Sunday, January 31, 2016

What Is Meant By "Works"?

Jesus + nothing = everything.

This is true. This is biblical.

Faith + nothing = everything.

This is false. This is a lie that comes from the devil, and straight from the pit of hell!

For some unknown reason, many Christians feel the need to lump all works together in the same category, then falsely convince themselves that all works are, or lead to, works-righteousness. This is the same foolishness wherewith many Christians lump commands for holiness together with legalism. It all stems from ignorance. Christians desperately need to learn the difference between works of the Law, guided by self-righteousness and the idea that such will make them right with God, and works of faith. We could also define it as a difference between works of the flesh and works of the Spirit. Remember, the Bible makes it abundantly clear that we were "created in Christ Jesus for [the purpose of] good works" (Eph. 2:10).

James asks, "What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him?" (James 2:14). Many Christians would answer, "Yes," and then spout the unbiblical nonsense of "by faith alone." Thrice James answers, "faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself" (James 2:17), "faith without works is useless" (James 2:20c), and "faith without works is dead" (James 2:26b). How many times does he have to say it? The question Christians need to be asking, instead of riding their high horse of arrogant assumption, is: What kind of works is James talking about here?

Some Christians will quote Romans 3:28-30 and underscore the words "man is justified by faith apart from works." They then ignorantly and arrogantly assume they have made their case. But that is not what the passage says! It says, "man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law"! Were Abraham's works "works of the Law"? The Law did not come into effect until about 300 years later! Abraham's works were works of faith—not works of the Law with which he believed would make him right with God. Were Rahab's works "works of the Law"? She was a Gentile woman! The Law meant nothing to her. Many Christians need to stop painting the aspect of works with a wide brush.
NOTE: Every verse the "by faith alone" proponent brings to the table is speaking with regard to "the Law," most of them mentioning "the Law" right there in the verse or passage.
Christian! Swallow your pride, strip yourself of your arrogant assumptions, and pay attention to what the Bible says!

Twice James tells us that Abraham was justified by his works. He also tells us that Rahab was justified by her works. You cannot ignore or escape this fact, nor can you sweep it under the rug. Is the Bible wrong for saying they were justified by their works? Did either of them believe that they would be made right with God by doing what they did? Or do we have a flawed understanding of what the Bible means here by "works"? You cannot pit verses that say "justified by faith" against these and then smugly assume these verses are canceled out and that somehow you have made your case. Especially when the verses you are attempting to quote are dealing with a contrast between faith and works of the Law. Not all works are works of the Law.

The works that Paul is contrasting with faith are the works of the Law—not works of faith (faith in action)! Observe: "a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law" (Romans 3:28); "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes" (Romans 10:4); "a man is not justified by the works of the Law" (Galatians 2:16); "if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly" (Galatians 2:21); "Does He then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?" (Galatians 3:5); "Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith" (Galatians 3:24); "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 [of the Law], that no one should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9); "not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ" (Philippians 3:9).

Faith never acts alone! The Bible is both clear that (1) works alone will not save you, and (2) faith alone will not save you. James made it abundantly clear that Abraham's "faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected" (James 2:22). If you want to wax theological, you can even go so far as to say his faith drove his works, but nevertheless the two were working in tandem—that is, together. His works perfected his faith. "Faith without works is dead" (James 2:26b). Do not ever forget that!

An example:
I am hanging mid-air from whatever (cliff, roof, tree), about to fall and hurt myself severely. You are standing below and you tell me, "Let go and I will catch you." I can earnestly and wholeheartedly believe that you will catch me with every fiber of my being, but if I do not let go, all that belief counts for nothing. It is dead faith. By letting go, my works (letting go) perfect my faith (believing that you will indeed catch me). What we truly believe is always verified by what we do, regardless of what our mouths speak.
Look carefully at the above example and note these facts:
  1. Faith alone will not save. If I believe that you will indeed catch me, but I do not let go, that faith counts for nothing. It is dead faith.
  2. Faith has to be coupled with works. The moment I let go, my letting go demonstrates and perfects my faith. It is living faith. Faith in action.
  3. Deeper theologically, you could say that my faith in you catching me drove my works of letting go, which resulted in the perfecting of my faith. So while faith drove the works, nevertheless faith and works worked together.
Throughout the entire Bible, whenever you see instances of faith, it is inseparably linked with faith in action (i.e., works/living faith), as demonstrated by James with regard to Abraham and Rahab. To deny this is to be living in sheer ignorance. If we know from Scripture that there are two kinds of faith, and two kinds of repentance, why would we foolishly assume there is only one kind of works? Is Ephesians 2:10 saying we were created for works of the Law or legalism? Clearly not! So why do we assume that all talk regarding "works" is in regard to works-righteousness and us being right with God based on those merits?

Since every instance of faith in the Bible is inseparably accompanied by faith in action (i.e., works/living faith), it is foolish to assume that when Scripture speaks of "faith" that it merely refers to mental assent. Faith is not merely what we believe in our head and our heart, but also how we act in accordance with that belief. Genuine acceptance of the Gospel is inseparably accompanied by immediate genuine repentance and followed by continuous genuine repentance as one grows in that faith. Faith is never faith alone apart from actions! Ergo, "faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself" (James 2:17). When the Bible speaks of Abraham's "faith," it includes not only what he believed in his heart, but also how he acted upon that belief. This is how Paul can say he was justified by faith and how James can say he was justified by his works. The two are not contradictory. The belief in his heart alone was not enough, as James points out. He had to act upon it, the same way we do. The moment he acted, his actions perfected his belief. Belief and actions together constitute "faith." You do not believe me?

Closely examine the woman with the issue of blood (or any other instance of faith in Scripture). She believed in her heart that touching Jesus' garment would heal her (faith) and she reached out in that belief and touched His garment (works/living faith/faith in action). Jesus' words to her? "Your faith has healed you." "Faith," here, encompasses both her belief in her heart that she would be healed and her faith in action by touching the garment. How about Peter walking on water? Faith (believing it was possible) plus works of faith (stepping out on the water). How about the crippled man by the pool? Some stranger comes up to him and tells him to walk. How cruel! Faith (believing it) plus works of faith (standing up). How many passages in Scripture would you care to examine and see this pattern? I can do this all day if you would like. You see this everywhere in Scripture!

Justification is never by faith alone. Abraham did not simply believe God, he acted upon that belief. His action perfected his belief. His action made his belief real. This is how Paul can say he was justified by faith and how James can say he was justified by his works. Faith and works (faith in action) always go hand-in-hand. They are inseparable! It is that simple. It does not matter what aspect of faith you are looking at, it is all the same. Genuine faith of any kind requires some sort of action to go along with it. If you have faith that God is calling you to missions somewhere, you actually have to step out in that faith and go. Otherwise, you can believe it all you want and nothing is ever going to happen. If you have faith that I will catch you if you fall, you need to actually let go so that you can fall and I can catch you. Otherwise, by not letting go you are holding on to a form of self-righteousness. If you have faith in the Gospel of Christ Jesus and Him crucified, there will be repentance present.

The Christian's life is to be one of living faith—faith in action, living out what we say we believe. What we believe will always be seen in and by our actions. Our words may profess one belief while our actions reveal our true belief. What we truly believe is always verified by what we do, regardless of what our mouths speak.
Example #1: Your mouth speaks that you believe that God is in control of all things, yet you constantly worry about everything. You say you believe that God is in control over all things, but your actions prove that is not what you believe.

Example #2: Your mouth speaks that you believe God sees everything you do, hears everything you say, and knows everything you think. Yet, your actions prove that is not what you truly believe. If it were, you would be conscious of the way you act (in public or in private), the way you speak, and what you let your thoughts dwell on.
If our works stem from a desire to be right with God, or a belief that they will make us right with God, then we are guilty of self-righteousness and works-righteousness. If our works stem from faith, then they are examples of living faith and they are the works we were created for. When I speak of "works," I do not speak of the heresy of works that save us or keep us saved, which are the "works of the Law" that Paul was condemning: "If I do this, or if I do this enough, I'll be good with God." I speak of the works of living faith, faith in action. It is these works that are always present with faith, it is these works that perfect faith, and it is these works that we were created for. Not the works of the Law!

I hope this blog entry has set several people straight and opened their eyes to the truth of Scripture, providing they are humble enough to get off their high horse of arrogant assumptions based on religious tradition. As I said before, so say I again:
It does not matter what traditions we hold to, it does not matter what system of theology we follow, it does not matter what denomination we belong to, we must compare all teachings with the Scriptures and hold the Scriptures as the only authority. I agree with most of Reformed theology, the doctrines of grace, and the five solas, but where they do not agree with Scripture, we need to reject tradition and conform our beliefs to the Word of God. Reformed theology, the doctrines of grace, and the five solas are not infallible. Any true student of the Word, a Berean at heart, understands this and will subject these, and all systems of theology, to the scrutiny of the Word of God. How we were raised, what we were taught, and what we believe must conform to Scripture. Otherwise we are blind, ignorant, disobedient, rebellious fools.
Remember, the works James is speaking of are not works that a person can say, "If I do this, I'll be good with God." The works James is speaking of are those that naturally accompany genuine faith. They must accompany faith for that faith to be real and so that faith can be perfected. Otherwise, that faith is empty, meaningless, and dead. It is as simple as that.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Genuine Faith and Repentance

Genuine faith produces fruit. Fake faith does not.

Genuine Repentance consists of:
  1. Recognition of sin
  2. Sorrow for sin
  3. Shame for sin
  4. Confession for sin
  5. Forsaking of sin
  6. Hatred of sin
All 6 must be present for genuine repentance. 

WHAT IS REPENTANCE?
by George Everard
 
"I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' So he got up and went to his father." Luke 15:18-20

Notice the spirit of deep self-abasement in the resolution which the prodigal made.

True repentance is intensely personal. The prodigal felt it was his own sin. "I have sinned!" He can scarcely see any sin but his own. He sees his own sin in the very worst colors. Study the fifty-first Psalm. See how David again and again speaks. It is my transgression, my iniquity, my sin ever before me.

True repentance beholds the wrong done to God by sin. The prodigal felt that his sin was primarily against God. It was a breach of His holy law. It was opposition to His holiness. It was sin against His goodness, and against redeeming love. So David cries in his bitter sorrow, forgetting for the moment the wrong he had done to Uriah--in the far greater wrong which his sin had done to God: "Against You, You only have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight!"

True repentance makes no excuses. The prodigal seeks for no palliation, no covering, no cloak. He says nothing of the circumstances which led him to do evil, or of companions who had drawn him aside. He does not attempt to shift the burden from his own shoulders to that of others. He makes no self-justifying pleas--he has too much sorrow, too much true brokenness of spirit, to desire or attempt it. One thing, and one thing only, he sees--his own terrible fall, and his own exceeding guilt.

True repentance takes the very lowest place. Once to be a son was not enough for him--but now he will be content even to be a slave or a hired servant! He feels utterly unworthy. As Jacob felt: "I am not worthy of all the mercies You have showed me." As the centurion felt when he sent to Jesus: "I am not worthy that You should come under my roof." So did the young prodigal esteem himself: "I am no longer worthy to be called your son."

Be sure that God delights in the humble and contrite soul.
Lift yourself up in pride and self-satisfaction--and God will assuredly cast you down.
Cast yourself down in humble confession of your sin--and God will assuredly lift you up.
"God resists the proud--but gives grace unto the humble."

But we see here the purpose of the heart accomplished. The young man not only made the resolution, but he kept it, "So he got up and went to his father." He turned his back forever on that far country and his old companions--and turned his face homeward. Doubtless it was with many a tear, with many a bitter feeling of regret for all that had passed--since in so different a spirit he had trodden that path before. Yet onward he trudges with weary heart and weary footstep, in the hope that a place may still be found for him in his father's house.

Do you ask, What is repentance? I can scarcely better describe it than from the path of this wanderer. It is turning the back . . .
   on sin,
   on the ways of the world,
   on the lusts of the flesh,
   on the service of the devil.

And it is turning the face God-ward, Heaven-ward, confessing all that is past, looking upward for grace to live holier, with one single desire--to abide in the fear and love of God.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Moral Issues Confronting Christians: Homosexuality

by Unknown
INTRODUCTION
  1.  Homosexuality as an acceptable, alternative lifestyle has become more prevalent...
    1. Equal rights are being granted to practice and promote the lifestyle
    2. There are now gay churches, even gay priests and ministers in mainstream denominations
    3. Cities and vacation resorts often cater to open display of homosexual behavior
  2. It is certainly a moral issue that confronts many Christians today...
    1. Some question whether it is wrong
    2. Others react in ways unbecoming a Christian
(As with any moral issue, we must look to the Word of God. And so we start by asking...)
  1. What Does the Bible Say?
    1. In the Patriarchal Age...
      1. Homosexuality led to the fall of Sodom and Gomorrah
        1. The people were guilty of a "grace sin" — Gen 18:20
        2. The men of the city, young and old, were involved — Gen 19:4-5
        3. They are later described as "given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh" — Jude 7
      2. Does not Ezekiel say their sin was lack of hospitality?
        1. So say some, based on Eze 16:49
        2. Sodom in Ezekiel 16 is Ammon and Moab, the offshoots from Sodom — JFB
        3. Sodom in Genesis had ceased to exist nearly 1500 years before!
      -- Homosexual conduct was a grave sin in the days of the patriarchs
    2. In the Mosaic Age...
      1. The Law of Moses made it a capital crime
        1. It was an abomination, together with bestiality — Lev 18:22-23
        2. It was a reason the other nations were driven out — Lev 18:24-25
        3. The Israelites were warned the same could happen to them — Lev 18:26-30
        4. It was a sin punishable by death — Lev 20:13
      2. Remember, Jesus lived under the Law of Moses
        1. It did not end until His death on the cross — Col 2:14
        2. While in force, Jesus taught strict observance of the Law — Mt 5:17-19
        3. Thus Jesus approved of what the Law taught about homosexuality
      -- Homosexual conduct was a capital crime under the Law of Moses
    3. In the Christian Age...
      1. As written to the Christians in Rome — Ro 1:24-27
        1. Lesbianism and homosexuality both described as "vile passions"
        2. The former is "against nature," the later is "shameful"
        3. Men receiving in themselves the penalty of their error (e.g., AIDS?)
      2. As written to the church in Corinth — 1Co 6:9-10
        1. Included in a list of sins preventing one from inheriting the kingdom of God
        2. Paul uses two terms that describe homosexual conduct
          1. malakos — the passive male partner in homosexual intercourse — Louw & Nida
          2. arsenokoites — a male partner, possibly the active one — ibid.
      3. As written to the evangelist Timothy — 1Ti 1:9-11
        1. Paul again uses the term arsenokoites (men who practice homosexuality, ESV)
        2. In a list of sins that are "contrary to sound doctrine, according to the glorious gospel"
      -- Homosexual conduct is contrary to the sound doctrine of the gospel of Christ
[The Bible is clear: throughout every dispensation, homosexual conduct like other forms of sexual immorality is clearly condemned. Yet many believe that God made them homosexual. Is that true...?]
  1. What Causes Homosexuality?
    1. Nature or Nurture...
      1. Is homosexuality the result of one's genetics (nature)?
        1. Many say "God made me this way"
          1. There has been no definitive study proving homosexuality is genetic
          2. News stories often fail to mention the bias of those conducting the studies
        2. If God gave a person reproductive organs...
          1. He made them physically for heterosexual relationships
          2. Homosexual tendencies thus imply psychological issues, not physical ones
      2. A study of identical twins proves that genetics alone do not account for gender preference
        1. Dr. Michael Bailey of Northwestern University examined 110 pairs of identical twins who had been separated at birth and raised in different environments
        2. He found that if one twin was gay there was a 52% chance the other was also
        3. Note well: identical twins are genetically alike
          1. If homosexuality was genetic, they would have the same gender preference
          2. That 48% were not gay confirms genetics alone does not cause homosexuality
      -- Nature alone does not explain homosexuality
    2. Simple or Complex...
      1. If homosexuality is not solely nature, is it solely nurture?
        1. Many assume it is solely environmental (nurture)
        2. Or that it is a simple choice of one's behavior
      2. The evidence suggests a complex combination of factors
        1. Some genetic factors, for example:
          1. A melancholy temperament is often a common factor
          2. In which one may be more predisposed to homosexuality
          3. Just as other temperaments make some more prone to anger or alcoholism
        2. Some environmental factors, for example:
          1. Lack of healthy parental relationships (absent father, smother mother)
          2. Early exposure to improper sexual activity, especially when one is insecure about their sexual identity
        3. The genetic and environmental factors can often be quite diverse
          1. Leading to various expressions of homosexuality (active, passive)
          2. Nor do they always lead to homosexual tendency or behavior
      -- Nurture alone may not explain homosexuality
[Sinful behavior is not always a simple choice, especially once one becomes enslaved to sin (cf. Jn 8:34). We who understand sin's power should certainly be sympathetic toward others. So let us ask...]
  1. What Is A Christian Response?
    1. To Share the Truth of the Gospel...
      1. We must hold fast to the truth that is in Jesus — Ep 4:20-24
      2. We must teach sound doctrine, according to the glorious gospel — 1Ti 1:8-11
      -- It may be politically incorrect, but we cannot compromise truth
    2. To Display the Love of the Gospel...
      1. We have the duty to speak the truth in love — Ep 4:15
        1. Which affects how we approach those enslaved in sin — 2Ti 2:24-26
        -- We must hate the sin, but we must also love the sinner
      2. To Offer the Hope of the Gospel...
        1. Cleansing, sanctification and justification to all — 1Co 6:9-11
          1. The fruit of the Spirit to deal with the works of the flesh — Ga 5:16-25
          -- No matter the form of sexual immorality, the gospel provides deliverance!
      CONCLUSION
      1.  Homosexuality is a volatile issue today...
        1. It is a politically charged issue
        2. Opposition to it is often depicted as being hateful, homophobic, narrow minded
      2. The challenge confronting Christians today is how to respond...
        1. Too many are indeed hateful and homophobic
        2. That is wrong, and increases the likelihood of persecution
      We must be faithful to the Scriptures, but we must also be faithful to the example of Jesus and His apostles, who reached out to all sinners with the display of love, the promise of forgiveness, and the hope of transformation...

      Sunday, January 17, 2016

      Sola Fide?

      (A continuation of By Faith Alone? I Don't Think So!)
      What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him?  If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? 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? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS," and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works, when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead. James 2:14-26
      James quotes the exact same passage that Paul uses to support justification by faith (Rom. 4:3), but he uses it entirely differently. Before quoting the passage, James tells us, "Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected." After quoting the passage, James informs us, "You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone." Twice, he tells us that Abraham was justified by his works. That fact cannot be escaped or ignored.

      If you look through the entire Old and New Testaments where someone appears to be justified by faith alone, if you take a closer look at the story, you will see that they are also being justified by their works. Take the woman with the issue of blood, for example (Matt. 9:20-22; Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:43-48). On the surface, all most people see is her faith. They then attempt to build their presumptuous conclusion off Jesus' words: "Your faith has saved you." But take a closer look at the story. What do you see? You see her works saving her as well, just as James points out with regard to Abraham: "You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected." She reached out and touched his garments (works) while believing that doing so would heal her (faith). If she had merely said to herself, "If I only touch His garment, I will be saved," believing it wholeheartedly, and then turned and went home having done nothing, would she have been healed? Think about it. "Faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself." The two were working in tandem. You will find the same with every story in Scripture.

      Think of it like this: I am hanging mid-air from whatever (cliff, roof, tree), about to fall and hurt myself severely. You are standing below and you tell me, "Let go and I will catch you." I can earnestly and wholeheartedly believe that you will catch me with every fiber of my being, but if I do not let go, all that belief counts for nothing. It is dead faith. By letting go, my works (letting go) perfect my faith (believing that you will indeed catch me). What we truly believe is always verified by what we do, regardless of what our mouths speak.

      John the Baptist, Jesus, and the Apostles preached repentance (works) and belief (faith). If you preached the Gospel to me and I wholeheartedly believed every word of it, but that was it, nothing changed in the way I live, then I am still dead in my trespasses and sins and I will go to hell. If I truly believed the Gospel preached to me (faith), there will be repentance at the same time (works). If my faith in the Gospel is genuine, I will no longer do many of the things I used to once do. The evidence that I truly believed (faith) would be seen in my repentance (works), which perfects that faith. Otherwise, faith alone is dead! Other good works will inevitably follow, but there is always an initial work present with faith in order to perfect that faith, just as James said: "as a result of [Abraham's] works, [his] faith was perfected." It is never one or the other by itself. If we are justified by faith alone, then all I have to do is believe, without repentance, without any following works, without any kind of demonstration of that faith. Sadly, this is what most professing "Christians" in the church today believe. "All I need is faith. I just need to believe. I don't have to repent. I don't need to do any kind of good works. All I need to do is believe and keep that belief to myself, never letting it show."

      It does not matter what traditions we hold to, it does not matter what system of theology we follow, it does not matter what denomination we belong to, we must compare all teachings with the Scriptures and hold the Scriptures as the only authority. I agree with most of Reformed theology, the doctrines of grace, and the five solas, but where they do not agree with Scripture, we need to reject tradition and conform our beliefs to the Word of God. Reformed theology, the doctrines of grace, and the five solas are not infallible. Any true student of the Word, a Berean at heart, understands this and will subject these, and all systems of theology, to the scrutiny of the Word of God. How we were raised, what we were taught, and what we believe must conform to Scripture. Otherwise we are blind, ignorant, disobedient, rebellious fools.