Posts tagged ‘works’

Does He Know You?

There is a vast difference between knowing about someone and actually knowing the person. I could spend the next few years in researching the life of George Washington for a new book. I could read his personal journals and everything discovered by historians. And even if I feel like I know him, I will never be able to say that George Washington is my friend and we know each other! While a relationship certainly involves learning about them, gaining that knowledge is no substitute for know the actual person.

Jesus, in Matthew chapter 7 talks about this, and it is a passage that is cause for serious reflection by Christians. Jesus is talking about the judgment, and differentiates between the two groups of people in a very revealing way.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ (Matthew 7:21-23 NKJV)

There are some important things to notice here.
1. Both groups, the saved and the lost, were verbally calling Jesus “Lord”. Jesus is not diminishing the importance of being our Lord, but is rather emphasizing that just saying the magic words is not what means you have a relationship with God.

2. If we look at the entire passage, keeping His commandments is a sign of one who is saved. If I can say this in a positive sense, obedience is a symptom of having a relationship with Christ.

3. But here is the danger. If you look at what the lost ones say, they were doing all the right things as well! What causes their confusion is that they thought that if they did all the things they were supposed to be doing, they would have a relationship with Christ and go to heaven. If their checklist was complete, someone told them, then their performance was satisfactory and they would make it in.

4. From the passage, what is stated as the determining factor was whether or not Jesus knew them. Did they have an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ? What got them into heaven was not what they did, but who they belonged to. According to John in 1 John 2,

“He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked. (I John 2:4-6)

If we concentrate on deepening our relationship with God, the good works will be a natural reflection of the vibrancy of that relationship. Our lives will show the power of the love of God working within us. But if we lack that love, we run the danger of doing the works out a need to be right with God through our performance and not have that relationship. Our lives will not be characterized by “faith working through love”, and whatever is not of faith is sin. Even the seemingly good things we do will be sinful because they weren’t done in faith and love. We will be practicing lawlessness and not even know it. If it takes the threat of losing your salvation and going to hell to motivate you to obey God, then you are already backslidden in heart. Are there things you are doing because God said to do it or else, you have fallen away.

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love. (Galatians 5:6)

We, as disciples of Jesus Christ, must make our aim the same as that if the apostle Paul — to know Him!

Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:8-11)

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Two Men Praying

This is a story, aka parable, is based on the story Jesus used that is recorded in Luke chapter 18 of the Pharisee and the tax collector. I wanted to update the characters, without changing the story, but the first obstacle was that some may think I am referring to specific people I know. That could not be further from the truth. Both people are conflations of many hundreds of people I have met in 50 years of living. So if you think I am talking about you, you are wrong. If, however, you are convicted by what the story says, then maybe the Holy Spirit is trying to get your attention regarding some things and attitudes you may be harboring. As before, I still get none of the credit or blame for the results. So here goes.

One day in a church building in a typical city, a lifelong churchgoer stopped during lunch to pray. He had been reading many stories about various ones who were preaching error, as well as articles on apologetics aimed at exposing false doctrines that disagreed with the conclusions from Scripture of the author. With all this going through his mind, he prayed this way:
“Lord, I thank you that I am not like others who go to denominational churches. I don’t listen to worldly music, I attend every church service, I only associate with those who teach correctly and agree with me, I partake of weekly communion, don’t believe any false teachings, have been baptized in water, and worship only with those acts you authorize. Thank you that I am we’ll pleasing in your sight and am doing those things necessary to stay saved.”

Out in next to the curb by the church building is a man who is too ashamed to come inside. His guilt from sin is overwhelming and he is at the end of his rope. He cries out to God and can only say a simple prayer. “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

One of these men went home that day justified.

Why? Because whenever we start thinking that our standing with God is based on the quality or quantity of our performance, we are basing our salvation on our works, not on the finished work of Christ on the cross. Our standing with God produces good works, and not the other way around. When we deny salvation to those who have not performed a ceremony, or are not doing some list of required works to maintain their saved status, we have fallen from the gospel of grace.

Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Galatians 3:2, 3 ESV)

But wait, those men in Luke 18 were under the old law and not under the new system. For one, are you saying that under the New Covenant it is more difficult to be saved? Well not to worry. In Luke 16:16 Jesus said that the law and the prophets were only in force until John the Baptist, but after that people could enter into the Kingdom of God. Yes, people were being saved when they believed on Jesus even during His earthly ministry.

So I would ask you to read the little story again and ask yourself this question in light of Romans 10:9-10 –
In the story above, which one went home justified before God?

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Real Faith Works!

Ever since the days of the Reformation, there has been a strong emphasis on teaching that salvation is by faith. Given the unhealthy stress placed on works at the time, this was a normal reaction. What is needed is a healthy, and accurate, view of the relationship between faith and works if we are to be spiritually healthy and balanced. When James, the Lord’s brother, wrote his letter, the Spirit inspired him to address the subject this way:

Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? (James 2:17-20 NASB)

There is no contradiction here with the message the apostle Paul would later give to the church at Ephesus. Read carefully what Paul wrote:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8, 9)

He is saying, correctly, that our salvation does not come from our performance, or from working our way to God. No one can will ever be able to say that God owes them salvation. But also notice what Paul goes on to say in verse 10.

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

We were created in Christ when we are born again, for the uprise of good works. Do you see the order here? The works don’t cause faith and salvation; the faith and salvation produce the works! Furthermore, God has it planned that way.

God always connects a truth to believe with a command to obey. While “faith” and “obedience” can be defined as separate terms, they are inseparable as realities. To put it succinctly, real faith, works!
That being said, faith has to come first. We can have works without having faith (i.e. dead works), but we cannot have faith without works. Build your faith and the works will follow. It is a trap to suppose that we can reverse the polarity of our spiritual power by putting works as a higher priority than cultivating intimacy with God and strengthening our faith.

For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love. (Galatians 5:5, 6)

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The Opposite Of Belief

The Opposite Of Belief
In modern English usage, belief can be defined as mental assent to an idea. But what is belief in a biblical sense? Is it mere mental assent, or trust, or confession? One way to see what belief means in the Bible is to see what it is contrasted with. Let’s go to the foremost authority on the subject, Jesus Christ.
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:36 ESV)
So according to Jesus, the opposite of belief is disobedience! In fact, belief and obedience are inextricably linked together. This link is so strong that to speak of belief or faith without stating or implying obedience is to take it out of context!
Even in Mark 16:16, where Christ says that, “he who believes and is baptized will be saved, and he who does not believe will be condemned” many teachers try to twist the verse to say that it refutes the essential nature of obedience (in this case baptism). But in fact, since obedience is implied whenever belief is mentioned, the verse in no way weakens the command to believe and be baptized!
So am I talking about a salvation by works? Of course not. In baptism, it is God who is doing the work of regeneration. When Paul speaks of works, he is usually referring to “works of the Law” and not obedience in faith. And he is correct! Law keeping has no power to save! But James speaks of works as a natural consummation of saving faith. Again, we are saved by faith in the resurrection of Christ, but that salvation is effected at baptism. (1 Peter 3:21)
So what is it that we are supposed to obey? The Gospel!
“in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” (2 Thessalonians 1:8 ESV). But what is the Gospel? According to Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, this is the Gospel:
“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” (1 Corinthians 15:1-5 ESV)
But how does someone obey an event like the death, burial and resurrection?
According to Romans 6, it is done in baptism.
“We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” (Romans 6:4-6 ESV)

When we participate in the death, burial and resurrection at baptism, we obey the Gospel and our faith saves us! As Peter wrote, “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, (1 Peter 3:21 ESV). Write all you want to explain this verse away, but you can’t force it to say anything other than “baptism saves you”!

Remember, the opposite of belief is disobedience. You cannot speak of faith without obedience, or you are taking belief out of context!

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