Christianity 201

September 15, 2012

How to “Earn” Righteousness

J. B. Phillips Romans 1:17  I see in it [the gospel] God’s plan for imparting righteousness to men, a process begun and continued by their faith. For, as the scripture says: ‘The just shall live by faith’.

NIV Romans 1:17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

NIV Romans 4:2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.

In the course of your pilgrimage as a Christ-follower, you will meet up with other people along the path who will fall into two very distinct camps.

For the first group, everything is grace. They remind you that you don’t know and I don’t know who is in and who is out; and that God is at work with many people in different ways and they respond in different ways.  For them, the thief on the cross is held up as a prime example of the great gap that exists between faith and works.

The second group of people understand fully that good works do not equate with salvation; they know that it is only through placing their hope and trust in the effect of Christ’s saving work on the cross that they are welcomed into the family of God. However, in a post-conversion time frame, they find themselves occupied with the ‘busy-ness’ of doing things for the sake of the Kingdom.

I worry sometimes that the first group of people are taking it a bit too easy, and that the second group need to take some time off.  The first group, having experienced all of God’s grace, need to respond somehow, develop a thirst for learning and a heart for expressing the grace they’ve received by spreading it to others.

The second group needs to “choose the better part” (ref.) and realize that in their activity, they run the risk of forgetting the essence of the grace they’ve received and lapse into a works-based mentality. Some Christians use the word backsliding to suggest falling into sin, but you can backslide into a mentality that God is keeping a “What have done for Me lately?” scoreboard.

Gal 3:2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain? So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

MSG Gal 3: 2-4 Let me put this question to you: How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God’s Message to you? Are you going to continue this craziness? For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God. If you weren’t smart enough or strong enough to begin it, how do you suppose you could perfect it? Did you go through this whole painful learning process for nothing? It is not yet a total loss, but it certainly will be if you keep this up!

5-6 Answer this question: Does the God who lavishly provides you with his own presence, his Holy Spirit, working things in your lives you could never do for yourselves, does he do these things because of your strenuous moral striving or because you trust him to do them in you? Don’t these things happen among you just as they happened with Abraham? He believed God, and that act of belief was turned into a life that was right with God.

But again, the balance:

NIV James 2 : 20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

I believe that the character of Christ will evidence itself in the life of the believer through an overflowing of the fruit of the Spirit and good works. But we need to find the place of balance between simply resting in the grace He provides, or falling back into performance based religion.  

~PW (C201 Post # 900)

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.