Saturday, April 09, 2022

Faith Without Works Is the Only Faith That Justifies and Saves

Faith without works is the only faith that justifies and saves.

It's not a big secret that I believe Paul and James disagreed on the issues of justification and salvation. After all, we did a 21-part series about this on our podcast in 2020-21, where we talked about the evidence that we see not only in James' epistle, but also in other NT writings (including Acts and Paul's epistles) that point to James believing in and preaching salvation and justification by faith and works mixing together, whereas whenever Paul writes about justification or salvation, he writes about it as being by the blood of Jesus, by faith alone, apart from works.

One of the easiest contrasts that is plain to see is when James asks the question, "What does it profit if a man says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?" (James 2:14) After giving a regular-life example to show his belief that faith is dead if it doesn't have works, and then examples of a work that Abraham did and a work that Rahab did in addition to their faith, he concludes, "You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only." (James 2:24) And yet Paul plainly states, "To the man who does not work but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness." (Rom 4:5) Not only does Paul not mix works in with faith in order to justify or save a person, he explicitly states that it's the person who does not work who is justified. You see this throughout his epistles.

Now, you may have some other interpretation of James' words in James 2, and of his actions in Acts 15 (where he OK'd the idea of Gentiles not having to keep the law, but not so much for the Jews), and in Acts 21 (where he told Paul to deny that he taught that people didn't have to keep the law of Moses), and Paul's words about him in Galatians 2 (where Peter had no problem eating with Gentiles, but suddenly became fearful and withdrew from them when James sent men there). If you have another way of seeing James, that's fine. We don't need to part ways or squabble over it.

But somehow we have to make it clear that the gospel that saves - the good news - is that God has given the gift of justification, righteousness and salvation to those who believe - completely apart from works. The faith that justifies and saves is faith apart from works. According to Paul, faith without works is FULLY ALIVE (!), because this faith - faith without works - is the only faith that saves. It is faith, apart from any work, through which man is saved and receives the free gift of justification and righteousness. According to Paul, if a work is added to faith, a person has something to boast about - "but not before God." (Rom 4:2).
"Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness." (Rom 4:5)

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Sowing and Reaping Is Not About Gaining Financial Prosperity, But Rather Helping Others

First, I don't want anyone to read into what I'm about to say, thinking that I'm against being financially wealthy or prosperous in this world. Go for it, if you're able to make a lot of money and have a lot of stuff or do a lot of things!

So with that said, that's not what sowing and reaping is about. In the famous chapter on sowing and reaping, 2 Corinthians 9, it says nothing about sowing so that you will reap wealth and prosperity for yourself. Now again, I want to say that there's nothing wrong with being financially or materially wealthy or prosperous! But that's not Paul's message in 2 Corinthians 9. Not one time does he encourage a person to sow/give for the purpose of reaping and abundance for themselves. 

Each time, he says that the abundance is for the sake of others. Look at how he begins: "Now concerning the ministering to the saints..." Right off the bat, he's writing about the Corinthian people ministering to others. In verse 5, Paul talks about their gift to the saints being a matter of generosity and not grudging obligation. 

Then in verse 6 he says that "he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully." This sole verse, taken way out of context, has been the source of many people teaching that "sowing" generously causes God to bring wealth and prosperity to people, so they can live comfortably in this world. Once again - nothing wrong with living comfortably or being rich - but that's not what Paul is saying! Read on. 

"So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work." (2 Cor 9:7-8) 

The abundance that comes from God's grace abounding toward them is not given as a means of providing an abundant lifestyle for themselves, but rather for them to be able to do the good work involved in ministering to others. Paul then quotes from the OT a verse that shows how God has given to the poor. This comes from Him providing grace to people so that they may have an abundance "for every good work," which is ministering to the poor saints. 

In verse 10 Paul says God supplies seed to the sower. Where does this supply come from? Paul has already told us. It's through God's grace that He has made to abound toward them. And what is this seed to be used for? It's to "increase the fruits of your righteousness, while you are enriched in everything for all liberality, which causes thanksgiving to God." They are "enriched in everything," not for their own comfort, but so that they can give liberally. What they have sown is for the benefit of others (those they give/minister to), and as God enriches them in everything, it causes liberality in their giving... and it causes thanksgiving to God! 

So far in this passage, there is nothing said about them sowing for the purpose of reaping God's blessings to make themselves prosperous for their own sakes... but rather for the sake of others. And it continues that way. 

Verse 12: "For the administration of this service not only supplies the needs of the saints, but also is abounding through many thanksgivings to God..." Once again, their generous sowing is not for themselves, but for supplying the needs of the poor saints that they are giving to. In the very next verse (13) Paul again says that their ministry (sowing for the needs of the saints) brings about those saints glorifying God "for your liberal sharing with them and with all men." 

Sowing and reaping is not about giving to get something from God! It's about giving for the benefit of others, so that their needs may be met, and so that there may be much good fruit, and then thanksgiving to God, who is the one who, through His grace, supplies the seed in the first place. 

One more time... this isn't an "anti-wealth" message. Be free to be wealthy if you're able! But sowing and reaping is not about becoming wealthy. It's about helping others.

Saturday, December 04, 2021

Do you feel weak, small, foolish, or powerless? You're in the right place for God's grace to shine!

Do you feel as if you have nothing to offer? Or do you perhaps feel that what you have to offer might seem foolish or stupid or silly? Do you feel that others are so much more competent or wiser than you? Do you feel weak in the eyes of the world? Do you feel less than honorable or distinguished when compared with others? Do you feel others have much more pull or sway than you, or that you have very little or no influence on others? Are you a little (or a lot) rough around the edges? Do you feel small? Do you wonder how in the world God could ever use you for anything good?

You're in the right place! Sure, God can use shiny, smooth, slick, good-looking, strong, noble people to accomplish His plans. But guess what? Even when He does so, it's not about their brilliance or splendor or self-sufficiency. It's about His power and grace at work in them. And even so, His power and grace is all the more evident and on display in those who understand their weaknesses and lack of abilities.

God can make something out of nothing. Likewise, He can make nothing out of something. He can make things high that are low. He can make a powerhouse out of the powerless. He can make the impotent strong and productive. With God, there are no limits.

If you feel weak and powerless, you're in the right place. Nothing is too difficult for God, and nothing is impossible for Him.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Reducing Life in Christ Down to Rules and Principles Instead of Knowing God

The church today has reduced life in Christ down to rules, regulations and principles... and lots of them. Isn't that about what you get when you go to many churches and listen to or read many online/radio preachers and teachers?

But the miracles of Christ becoming one of us, and then dying for our sins and being raised again from the dead so that we could also be raised with Him and receive the gift of eternal life, weren't accomplished for the purpose of giving us a daily existence of trying to accomplish living by a bunch of laws, rules and principles!

Many believers know the things that they think they're supposed to do and not do. But do they know Christ apart from what they do and don't do? Is their relationship with God real to them apart from making sure they're following certain rules, guidelines or principles?

Do they know "Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (1 Cor 2:2) and do they "know the power of His resurrection"? (Phil 3:10). Or do they simply know a daily life of trying to "live right," and sometimes failing and sometimes feeling like they're doing OK.

It's not Christ who has set you up for a cycle of success and failure, success and failure, success and failure, when it comes to your daily life in Him. The church has done that, with their constant teachings of "how to's," principles, rules, laws and behavior modification programs and messages.

Did Paul and the others share some wisdom in their epistles that helped the early churches with their understanding of what daily living in Christ is and isn't about? Certainly. But with our ready access to a collection of those epistles, we forget (or don't realize) that those apostles didn't set out to write a book about "rules, principles and guidelines for daily living in Christ." Often they were responding to false teachings and misunderstandings that had arisen in specific churches, and addressing errors that needed to be corrected... but these things were not their core message.

The central message of Christ and the gospel is knowing Him. It's knowing our union with Him. It's knowing that we died with Him and were raised together into new life with Him that isn't focused on behavior, but rather took the focus on behavior away so that we could truly know God!

Is behavior important? Sure it is. But by far it is not the focus of life in Christ. It's knowing God and His love, grace and faithfulness, and our union with Him, apart from our behavior. This changes a person without even having to focus on changing!

Thursday, April 01, 2021

Fleshly Guilt and Motivational Speeches vs. God's Grace at Work

I received an invitation to a men's retreat via email, and while there's nothing inherently wrong with these things, there was some wording in the invitation that stuck out to me. It said something about how easy it can be to dismiss opportunities like this and to come up with excuses to not attend. This actually says a lot about the mindsets of people who put on things like this.

If I were to attend a men's retreat, why would I want to go to one in which the hosts think I'd want to make up an excuse to not attend?

Due to past experience (and I'm not saying this particular retreat is set up this way), I know that many of these events are set up to "challenge" men to do more, be more, work harder, be more committed. They are essentially based on a legalistic, performance-based mindset that believes in a type of Christianity that is all about doing. All about behavior. All about performance.

The teachers and leaders in these retreats essentially try to guilt men into being dedicated to performing better for God in order to become the men He wants them to be... rather than teaching them and encouraging them in who God has already made them to be, and that they don't need to "become" anything, and how it's His faithfulness, and it's His grace that is at work in them that causes an outflow of thankfulness and fruit.

Look, I used to attend these things, and I'd get all pumped up from the motivational speakers (that's really what they are) about how I'm going to change, and how I'm going to be "on fire" for Jesus! And then within days I'd be all deflated and discouraged because I couldn't sustain the fire. The reason for this is because all the preaching centered on ME and MY commitment, MY performance, MY attempts at taking the world for God. And I don't have what it takes.

But if you put me with other people who will daily encourage me in Christ's finished work... in who I already am in Him... in how I'm already complete in Him... in how He Himself is faithful to perform the work He began in me... in how I'm already fully in Him and He in me... in how it's not up to me and my faithfulness and commitment but in how He sustains me by His faithfulness and commitment to me, and by His grace... I don't need an excuse to not attend, but rather I'm running as fast as I can to get there!

Is it that I don't want to "do," or that I don't want to "perform," or even that I don't want to be "committed" to good things? Of course not. But legalism and guilt, and fleshly motivational speeches, are not the way. Rather, being free to be who God has already made me to be, and to rely on His sustaining grace... that is the way.