In Christian history there is discernible a distinction between two classes of believers. For one the essential substance of the true worship of God resides in authentic moral life in imitation of Christ and in obedience to the values and precepts of the New Testament and the prophets of the Old. 'This is love, that we follow God's commandments' (2 John 6). For the other class this same moral life is an external fruit rooted in a prior internal dedication of heart and soul in a penitent response of faith, often involving deep emotion, continually committing the individual believer to the gospel of divine forgiveness and regeneration of which baptism is the sacrament of acceptance and the community eucharist the repeated renewal. In the New Testament the two patterns are obviously represented by the epistle of James and Paul's epistle to the Romans. At the end of the fourth century they are embodied in Pelagius and Augustine. The two standpoints are not unrelated to Christology. In the former pattern Christ is above all the supreme example by the perfection of his inspired humanity in obedience to his divine vocation, which is redemptive. In the latter pattern Christ is St John's divine Word made flesh, whose incarnate life imparts atoning power to the self- sacrifice of his life upon the cross; and it is the presence of the divine in him which makes his person and work redemptive, conqueror of both death and sin, of both human transitoriness and proud resistance to the good.
Underlying the issues being debated lies the question, What makes a Christian? If the answer is the believer's moral achievements grounded in the decisions of his or her determined will, assisted by divine grace to keep the Lord's commandments, these achievements may appear as ground for meriting further grace and the reward of salvation. That seems to conflict with the penitent believer's need for mercy and forgiveness. If, on the other hand, the assistance of divine grace is an initiating and persisting, perhaps all- embracing factor in producing the will to do what is good and right, then any merit is itself a divine gift. There is then a question about the freedom or independence of the human will and, within that, a problem about asserting
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Publication information: Book title: The Church in Ancient Society: From Galilee to Gregory the Great. Contributors: Henry Chadwick - Author. Publisher: Oxford University Press. Place of publication: Oxford. Publication year: 2001. Page number: 446.
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