When we look at the Bible, we can see that it uses “both-and” language in describing the spread of Christ’s kingdom.
On the one hand, the grace of God deserves the credit for people coming to faith and the kingdom growing. The faithful and undeserved love of God causes him to see our guilt and misery. And it causes him also to freely forgive us of all of our sins because of Jesus’ perfect sacrifice on the cross. This is the key to our salvation.
Theologians call this the “impulsive cause” of salvation.
But if you look at the Bible closely, you’ll also find that it’s people who bring God’s grace to those who need to hear it. In today’s reading, for example, we read of Barnabas sharing the gospel with the people of Antioch. And it’s clear that he played a role in the salvation of the people of Antioch. He was Christ’s agent and ambassador to carry the message of grace to this city.
Bible scholars call this the “ministerial cause” of salvation.
But did you know that when the Bible talks about the salvation of souls, it’s actually a “both-and-and-and” situation?
For instance, there’s the gospel in word and sacraments, which is also credited with leading us to salvation. This is the powerful tool that ministers are given to use to spread the kingdom. God the Holy Spirit creates faith and gathers the church through the gospel.
This is known as the “instrumental cause” of salvation.
And finally, there is the root, the very heart of our salvation: God. Everything originates with him — with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Without God, there is no grace, no minister to share the gospel, no Bible, no baptism, no Lord’s Supper.
Because of this, God is the “principal cause” of our salvation.
Count them. Four “causes” of salvation. Both-and-and-and. But is this just theological hairsplitting? Or is there a very practical and very necessary aspect to understanding the four causes of our salvation?
In short, the answer to that question is, “Yes!” Because once we know the cause, we can use the cause to produce the effect. In other words, if you want faith, if you want to help the kingdom grow in others, if you hope for salvation, now you know exactly where to go!
Go to God. Go to his grace and mercy, his steady and unfailing love and forgiveness. Go to the gospel in word and sacrament. Go to the people who want to share these with you. And be one of the people who wants to share them with others.
Clearly, Barnabas had a good handle on this, and that’s exactly what he did:
“News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord” (Acts 11:22-24, NIV).
Our Bible reading for Wednesday, June 17, is 1 Kings 2:13 – 3:15, Acts 11:19 – 12:19 and Proverbs 15:1-10.
Lord, help me to be your agent in the world to share the gospel with others, pointing them to you, and to your amazing grace.