Christianity 201

July 2, 2019

Eternal Salvation Comes Through the Fullness of God’s Grace

by Russell Young

God’s grace is any act of his goodness or graciousness to humankind, especially the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life; including gratitude. It can be provision of a comfort as the Lord’s provision of the plant provided to shelter Jonah from the sun’s heat or the bread provided to Elijah by the ravens, and it can be implicit in the attainment of his eternal kingdom. His grace was seen many times in the life of the Israelites on the Exodus. The waters of the Red Sea and the Jordan were parted so they could cross on dry ground, their shoes and clothing didn’t wear out, they were provided with manna and even water from a rock. His grace was evidenced in the miraculous acts of Jesus and by his sacrificial offering on the cross for the justification of a sinful people. The provision of the Holy Spirit and of the Word that informs men of God, of his plans, and of the means of salvation are acts of grace. Any blessing of God’s goodness expressed in the life of a person is an act of grace.

When the Word says that people are saved by grace, it is presenting that God’s goodness and graciousness as expressed in the lives of people delivers them from a danger that would have brought destruction. When addressing God’s grace, it is important to identify the act that has met a particular need. What is the act and what is the outcome?

“Work” is the opposite of grace. Work is human centered and is often a person’s effort to please a holy God. The Israelites had been required to honor God through keeping the covenant law. When it is reported that salvation is by the grace of God, it means that a person’s deliverance is achieved by the God’s merciful and gracious intervention in that person’s life so that he or she can avoid danger and loss. His grace for eternal salvation is not necessarily specific to a single act but through the fullness of his provision or through many acts. In fact, a person’s eternal salvation is not accomplished by a single act of the Lord, but by the fullness of his love and mercy and that over time.

  1. The Lord’s visitation to humankind, the incarnation of God in the form of a human being, to reveal God and to appreciate the trials of the flesh were by their gracious provision.
  2. The Lord’s sacrificial death in the place of people so that they could be justified and redeemed from their death penalty and provided a better hope through the New Covenant were acts of grace.
  3. The Father’s gift of the Holy Spirit so that the sinful nature that brings death could be defeated is an act of grace.
  4. The life of Christ as Spirit to enlighten, lead, and empower for righteous living is an act of grace.
  5. The Lord’s mediation of his own blood in the role of High Priest for the forgiveness of sins is also an act of grace

Salvation is by God’s grace and it must not be considered otherwise; however, it is not achieved by a single act of his goodness. The real need of people is to be conformed to the likeness of the Son of God becoming an offering acceptable to him (Rom 15:16) and should not be limited to the forgiveness of sin in the believer’s life. The Lord’s gracious ministry and intervention in the life of believers is extravagant and goes well beyond his death on the cross. His grace and love are much more expansive.

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:11−14) In this reference the grace of God is our teacher.

On leaving Ephesus, Paul committed the elders to God and to the word of his grace, which could build them up and give them an inheritance among those who are sanctified. (Acts 20:32) The word of his righteous requirements was to “build them up” so that they could become “sanctified” and participate in the inheritance of the sanctified. These were the “elders.” They had made a confession of faith; however, the sacrificial offering of Christ was not enough to meet the fullness of their requirements because they still had to be built up by working out their own salvation through the sanctification that comes by the word and the Spirit. “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.” (Rom 14:17−18)

The opportunity for salvation has appeared to all peoples. The grace of God that brings salvation teaches them to live properly. God’s grace comes through the Word, which is Christ himself (Rev 19:13), who has revealed God and the words of salvation, and it requires the Holy Spirit who brings God’s words to remembrance as well as empowering the obedient to live righteously, to be sanctified. The fullness of God’s grace needs to be appreciated and honored.



Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His first book, Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? is available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also an extended article at this link

February 26, 2019

Honoring the Father’s Call

by Russell Young

According to the parable of the two sons (Mt 21:18) a father needed work done in his vineyard and asked each to help. The first retorted that he would not, but later did. The second said that he would but didn’t. The question posed was: Which of the sons did what his father had wanted?

Since the Father had wanted help, the son who had originally denied his request but later complied is the one who did what the father had wanted. He had relented, repented, and obeyed.

The Lord was making a point. It is more important to obey than to utter an empty promise. He addressed this elsewhere: “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Lk 6:46) Obedience to the Lord is serious; it is through it that the believer gains eternal salvation. Disobedience, defiance, or rebellion will bring his wrath. “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.” (Eph 5:6)

Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command,” (Jn 14:15) and Paul has written that “everyone who loves God is known by God.” (1 Cor 8:3) God knows those who love him because they obey his commands; they go beyond promising to the point of obedience through their ‘doing’. A walk of obedience is a walk of humility before the Lord. It recognizes his sovereignty and right as master.

The confession (pledge, promise, or covenant) of the Lord’s sovereignty results in the confessor’s deliverance from the Law and from his or her past sins. (Heb 9:15; 2 Pet 1:9) Paul wrote, “That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom 10:9) There are many who make the profession that “Christ is Lord” but who do not honor their pledge. His sovereign right to the life of the believer is proclaimed many times in the Scriptures and must be honored. Those who deny “the sovereign Lord” through the introduction of destructive heresies will bring swift destruction on themselves. (2 Pet 2:1; See also Jude 1:4)

God’s kingdom will not be entered through profession, but through exercised obedience. “Christ is the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Heb 5:9) The righteous life of Christ is accomplished through submission to his leadership as Spirit. The promise of commitment made to the Lord is to be lived.

Some might respond that such teaching makes eternal salvation a matter of “works” however, obedience is the practice of faith. All believers have heard of Paul’s teaching, “For it is by grace you are saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is a gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph 2:8−9) Both “grace” and “faith” need to be understood from a biblical perspective, however the essence of Paul’s thought is in the verse that follows, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) God’s grace is revealed as the product that the Lord is making of the believer, his “workmanship”, so that he or she might do good works (deeds, labor). The “product” is conformation to Christ’s own likeness (Rom 8:29) Only those who have been cleansed from “ignoble” practices will be used for noble purposes (2 Tim 2:21) or for the “works which God had prepared in advance for them to do.” Only the righteous will be used for “noble” purposes.

Those called to work in the Father’s vineyard are called “to do good works” which had been prepared in advance. The Lord has referred to these as hearing his words and putting them into practice. (Mt 7:24−27; Lk 6:46−49) His words must be put into practice both for righteousness’ sake, and for kingdom building with each bringing their just rewards.

Those seeking God’s heavenly kingdom are not to be passive in their commitment but have been called to put forth effort. When asked if only a few people were going to be saved, the Lord responded, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many I tell you will try to enter and will not be able to.” (Lk 13:24) They will plead that they ate and drank with him and that he had taught in their streets, but he will reply, “I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me you evildoers.” (Lk 13:27) In the end it will not be their profession to work in his vineyard that matters, but their actual work; not their promise of commitment, but their practice of obedience. Entrance rests in “effort” not fruitless “confession”. Matthew has recorded the Lord’s prophesy, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Mt 2:21) His complaint was that he had never known them. Entrance will be based on a person’s doing.

A promise made must be kept; God will not be mocked. (Gal 6:7) Those, like the son who have promised to work and don’t, are hypocrites. They want to appear submissive and God-honoring through their proclamations, but do not live according to their words. The unfaithful servant will be cut into pieces and assigned a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Mt 24:51) Faith is more than a possession; it is revealed through a person’s practices and is demonstrated, not through what a person says, but by what he or she does. Faith is revealed in the lives of the vineyard workers, those who work when the Father calls, who are obedient to his will, not in those who utter empty promises.



Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His book, Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? is available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also a feature-length article at this link.

December 4, 2018

Repentance Must Be Proven

by Russell Young

Concerning his ministry Paul wrote: “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” (Acts 26:20) The Lord also told some Pharisees and Sadducees who had come to be baptized, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” (Mt 3:7─8) He further taught, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch in me that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful,” (Jn 15:1─2) and added, “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit, apart from me he can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5) Producing good fruit is the proof of a person’s repentance.

The need to repent of sins and to prove that repentance through deeds, is vital to understanding the fullness of the gospel. It is the part that has been excluded from modern teaching. Paul was instructive about the need for more to take place than justification through the blood of Christ. “Since we have been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Rom 5:9─10 Italics added) It needs to be appreciated that reconciliation with God is not the full need of those who will dwell eternally with him. Reconciliation restores relationship with God so that he or she can get the Spirit. (Gal 3:14) In his letter to the Colossians Paul wrote, “To the [saints] he has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col 1:27) The “life” of Christ that is “the more” is Christ in the believer, the Spirit, and he is to be obeyed. (Heb 5:9)

Modern philosophical constructs have twisted the Word to offer eternal salvation as a “gift” of God. (Salvation or deliverance from past sins and from the requirements of the Old Covenant is a gift; however, eternal salvation which provides freedom from judgment is not a direct gift.) Surely, they would argue, if eternal salvation is a “gift,” there can be no “more” required. By making such an assertion, they deny the “more” and the need to prove repentance by deeds. Those who live so boldly before God by rejecting the Lord’s leadership as Spirit (Rom 8:4, 14; Gal 5:18; Jn 10:27), will have to suffer his wrath.

The gospel as taught by Paul, and the teaching of Christ, is that the saints are to prove their repentance by their deeds. Proving it requires living a life that is consistent with repentance and does not rest on an utterance once made. Paul wrote that believers are to work out (finish, complete) their own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12), and the Lord admonished his listeners, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” (Lk 13:24 Italics added) Although philosopher-theologians have protected believers through the cloak of Christ’s great love and mercy, neither Paul nor the Lord have allowed such freedom. Repentance must be proven. Only the holy will see the Lord. (Heb 12:14)

When have you last heard teaching on the need for obedience, or on judgment for disobedience? Have you been told that having to endure God’s wrath is still a possibility? God’s love is expansive but not unconditional; it does not cover defiance and disobedience. He is building a kingdom of love and respect for his sovereignty. God gave his Son as propitiation for the sins of humankind and he gifted the Spirit so that his righteous requirements might be met. (Rom 8:4) The Spirit was given so that those who believe the Lord’s testimony and by their will submit in obedience to him are able to prove their repentance and avoid God’s wrath. “For we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Cor 5:10) As Malachi prophesied, “And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.” (Mal 3:18)

Those who fail to prove their repentance will find themselves separated from the Lord. “The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.” (Mt 13:41) The separation will be based on their “doing” and willingness to submit to their Lord or whether or not they have truly repented for their rebellion and defiance.


Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His book, Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? is available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also a feature-length article at this link.

July 9, 2017

Confusion: The Command to “Obey the Gospel”

by Russell Young

Paul wrote: “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among those who have believed.” (2 Thess 1:9─10 NIV)

Only through obedience to the gospel will the believer find a place in the presence of the Lord. There is a divergence of understanding on what “obedience to the gospel” means however, because there are different understandings of the gospel.

The passages that speak of the need to obey the gospel –2 Thess 1:8; 1 Peter 4:17—refer to the issue of not keeping it. Peter infers that keeping the gospel implies righteousness and Paul implies that it is accomplished by those who believe.

“Gospel” means “good news.” The good news is that the opportunity for eternal life exists and that God has provided the way through Christ. Within the Jewish nation there had not been agreement on the hope of eternal life. The Sadducees had rejected such a hope and the Pharisees accepted that eternal life came through obedience to the Law. Christ revealed that the hope of eternal life was real and came through him. “Jesus answered, ’I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (Jn14:6 NIV)

Those committed to Christ readily accept that he is the way and the truth, but there is disagreement concerning the nature of his “life” in relation to the gospel. It is commonly accepted that “the life” refers to the sinless life that Christ lived while on this earth. Such acceptance rests in the understanding that his sinless life or righteousness was imputed or applied to the believer; accordingly, obedience to the gospel means believing that Christ has died to pardon and cleanse the believer of his or her sins leaving them righteous. Belief does not mean to suggest merely a mental activity regardless of the intensity of belief.   James wrote: “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” (Jas 2:26 NIV) Faith or belief requires the application of that which a person believes; consequently, judgment will rest on the things done in the body, whether good or bad. (2 Cor 5:10) The deeds of the confessor prove whether his or her faith or belief is genuine or not.

The Lord did not say that believers were to obey his command (singular), but “to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:20 NIV) Paul taught that “they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” (Acts 26:20 NIV) He told the Romans, “[Christ] condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be met in us who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:3─4 NIV) And Paul admonished, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please the sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Gal 6:7─8 NIV) (He did not teach that eternal life came at the cross.) Obedience to the gospel requires obedience to the Spirit who was given for the purpose of enabling righteous living.

Many quote the Lord, “Then they asked him, ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’ Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is to believe in the one he has sent,” (Jn 6:28─29 NIV) and limit “belief” to head knowledge. The Lord is the Spirit (2 Cor 3: 17, 18) and the righteous requirements of the law will be fulfilled as he lives his life through the obedient believer. The confessor must believe sufficiently to obey the one he or she called “Lord.”

The command to obey gospel in order to avoid being shut out from God’s presence refers not to accepting that the Lord suffered and died for the repentant, but to honoring his provision of the Holy Spirit and through obedience to the law of the Spirit (Rom 8:2) becoming a sacrifice acceptable to God. (Rom 15:16).



Russell Young is the Sunday contributor to Christianity 201 and author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

9781512757514

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.

 

January 16, 2015

Salvation By Works: Yes and No

The Message – Col 2:6-7 My counsel for you is simple and straightforward: Just go ahead with what you’ve been given. You received Christ Jesus, the Master; now live him. You’re deeply rooted in him. You’re well constructed upon him. You know your way around the faith. Now do what you’ve been taught. School’s out; quit studying the subject and start living it! And let your living spill over into thanksgiving.

The Voice – Col 2:6 Now that you have welcomed the Anointed One, Jesus the Lord, into your lives, continue to journey with Him and allow Him to shape your lives. Let your roots grow down deeply in Him, and let Him build you up on a firm foundation. Be strong in the faith, just as you were taught, and always spill over with thankfulness.

Amplified – Col 2:6 As you have therefore received Christ, [even] Jesus the Lord, [so] walk (regulate your lives and conduct yourselves) in union with and conformity to Him. Have the roots [of your being] firmly and deeply planted [in Him, fixed and founded in Him], being continually built up in Him, becoming increasingly more confirmed and established in the faith, just as you were taught, and abounding and overflowing in it with thanksgiving.

If you read nothing else here, don’t miss the first line of the reading which follows. Some people have a works-based faith. It’s not grace-based because it consists entirely of doing things. But some people, once they believe they have assurance of salvation by grace, end up doing nothing. Still a third group of people often realize that they have been guilty of living their lives in one extreme or other other, and end up swinging to the opposite position, but that leaves them still in the extreme. There is a continuum here, and the key is to find the balance in the middle.

E. Stanley Jones was one of the best-known Methodist missionaries (to India) and religious writers in the first half of the twentieth century. This is from Good News, a United Methodist website.

Devotional by E. Stanley Jones, Focus 3

By E. Stanley Jones (1884-1973)

You cannot attain salvation by disciplines*—it is the gift of God. But you cannot retain salvation without disciplines. If you try to attain salvation by disciplines, you will be trying to discipline an unsurrendered self. You will be sitting on a lid. The result will be tenseness instead of trust. “You will wrestle instead of nestle.” While salvation cannot be attained by discipline around an unsurrendered self, nevertheless when the self is surrendered to Christ and a new center formed, then you can discipline your life around that new center—Christ. Discipline is the fruit of conversion—not the root.

This passage gives the double-sidedness of conversion: “As therefore you received Christ Jesus the Lord so live in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith” (Col. 2:6-7, RSV). Note, “received”—receptivity; “so live”—activity. It appears again, “rooted”—receptivity; “built up in him”—activity.

The “rooted” means we take from God as the roots take the soil; the “built up” means we build up as one builds a house, a character and life by disciplined effort. So we take and try; we obtain and attain. We trust as if the whole thing depended on God and work as if the whole thing depended on us. The alternate beats of the Christian heart are receptivity and response—receptivity from God and response in work from us.


* What are the spiritual disciplines? Here is a list to get you started. That list has 12 disciplines in total, this one contains more, but breaks it down into seven key areas. (Click the tabs at the side of the landing page.)

March 15, 2014

Was Jesus the Recipient of Grace?

A conversation joined in progress…

“…she never brings anything to a potluck dinner, they just show up. He never comes to a church work day. They don’t attend Bible studies or prayer meetings.”

“But what’s that to you?”

“I think we’d all like to know if they’re all in.”

“Why do you need to know that?”

“Because it would be nice to have a conversation with them that wasn’t superficial; that wasn’t just all about the weather and the school their kids go to. It would be nice to know where they stand.”

“Why don’t you just ask them? Say, ‘So what’s God been doing in your life lately?’ Or, ‘What’s God been teaching you lately?”

“You can’t just start a conversation cold like that.”

“Maybe not at the grocery store, or with a relative stranger, but this is church, you sit in the row behind them every single week.”

“It would be awkward.”

“So here’s a question for you: Was Jesus ever the recipient of grace?”

“Wait. What?”

“Was Jesus ever the recipient of grace?”

“That’s just wrong.”

“Did Jesus ever experience grace?”

“Grace is for sinners. Jesus was without sin.”

“Are you a sinner?”

“I was a sinner; but now I’ve passed from death into life.”

“Have you ever sinned since? Maybe even this week?”

“Yes. Absolutely. So have you.”

“Does the grace of God meet you in that place?”

“Yes. But that’s different; second Corinthians 5:21 says, ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’  He had no sin, or some translations say he knew no sin.”

“You just happen to know that verse?”

“It was on a Christian radio on Friday while I was driving to work.”

“And you memorized the reference?”

“My sister’s birthday is 5/21 so that helped.  So when did Jesus experience the grace of God?”

“What is grace?”

“Grace is unmerited favor with God.”

“So the answer is, ‘At his baptism.’  A voice from heaven, the voice of God, says, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.'”1

“And…”

“He experienced the favor of God even though he hadn’t done anything yet. This was the outset2 of his public ministry.  He hadn’t taught anything, he hadn’t called disciples, he hadn’t healed anyone. It was unmerited in the sense that he hadn’t commenced his spiritual work.”

“But he had been alive for 30 years at that point. He always had the favor of God. Luke 2:52 says, ‘Jesus grew…in favor with God and man,’ so this was something he had earned over time.”

“But the people at the Jordan River didn’t know all that. To them, he was simply one of many being baptized for the forgiveness of sin and then God says he is ‘well pleased’ with him. We tend to think of that as more of an end-of-life pronouncement from God, as in ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’ 3 In other words, he has already been made a recipient of the favor of God.”

“But that has nothing to do with works, he was well-pleasing to God because of who he was, not according to anything he did. It’s the same with us, like that verse that says, ‘Not by works of righteousness that we have done…but because of his mercy.’4 There’s nothing that we do that ultimately earns us the grace of God. It’s who we are not what we do.”

“Exactly. So maybe it wasn’t grace in the sense of being freed from punishment because Jesus was, as you said, without sin. But it was a favor with God that preceded everything he was about to do over the next three years.”

“Okay. You could think of that way I suppose, but how did we get on this topic again?”

“The family that sits the row in front of you at church…”

“…Oh…yeah…”

“Could it be the grace of God is working and operative in their lives in ways you just don’t realize?”

“…Hmm…Maybe we need to get to know them a little better…”


1 Matthew 3:17

2Harmonization of the Life of Jesus

3Matthew 25:23

4 Titus 3:5

May 19, 2013

We’re Not Saved by Works, But Works Happen

The biggest myth that Christ followers need to combat is the idea that by doing things for God, we merit or earn eternal life. Even among people who have spent a lifetime immersed in churches where the message of grace is preached, there are people who, if you ask them, will tell you that they will spend eternity with God because of what they did.

Ephesians 2 contains two verses familiar to many of us:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. (NIV)

But someone will say, “But what about James 2:24?” That’s the verse many of us memorized as “Faith without works is dead.” The variety of translations we usually utilize here doesn’t clear this verse up because a good translation won’t interfere with what the original text actually says. Clarification of difficult passages is for footnotes, commentaries and Bible handbooks. But the CEV tries to provide us with the verse in a way that doesn’t trip us up vis-a-vis the Ephesians passage.

24 You can now see that we please God by what we do and not only by what we believe.

Or moving from the CEV to the CEB:

24 So you see that a person is shown to be righteous through faithful actions and not through faith alone.

which is almost word-for-word the same as the NLT.

But the other translations use words like “justified,” or “made right,” which implies a works based salvation.

It must be difficult to be a Bible translator — trying to stay loyal to the reading of a particular Greek section — but knowing the whole compendium of scripture and, in this case, knowing that salvation is a work of grace.  Here’s how the NCV approaches an earlier verse (italics added):

22 So you see that Abraham’s faith and the things he did worked together. His faith was made perfect by what he did.

The Reformation Study Bible notes:

None of our deeds are worthy of ultimate justification in the sight of God. Only the merit of Christ avails for that kind of justification. Only by trusting in Christ alone can we be made righteous in the sight of God. Here James attacks all forms of antinomianism that seek to have Jesus as Savior without embracing Him as Lord.

…I think a good passage to bring into this discussion is one that isn’t usually considered in this context, the story of the woman who anoints Jesus’ feet and washes his feet with her hair in Luke 7: 36-50.  I’m going to assume that most people reading this know that story, but if not, click the link.

A parable about a debtor is taught within the narration of this story, the point of which is to show to Simon, the host of the party, as to how grace plays out in the real world. The conclusion is:

47 “I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” (NLT)

47 This woman has been forgiven much, and she is showing much love. But the person who has shown little love shows how little forgiveness he has received. (The Voice)

Impressive, isn’t it? She was forgiven many, many sins, and so she is very, very grateful. If the forgiveness is minimal, the gratitude is minimal.” (The Message)

Works flow naturally, organically out of the overflow of the heart. Works are response to what we already received by grace, by faith. If a person isn’t finding some area of response to God, I think we’re safe in questioning the authenticity of their faith experience. 

Is your Christian service a laborious exercise done out of obligation, or is it a joy-filled response of a recipient of a level of grace that you know you could never deserve?

November 6, 2012

Assured of Eternal Life

Today we look at what may at first seem rather elementary material about the basics of salvation, until we move on to testing ourselves on how this evidences itself in our lives. This from Pastor B. J. Rutledge at Grace Fellowship Church and appears on his blog as You Can Know You Have Eternal Life.


[Recently] at Grace we talked about an UNUSUAL PROMISE from God.  At the request of one of our web/tech guys, I’m putting some of the scripture, some added notes and the check list from 1st John in this blog.  Let me start with a couple of added notes…

1.  No one can earn their way into heaven.  We are saved by faith through grace which is the gift of God and is clearly taught throughout the NT.  Ephesians 2:8-9 is clear on this and Eph. 2:10 states that we do good works as a result of this.  Titus 3:5 is clear that none of us can be saved by any works we do; our salvation is based on His mercy as we trust Christ and are born again by the renewing and regenerating that only the Holy Spirit can do in us.

2.  James 2:14-26 says that if my faith is real then “works of that faith” or “good works” will follow.  They don’t save me, but they are evidence of the fact that I am saved.

3.  None of us will live up to the things that John wrote in 1st John as “tests” of salavation 100% of the time; that’s why we need God’s grace.  As I stated Sunday, and have stated many times, the issue of testing your faith is one of direction not perfection.  We all sin.  I still sin.  However, the bent of my heart is now in the direction of the things that John revealed in the book of 1st John.

4.  In 2 Cor. 13:5, Paul was writing to the people who gathered as a part of the church in Corinth and challenged them to TEST themselves and make sure there was actual evidence that their lives had been changed by Jesus Christ.

5.  Paul was clear when sharing his testimony with King Agrippa that people must repent of their sins and turn to God to be saved, and then they should show / prove / give evidence of this change by their lifestyle or the things they do.

6.  John was clear that there are some very clear evidences that will be seen in a person who has “moved from death to life” or who is ”a child of God”.  He lists these things that help people test themselves as to their faith in 1st John.

Here’s some of the information from the message this past Sunday with a few added notes.

THE UNUSUAL PROMISE: You can KNOW you have eternal life.

My purpose in writing is simply this: that you who believe in God’s Son will know beyond the shadow of a doubt that you have eternal life, the reality and not the illusion.  1 John 5:13 Msg

Paul – who wrote much of the New Testament says – if you’re not sure – you should do something about it.   Test yourselves to make sure you are solid in the faith. Don’t drift along taking everything for granted. Give yourselves regular checkups. You need firsthand evidence, not mere hearsay, that Jesus Christ is in you. Test it out. If you fail the test, do something about it.      2 Cor. 13:5 (Msg)

TEST YOURSELF – IS THIS EVIDENCE  IN YOUR LIFE?

1st   OBEY THE WORD OF GOD   

We can be sure that we know God if we obey his commands. Anyone who says, “I know God,” but does not obey God’s commands is a liar…”1 John 2:3-4a NCV

You may not & probably won’t understand everything in the Bible, but do you have a desire to do what God says and are you striving to obey what you already know from God’s Word?  None of us will be perfect, but if you have no desire for the Word of God or have no desire to obey the Word of God then you need to evaluate your life and see if your faith is real.

2nd   LIVE A CHRIST-LIKE LIFE  

Here is how we know we belong to him.  Those who claim to belong to him must live just as Jesus did.      1 John 2:5b-6  (NIrV)

Jesus lived a perfect life & none of us can live up to that because we’ve all sinned & messed up.     The issue isn’t perfection – the issue is direction.   Is the direction you choose – one that’s moving you closer to becoming like Jesus?  All of us mess up.  In fact, a verse from the book of wisdom that has really helped me and I’ve shared with others for years is Prov. 24:16 which states:  “The godly may trip seven times, but they will get up again…”   I’m so grateful for the truth of 1 John 1:9 which reminds me when I sin and blow it, I can confess it and God forgives me.

So – Do your attitudes & actions give evidence of someone who is pursuing a Christ-like lifestyle?

3rd  STAY TRUE TO THE FAITH 

They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.  1 John 2:19 (NIV)

Believers will look for ways to experience community & do life with other believers.

4th  CHANGED NATURE 

“Those who are born again because of what God has done will not keep on sinning. God’s very nature remains in them…”     1 John 3:9a (NIrV)

Pigs like to wallow in filth because that’s their nature.  If you’re a believer, you’ve been given a new nature and while you’ll still sin – it’s not the habit of your life.  You don’t want to live in willful habitual sin.

5th  LOVE OTHER CHRISTIANS   

10 So now we can tell who are children of God and who are children of the Devil. Anyone who does not obey God’s commands and does not love other Christians does not belong to God.  14 If we love our Christian brothers and sisters, it proves that we have passed from death to eternal life…” 1 John 3:10, 14a (NLT)

Love…doesn’t keep a record of wrongs that others do.  1 Cor. 13:4 CEV

6th  EVIDENCE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT  

When a person puts their faith & trust in Christ – the Holy Spirit comes to live in them.

How do we know that God lives in us?  We know it because of the Holy Spirit he gave us.  1 John 3:24b (NIrV)

We know an apple tree is an apple tree because of the fruit it produces.  If you’re really a Christian, there will be external evidence: fruit the Holy Spirit produces in you.  I’m not talking about Spirit Gifts here, but fruit.  Someone wrote me a note from Sunday and said “even an apple tree does not bare fruit at all times”.  They were absolutely correct, so let me try to expand the analogy.   Spiritual growth is a journey and we will have growth spurts and times when it seems like not much is happening; but it’s the Holy Spirit that produces fruit in us as we submit to Him.   As Jesus said when He was speaking about a person’s character: “the tree is known by its fruit” (Mt. 12:33).  The bottom line is that a person who has a genuine faith will at some point produce fruit; “the fruit of the Spirit” will be produced in their life at different times as they submit to God.

Gal 5:22-23a NASB  says:  “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…”

7th  HAVE THE SON OF GOD  

This is what God told us: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  Whoever has the Son has life, but whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.   1 John 5:11-12 (NCV) 

Eternal life is found in Jesus Christ alone.  NOTE:  The thief on the cross never had a chance to do any of the things that John said were tests of salvation other than “have the Son of God.”  That thief put his faith & trust in Christ just prior to his death, and Jesus told him that he would be with Christ in paradise.  A simple accrostic I’ve used for years related to FAITH is:  Forsaking All I Trust Him.  That means I must put my faith in Christ and Him alone for salvation.

Here are a couple of other passages used in the message:

 You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.  James 2:19 NLT

Yet some people accepted him and put their faith in him. So he gave them the right to be the children of God.  John 1:12 CEV

People have to die once. After that, God will judge them.  Heb 9:27 (NIrV) 

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.     Heb. 4:13  (NIV)


For a previous article by B. J. Rutledge at C201, click here.

March 21, 2012

Rewriting the Epistles in the First Person

Here’s a really cool idea I’ve never seen before. You take a chapter of one of Paul’s epistles and rework it verse-by-verse into a first person declaration.  B. J. Stockman guest posted this at Vitamin Z, and I’m going to give you about half of it, but you’ll have to click through for the whole chapter.  He calls it “preaching to yourself.”  This could also be a great exercise for a small group, Sunday School class or youth group.

Galatians Chapter Three
  • I will not be foolish and be cast under the spell of trading the true Gospel of grace for a different one.  My greatest remedy against false gospels is to be infatuated and continually familiar with the true Gospel.  (3:1)
  • I will not be impressed with preachers that do not focus my eyes on Jesus Christ and whom do not consistently paint the picture of the crucified Jesus before me no matter how clever and inspiring and motivating they are in their preaching. (3:1)
  • I receive the Holy Spirit by faith, not by works.  I desire more of the Holy Spirit’s work in my life, and I receive the Spirit by faith in the finished work of Christ not by doing works. (3:2)
  • I will not pursue sanctification by works, but by faith.  I recognize that justification and sanctification are both by faith.  (3:3)
  • When suffering comes I know that it is not in vain, but that the Holy Spirit is still working.  Therefore I trust Jesus for endurance through suffering. (3:4)
  • God generously provides me with the Holy Spirit and works miracles through faith, not works.  I desire God’s gifts of a greater filling of the Holy Spirit and miracles, and I trust Him to provide them. (3:5)
  • I will not despise the preached word, but will believe the preached word that glorifies Jesus and emphasizes the work of the Holy Spirit.  I recognize that hearing the word is critical in building my faith. (3:1-2, 5)
  • I know that God counted Abraham righteous because he believed God.  (3:6)
  • I am a son of Abraham because I believe the Gospel.  My brothers and sisters who believe the Gospel are sons of Abraham as well. (3:7)
  • The Old Testament Scriptures foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith.  Abraham had the gospel preached to him, as all nations are blessed in Abraham.  Therefore I will not ignore the Old Testament, but trust God’s word and God’s gospel in all the Scriptures. (3:8)
  • The blessing of Abraham is upon me because I am a believer like Abraham. (3:9)
  • When I work from law I am returning to the curse because I do not do all that is written in the law.  I refuse to live under the curse that the law brings, because I am now in Christ. (3:10)
  • It is evident that no one is justified by law-keeping, because in the Old Testament God has made clear that the righteous live by faith.  God’s righteousness is imputed to me by faith in Jesus not by law-keeping, and I am justified before God by faith not by law-keeping.  (3:11)
  • I will not live with the idea that the Old Testament was about law, while the New Testament is about faith.  God has always, in the Old and New Testament, said that the righteous live by faith not law. (3:10-12)

You’re almost halfway through but the best is ahead…. keep reading (click here)

You’ll also find on the same blog examples of Galatians 1 and Galatians 2.

Update, Saturday March 24th: Later on in the week, B. J. added chapters four and five.  We decided to publish both chapter five in the NIV and B. J.’s first person version at Thinking Out Loud in parallel, so you could compare what he wrote side-by-side with the text.

January 15, 2011

Faith Without Works Isn’t Faith

Today’s post is from Ron who blogs at Window or Mirror?, a blog primarily for men, where this appeared under the title Would You?

I posed a hypothetical question to my son the other day, to his ever-growing amusement. I asked him, “RJ, what would happen if I told you to go upstairs and clean your room, and you disappeared and returned in 90 minutes and sat on the couch to read a book, without having cleaned it? What would I do if I asked you what was going on and you said that you memorized what I said, and then went back to reading”? My son, laughing now, said that I would likely think he was being a wise guy. I asked, “What if I told you to go clean it again, and you disappeared again, return in 30 minutes, and the room still wasn’t clean? This time when I ask about the room, you tell me that you’ve invited three friends over to have a Bible study – in the dirty room – to discuss what it might look like if you cleaned it”? RJ laughed and said, “I wouldn’t dare do that Dad”!

Wouldn’t dare indeed. Isn’t this what we often do with what God has told us? …We pray, begging the Lord to show us His face, to reveal His specific will for our lives – and that’s good – but don’t you think that He sometimes looks down and says, “Your knowledge already far outpaces your obedience. I have given you my Word, and you cannot follow it; what more should I tell you now”? We are to be “doers” of the Word, and not hearers only. The “one anothers” of Scripture demand relationships and “action”. Each “one another” is preceded by a verb. Now I was never good at English, but I think verbs imply action on the part of the subject of the sentence. Each of the “one anothers” has YOU implied as the subject. YOU, love one another. YOU, bear one another’s burdens”. I challenge us today to be active in our faith. Exercise the “one another’s” in Scripture, and do what the Lord has instructed.

I am not advocating “works theology”. Some imply that the mere mention of “doing something” – even if for the Lord – hints at working for salvation. Men; everything that you can possibly do – all of it – cannot move you one fraction of an inch closer to deserving the gift of grace. It is free not because it is cheap, but because it is priceless; and praise the Lord that this is so! But works are important. How important? Read Matthew 25:41-46 below:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Well, how important is that? At the end of it all, the One who gave us His life to redeem us will separate those who will live eternally from those who will not; and He will do this based on whether or not they did what He asked them to do. It is important. Praise the Lord that we have good works that have been prepared for us to do, and that we have the Spirit enabling us to do them. Let us therefore do what He commands.

December 6, 2010

Doing the Faith

I suppose in one sense, if you’re going to read a blog called Christianity 201, it’s because you feel you’ve got a bit of a handle on Christianity 101, and are looking for something deeper.

I enjoy posting devotional material here daily. I write some of it, but I also have a wonderful daily journey trying to find new writers and new sources of food for thought. I wish you could see that process in action.

In the last 48 hours or so however, as I’ve been reading various things, I’ve been convinced again that what we know and what we’ve studied is somewhat meaningless if it doesn’t reflect it self in our actions, in what we do. The Christian Bookseller’s Association has a motto that they h0pe motivates their various retail members: “What goes into a mind comes out in a life.” That’s how it should be with faith. A lot of learning, a lot of studying is meaningless if we aren’t involved in the outworking of Biblical truth into daily living.

So today, I’m going to simply repeat something I blogged at Thinking Out Loud under the title Be That Person. If this applies to anyone, it especially applies to the readers here at Christianity 201.

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I was in my early 20’s and really struggling with college and relationships and everything in between. Then a couple from my church asked me over for lunch one day. They were older than I was, with kids in junior high. They could see that I was hurting and offered friendship and listened to my story, and then offered some good advice that only a fresh perspective could bring. They also introduced me to one of the seniors in the church who was this incredible storehouse of the kind of wisdom I really needed. I am so thankful that both the couple and the older person reached outside their social circle to help me at a point in life where I was feeling very lost.

So many times you hear stories of people coming along side and helping out someone they hardly know or don’t know. That’s the appeal of books like So You Don’t Want To Go Church Anymore or The Noticer. Here’s the deal: Each and every person reading this has the potential to be a mentor to someone else. Not just “an encourager,” but someone who truly invests in someone else’s life. I can guarantee that there’s somebody out there who you’re older than, who you’ve had more life experiences than. Your story can intersect with their story.

Everyone reading this has the potential to be a life-changer to someone else, to be the person in the story who makes a difference in someone else’s life.

Someone — three people, actually — in the above story stepped up to meet the need. Be that person! Find someone about whom God strongly indicates that because of the nature of your personal story, you have something constructive to speak into that person’s life.

The next time you hear a story about someone who reached into someone else’s life to make a lasting contribution, be the person in the story.

November 24, 2010

Maybe They Weren’t Saved in the First Place

For our Canadian Readers:  Giving to Those Less Fortunate — You see them in the malls and big box stores every year.   Volunteers manning the donation kettles on behalf of the Salvation Army.   But in a world where everybody pays using plastic cards, who has change to drop in the kettle?   And what about the people who shop online and don’t see the collection kettles at all?   That’s why we started doing a Salvation Army iKettle.  This is a great program for our Canadian blog readers to take advantage of; what’s more, the money you give stays with the Salvation Army Family Services in your community.   Be among the first to donate by clicking the following link:  

http://my.ikettle.ca/personalPage.aspx?SID=2834666&Lang=en-CA
~Paul Wilkinson

The way to resolve the argument seemed so obvious to me.  I was much, much younger and we were discussing the issue of eternal security.   If they were truly saved, how could they sin blatantly, or how could they walk away from their faith?   It’s obvious:  They weren’t saved in the first place. This is sometimes called the “semantics” solution since it’s about words.   We called this individual or that group of people Christians, but obviously we were wrong to do so since he, she or they weren’t really partakers of Christ or they wouldn’t have done what they did.

[Insert, the “But what about Judas?  He walked and talked with Jesus for three years…” argument here.]

I actually want to talk about a different application of the “semantics” issue.  The one raised in James 2:24, translated traditionally as “Faith without works is dead.” I think what James is saying here is that the semantics test does work here.   If people don’t manifest spiritual fruit, spiritual gifts, etc., in their lives, we do in fact have good reason to say, “Maybe they weren’t saved in the first place.”

In the Evangelical stream that I was nurtured in, we’re relatively new to social justice.   We spent years developing the best teachings on doctrine and theology, but largely ignored the poor.   When non-Evangelical churches did, we dismissed them by saying, “They only preach a social gospel.” Both types of churches were — and some still are — out of balance on this issue.

James isn’t saying we’re saved by works, but he’s saying — especially in the broader context — that works darn well better be in the picture. …It seemed an appropriate thing to write about today, as I posted our online Salvation Army iKettle for our Canadian readers.   I’ll repeat the iKettle appeal here once a week leading up to Christmas, and all three of my other blogs.

James 2 (The Message)14-17Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?

18I can already hear one of you agreeing by saying, “Sounds good. You take care of the faith department, I’ll handle the works department.” Not so fast. You can no more show me your works apart from your faith than I can show you my faith apart from my works. Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove.

19-20Do I hear you professing to believe in the one and only God, but then observe you complacently sitting back as if you had done something wonderful? That’s just great. Demons do that, but what good does it do them? Use your heads! Do you suppose for a minute that you can cut faith and works in two and not end up with a corpse on your hands?

21-24Wasn’t our ancestor Abraham “made right with God by works” when he placed his son Isaac on the sacrificial altar? Isn’t it obvious that faith and works are yoked partners, that faith expresses itself in works? That the works are “works of faith”? The full meaning of “believe” in the Scripture sentence, “Abraham believed God and was set right with God,” includes his action. It’s that mesh of believing and acting that got Abraham named “God’s friend.” Is it not evident that a person is made right with God not by a barren faith but by faith fruitful in works?

25-26The same with Rahab, the Jericho harlot. Wasn’t her action in hiding God’s spies and helping them escape—that seamless unity of believing and doing—what counted with God? The very moment you separate body and spirit, you end up with a corpse. Separate faith and works and you get the same thing: a corpse.