Who’s Doing The Work?


I overheard an interesting conversation at church yesterday. (I was dying to jump in and give my two cents but decided that would be rude. 😳 ) One older man was essentially giving his testimony.

In short, he came to Christ when he was ten, but then he got involved with friends who weren’t the best influence on him. Until he married his wife, he led a life that was far from God. He stated emphatically, though, that he believes he was a Christian. He’d made that profession of faith that was genuine. How can you undo being born again, he asked.

Some people call this “easy believe-ism” and don’t think such a person is saved.

Christians know that nobody is made right with God by what we do. No work of ours can erase the sin in our heart. Through Jesus alone can we be reconciled to God. What we must do is confess with our mouth and believe in our heart:

that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. (Rom 10:9-10)

This believing issue is the one that gets a little sticky. James says the demons also believe (that God is One) and they shudder (James 2:19). They are, however, not saved. He uses them to illustrate that the person with genuine faith is the person who by his actions demonstrates what he believes.

A tangential issue has to do with how we can possibly do works of righteousness, which seem to be the evidence of faith.

Are the works ours? Or do they come from the Spirit within us?

Paul seems to indicate in Colossians 2 that, as we began in faith, we are to live by faith: “Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord [by faith], so walk in Him [by faith] (Col. 2:6).”

Yet he also says we are to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord [action], to please Him in all respects” (Col. 1:10b).

So which is it?

The Holy Spirit gives gifts and He also supplies fruit:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Gal 5:22-23)

Yet the Christian is commanded not to quench the Spirit or to grieve Him, which seems to indicate we can stifle His influence in our life (and so not show His fruit or use His gifts). Are we then, not Christians?

Not at all. Too many verses in Scripture indicate that God does not lose those who are His own. So either the wayward person was never a Christian or he will change his behavior in due time, like the mouthy brother who said he wouldn’t obey his father, only to end up doing what he was told after all (see Matt 21:28-29).

Still, there is the question about our works. My former pastor was constantly reminding us that we live by grace. Alistair Begg, who I listen to on the radio, is also diligent to explain that we don’t go to church to get a pep talk, to learn what it is we’re supposed to do, then go out, pull up our socks, and try harder.

Rather, “it is God Who is at work in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil 2:13).

Do we have no responsibility, then?

Peter seems to say we do. “Like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior because it is written, ‘You shall be holy for I am holy’ ” (1 Peter 1:15-16).

This is one of those issues, I think, where a great case can be made for living by grace — a “let go and let God” approach when taken to the extreme. At the same time, an equally good case with supporting verses can be made for working out our salvation.

In such instances, I think the best approach is a both/and acceptance. Somehow God does work in the life of the Christian and at the same time expect the Christian to obey. Not by his own strength (“strengthened with all power according to His glorious might,” Paul says in Colossians). Nevertheless, somehow — volitionally, perhaps — we’re involved. We don’t (or ought not) sit around waiting for God to pull our wallet out of our pocket and give to our needy neighbor. We already have His command to love our neighbor as ourselves.

What about the flip side of the coin, those things like lust or greed or anger (the topics those in the pulpit at my church are tackling these next few weeks)? We have clear directions about those issues already, so are we to obey or are we to wait for God to make us obey?

Both.

It’s a both/and issue, remember? We first pray, confess our sin and our inability in our own flesh to deal with the issue. Then we thank God that we don’t have to, that He’s already given us the Holy Spirit to empower us to do the very thing He has asked us to do. Then we take a step in the right direction. One after another, trusting that God will give us the strength each time to lift our foot and keep going where He’s shown us we should go.

I think learning to live in God’s strength is harder than it sounds. It is for me anyway. But at the same time, I don’t feel so defeated as I once did. In case you missed my post at the beginning of the year, I’m the one who doesn’t make New Year’s resolutions because I was so tired of trying to do the same things over and over, year after year! It gets … discouraging. But God’s promise of strength and provision of His Spirit gives hope.

Published in: on March 5, 2012 at 7:10 pm  Comments (6)  
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God And Senseless Shootings


When something tragic happens—man’s willful, wanton violence on man—such as happened a few days ago in Tucson, Arizona, I can’t help but wonder why everyone doesn’t believe in a God of justice.

Atheists make sense in a situation like that, their reasoning being that if God existed, He wouldn’t allow such horrific events. They, at least, accept the idea that God should be just.

But there is a group of people who claim to believe in God, even claim to believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior, but who reject the idea that God is just. These people seem out of touch with reality when someone opens fire on a crowd, killing a nine-year-old, a number of senior citizens and others, and sending more than a dozen people to the hospital.

How can someone think God will overlook this?

No, these false teachers who reject God’s right to serve as Judge of the world He created, might say, God doesn’t overlook such acts. Jesus came to show a better way, and we’re simply slow learners. I’m not sure how this position helps the victims, or the criminals. Some might even say Jesus came to bear the penalty for all Mankind, so the nihilistic, chaos-seeking mass murderer is forgiven like everyone else.

The latter view overlooks the conditional aspects of forgiveness in Scripture. There is the belief requirement:

  • “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
    – Acts 16:30b-31
  • that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved
    – Rom. 10:9 [emphasis added]
  • But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
    – Gal. 3:22
  • This precious value, then, is for you who believe
    – I Peter 2:7a
  • But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name
    John 1:12
  • He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
    – John 3:18

There is also the forgiveness requirement:

  • And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
    – Matt. 6:12
  • For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
    – Matt. 6:14
  • And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.
    – Matt. 18:34-35

In other words, a forgiven person forgives. He doesn’t go out and gun down a bunch of strangers.

Non-Christians understand and require justice, though their human efforts often turn into vengeance instead.

Finally, Christ’s death on the cross only makes sense in light of God’s justice. Unless the sinless Messiah was paying for the sins of those under condemnation of death, then He died senselessly. He would be a tragic figure—a great teacher cut down in his prime, a noble example turned victim, a caring mentor taken from those he discipled. The best anyone could say about him would be, He died well.

But the truth is that Jesus became the sin bearer who satisfied God’s just wrath. He is the substitute for everyone who believes.

Those who don’t—who reject God’s sovereign right to rule and to judge—will stand before Him one day and receive justice. Think of them as perpetrators of cold cases that will be solved.

Published in: on January 12, 2011 at 8:01 pm  Comments (3)  
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