments that started with the Reformation. If one refuses to listen to either Luther or Trent while reading Romans, the simplicity and clarity is startling.

Looking forward to more of your comments.

In Him