JGB has asked a question attached to an entry that is in the archives, from August. Find the entry and comment here. The question JGB raises, I think, is one inwhich other readers will be interested.
I've really been thinking about this statement from your post, "The promise of eternal life is conditional, but the condition must not be confused with the basis of one's right standing before God."
I keep thinking about the difference between a "condition" and a "basis."Here are a few of Merriam Webster's definitions for "condition," "a premise upon which the fulfillment of an agreement depends; stipulation; covenant; a provision making the effect of a legal instrument contingent upon an uncertain event."
Here are a few of Merriam Webster's definition for "basis," "the bottom of something considered as its foundation; the principal component of something; something on which something else is established or based; an underlying condition or state of affairs."
I realize that these definitions are probably saying different things, but it seems to be a distinction without a difference. Perhaps focusing on "legal" definitions for these terms would be helpful.I know there is a difference here, but I'm struggling as I try to explain these concepts to others in my church.
Can you provide any deeper explanation or perhaps use a metaphor or something to help me understand the difference between a "condition" and a "basis"?
First, I reiterate my statement that prompts the question. "The promise of eternal life is conditional, but the condition must not be confused with the basis of one's right standing before God."
Second, I will try to explain. By "condition," I refer first to the grammatical or syntactical form that the call of the gospel often takes. It often comes in the form of a condition or supposition, as an "if . . . then" kind of statement. I refer second to the semantic function or language convention of other ways in which the call of the gospel comes to us. It often comes in the form of an imperative, as in "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved."
As we show in The Race Set Before Us (I do not have a copy at hand, so I cannot direct you to the pages.), it matters not whether we say, "If you swallow arsenic, you will die" or "Swallow arsenic, and you will die." Both express a conditional relationship between action and consequence. The consequence (dying) follows upon the act (swallowing). In these cases, both the supposition followed by a consequent and the imperative followed by a consequent are efforts to grammaticalize the relationship between swallowing poison and the consequence to swallowing poison.
Eternal life is the consequence that follows upon believing in the Lord Jesus, according to Acts 16:31. Believing is the necessary condition for the consequence to follow. Yet, believing is not the basis of the consequence.
I am endeavoring to be as accurate as I can possibly be by distinguishing condition from basis. Condition is to means as basis is to ground. Here is an illustration. Breathing is a necessary condition for me to remain alive. I cannot remain alive without breathing or without eating. Yet, breathing and eating are not the bases of my remaining alive. The basis of my remaining alive rests elsewhere, namely in Christ's upholding me with the word of his power (Heb. 1:3). Herein is the mystery of the interplay between divine sovereignty and human accountability. I must breath in order to live. Yet, my breathing is not the ultimate cause but only an instrumental cause (instrumental means) of my remaining alive. The effectual cause (effectual basis or ground) of my remaining alive is found outside myself and outside any of my actions. It rests in Christ's power to uphold me as alive. If my continuing alive were to hang ultimately not just instrumentally upon my breathing, then how was I living before I was breathing? Does not the fact that I was alive in my mother's womb apart from my own breathing make it clear to all of us that our continuing to live is not ultimately contingent upon our breathing but that our breathing is ultimately contingent upon something outside ourselves? (I may hold my breath and pass out, but holding my breath will not [under normal circumstances] kill me. Usually passing out reactivates breathing, which also shows that my living does not ultimately hang upon my breathing. Yet, I cannot continue alive without breathing. But my breathing is the consequent of something greater.) (This all reminds me very much of James' discussion of the relationship betwen faith and works [James 2:14-17]).
The same, it seems to me, is true of eternal life. Believing (spiritual breathing) is a necessary condition for me to have eternal life. Yet, belief is not the effectual cause (basis/ground) of my having eternal life. The effectual cause lies outside myself, beyond my breathing, and resides in Christ Jesus. Believing is a necessary condition in the sense that it is a necessary instrumental cause. Believing must be present for eternal life to be present. Yet, if my eternal life were to hang ultimately not just instrumentally upon my believing, my continuing in eternal life would fade very quickly.
Some do not like to distinguish instrumental cause from effectual cause or condiion from basis or means from ground, but it seems to me that such distinctions are essential. Otherwise we will end up confusing the role or function of our believing with the role or function of Christ's sacrificial death.
I trust this provides some assistance to see the distinction with a difference.