Healing the Divide II – Grace and Works

Grace

This is the 2nd in my series “Healing The Divide”. Find Pt 1 here

As a young, impressionable Pentecostal, one of the things that was drummed into my head about Jesus and his fractious relationship to certain people groups recorded in the Gospels – Pharisees and 1st century Jews in general – was that these people groups tried to gain their salvation through “works”, whiles Jesus came to bring us salvation through “grace”. As I grew up, I realized that this wasn’t just the teaching of the church I grew up in, but rather the standard teaching in myriads of Ghanaian churches, and indeed in the wider body of Protestant churches worldwide. The cardinal proof-text for this has been Eph 2:8-9.

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. Eph 2:-9

And yet over the last century or more, there has been quite a change among scholars about the relationship between grace and works, especially with regards to how 1st century Jews at the time of Jesus understood them. It began with 3 friends, C.H Dodd, David Daube and W.D. Davies. It was taken up further by Krister Stendahl, a Swedish scholar, but was set out in full swing by E.P. Sanders, a student of W. D. Davies. And it focused simply on applying a rule that any intelligent, honest person who wants to know the truth about any other people group or religion can universally agree with.

When you are trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its enemies. (Rule 1 of Krister Stendahl’s 3 Rules of Religious Understanding)

In simple terms, if you want to learn the most about Islam, you should ask a Muslim, not a Buddhist or Christian. Applying this maxim to Judaism i.e. studying Jewish sources to understand what “grace” and “works” meant to them and not what Christians (who can be considered “enemies” in this case) thought they meant, they found out an astonishing truth – that many Christians, especially since the Protestant Reformation, may have misunderstood Paul when he spoke about the relationship between “grace” and works. Today of course, many others like James D.G. Dunn, N.T. Wright , Scott McKnight (belonging to a school of scholars collectively referred to as “New Perspective(s) on Paul”) have taken up that challenge and have done further research to improve our understanding of 1st century Judaism and therefore these matters of salvation, grace, works etc. But it seems it will take a few light years before this knowledge trickles down to our churches, as many still talk in the same old ways about grace and works. So here’s my attempt to help the process along by bringing them together in the whole that they need to be held in.

Grace and Salvation in the OT

I begin by examining the relationship between grace and salvation from the New Testament’s own historical context – the context of 1st century Israel. And what better place to learn about salvation than the events of the exodus?

The first recorded use of the word “salvation” or “redemption” is used by Moses in his song written to commemorate God’s work of saving Israel from Egypt in Exodus 15.

The Lord is my strength and my defense, he has become my salvation” (Ex 15:2).

After saving them, Yahweh then enacts a covenant with them, and in that process, explains why he saved them.

The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” (Deut :7-8)

In other words, God’s salvation of Israel was also by grace – they didn’t earn it. They didn’t work for it. God chose them because of his special promise made to their fathers. The only “problem” is that they didn’t use the word “grace” to describe their salvation in the Old Testament, but if “grace” means unmerited favour like we Christians trumpet everyday, then this fits perfectly with what happened between Yahweh and ancient Israel. For them, works was a means of showing faithfulness to the covenant the God had entered to with Israel, not a means to get saved. As Michael Gorman points out in his book on atonement (which is now my favourite on the subject), the whole point of Jesus’s death as well as God’s previous engagement with the people of Israel was about covenant relationship, which covenant always required both partners to keep the terms of the covenant, whether with Israel or with the church.

This debunks one of the greatest caricatures that many Christians make of Judaism i.e. Pharisees and Jews in general were trying to get “saved” by works. Nothing could be further from the truth, as modern scholarship is discovering.

Having broken this covenant and received God’s punishment for doing so in the form of exile to Babylon, the people of Israel at the time of Jesus were now waiting for Yahweh to re-enact a new covenant with them, by first forgiving them of their previous unfaithfulness or “sins”, as captured by Jer 31:31-34. And this Jesus enacted through the shedding of his blood, though this time he opens the floodgates for others who are not Jews to also be part-takers of God’s new covenant. This was expected to be another work of “salvation”, as expressed by the prophets. The return of Yahweh to enact this new covenant and to “save” them is what Isaiah describes in chapter 52 as “good news”.

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns! Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy. When the Lord returns to Zion, they will see it with their own eyes.” (Is 52:7-8)

Grace and Salvation in the NT

In Jesus’s life, death and resurrection, Paul realized that God’s promise to enact a new covenant and to also include the Gentiles in that covenant had been fulfilled. He therefore dedicated his life to letting the world know this, especially the Gentile world. But some Jews were still under the impression that even if Gentiles were now part of the new covenant, they needed to show their faithfulness to Yahweh in the old way – by keeping Torah just as they did. These Jews expected the Gentiles to at least observe the key commands which usually set Jews apart from others – circumcision, observance of the Sabbath, observance of the holy days and eating “kosher” i.e. observance of food laws (Col 2:16). These, scholars point out, are what Paul describes as “works of the law”. This became a point of disagreement between Paul and these people he called “Judaizers”.

Paul argued in his letters, especially in Romans and in Galatians, that the Gentiles do not need to show their faithfulness to Jesus by observing Torah (the Law), but simply by faith in Jesus and faithfulness to Jesus alone. Part of the problem was that Torah itself was meant to separate Jews from Gentiles, therefore keeping it would break the new union between the two that Jesus now provided. Paul was at pains to show then that in Jesus, the Law was no longer in effect, and this he did with his letters.

This is why the same Eph 2, expounds what “saved” means – “saved” means being made eligible to be part of God’s covenant people.

Therefore, [picking up from arguing that salvation is by faith, not works] remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done by human hands) – remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph 2:11-13)

In effect, just as God rescued Israel by “grace” based on his love for their father Abraham – the faithful one, in the same way God is now rescuing the whole world based on his love for Jesus – the faithful one.

So What About Works Then?

So if keeping Torah was bound to bring back the divisions again, does that mean the people of the new covenant do not have any law to guide them? Far from that, I say. In the same Eph 2, Paul makes a very profound statement, stating the REASON why we are saved.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph 2:10)

A 1st century Jew reading this would not have been surprised at all, because as in the old covenant, covenant membership MUST always lead to covenant obedience. The salvation of the people of Israel from Egypt was for a purpose – that by obedience to Yahweh, they may show the world his design for human existence. Hence the expansion of that salvation to cover the Gentiles is still meant to achieve the same thing – that they may do “good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do”.

It is here that Jesus’ life and commands in the Gospels take their place of pride. The “good works” are not a vague term that we can define for ourselves (as I often hear some preachers do). Peter explains exactly what “good works” means by referring to none other than the life of Jesus himself.

You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea … how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good …” (Act 10:37-38)

This is also why I really appreciate the Epistle of James – because he makes the linkage very clear – faith without works is dead. Being a Jew, he know that faith without works is what led to the Babylonian exile, and Paul like James, knows that our works will be judged in the end for faithfulness.

their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light” (1 Cor 3:13)

In fact I thank God everyday that Martin Luther’s attempt to have the Epistle of James and the book of Hebrews removed from the Protestant canon failed (because it somehow advocated “works” according to his definition of it). It would have been a great disservice to the church.

Reflections

The God of the Bible has shown himself to be a God of covenants. Christian understandings of salvation, grace and works must be primarily taught of as a means for us to enter into and stay faithful in God’s covenant relationship with his nation – which in the Old Testament was Israel, but which in the New Testament is Israel expanded to include Gentiles.

However, this way of understanding salvation, grace and works is not the typical way it is taught in churches today, because it is at variance with the way Protestant Christianity has first and foremost misunderstood ancient Judaism as a “works-righteousness” religion, and thence constructed itself as a “grace-only” religion. Some in this Christian tradition have taken this “grace-only” language to such extremes even beyond the leaders of the Protestant Reformation, and any hint that Martin Luther or John Calvin et al may have been mistaken in their understanding of Judaism (which should be normal, since they didn’t have access to the knowledge we have today) is met with accusations of heresy. But for me, an understanding of the New Testament based on a proper, contextual understanding of the Old Testament is vital and yields the following benefits.

  1. The current modes of speaking of “grace” and “salvation” lend themselves to individualism. Salvation is a call to each individual to participate in God’s covenant purposes he has already established before the foundation of the earth. Thinking in this mode expands our vision of God’s purposes beyond “me, myself and I” to “what has God done and is doing with me, and with these brethren of mine”.

  2. Current teaching in Protestant circles tends to not know exactly what to do with the church. We quote the terms “body of Christ” with very little effect, because our gospel and our understanding of salvation is very individualistic, we don’t see the covenant, corporate nature of this people we gather together every Sunday are meant to achieve a goal that no other group on this earth can achieve.

  3. An understanding of “grace” as God’s means of reconciling all forms of ethnic, racial and socially diverse people into one united body through the death of Jesus would have empowered the church to stand against 400 years of slavery in Europe and America (heavily engaged in by “Christian” nations), colonialism and its abuses (same here) , apartheid in South Africa (openly supported by the Dutch reformed church, whose members were the political leaders), anti-semitism and Christian participation in the killing of 6 million Jews in Germany (again, whose political leaders where either Catholic or Lutheran), and participation in countless wars with fellow Christians and non-Christians alike. Instead, the church would have behaved like Andre Trocme and his church in Le Chambon in France, who harbored Jews at the peril of their lives during World War 2 (when confronted by the authorities about habouring Jews his response was “I do not know what a Jew is. I know only human beings”). I was indeed surprised when I got to know that during the days of the Reformation, Martin Luther unfortunately supported the killing of Jews. Reflecting on it, I realized that if his understanding of “grace” didn’t involve God’s reconciliation of Jew and Gentile, but was focused on how people got a ticket to heaven, then it was bound to happen.

  4. Because of the denigration of “works”, Christians have tended not to pay attention to Jesus’s own life and examples – preferring to see them as “too hard” and meant for heaven, or reading them as nice Sunday school stories from which moral platitudes may be obtained. Any attempt by Christians to take Jesus seriously is met with the charge of “trying to gain salvation by works”.

  5. Talk of the Holy Spirit is again, individualized. Instead of the Spirit being the means by which the church is guided to reach its goal, it is spoken of largely in terms of how a particular person can have the Spirit as a genie in the bottle – rub it the right way and say all your wishes, and it will be done.

Conclusion

These days, even the New Perspective on Paul is becoming old news, as others are building on that work to further expand our understanding of Jesus. Certainly, salvation must lead to works. God accepts us by looking at the sacrifice made by Jesus – but he always had a goal – to co-rule this world with his covenant people. This is what Adam and Eve failed at – without dependence on God (in a covenant of obedience), they were bound to follow their own way of claiming to “know good and evil”. In the same way, without faithfulness to God in covenant relationship as modeled by Jesus, the church will go wrong, and do all that it was rather supposed to stand against.

Grace and works cannot be separated. The former must lead to participation in the latter. Thank God for the New Perspective(s) on Paul, and may others take what they’ve done and open further insights in faithfulness to Yahweh, just as the Protestant Reformation did 500 years ago.

Vicit Agnus Noster, Eum Sequamur – The Lamb has Conquered, Let us Follow Him.

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Why Penteco-charismtism Is Shooting Itself In The Foot

The Holy SpiritAs is always the case with any human institution, there comes a time when Christian churches and church traditions lose their way, and instead of being a means of salvation and a display of the coming kingdom, rather become a means of oppression and abuse, looking nothing like the Jesus it claims to follow.

Take for instance the Protestant Reformation, which was prompted by certain Roman Catholic priests abusing indulgences by charging money for prayers for dead relatives to be moved from purgatory to heaven. By the time the time the dust settled, the Reformation had lead to the division of the Western church into the modern day Protestant churches on the one hand, and the Roman Catholic church on the other. And although the Roman Catholic church condemned its own priests for such behaviour during and after the Reformation, the harm of division had already been done. Now even in modern times, I watch how Protestants refuse to learn from Catholicism or Catholic scholars, because they assume that the battles of the Reformation are still raging. The reverse also continues to remain true in many Roman Catholic circles.

Or take for instance my own church tradition the Anabaptists, who stuck together to survive death and torture by both Protestant and Catholic Christians. Running away and settling in the US, all sorts of division now blossomed amongst them, with denominations breaking away from each other over many debates, including about whether Christians watching TV or driving motor cars is a sin or not. Arminian scholar Roger Olsen recently did an interesting post on the Beachy Amish, driving the point home further.

But I have never seen division on the scale on which I’m seeing it being perpetuated today in Ghana, particularly amongst the Penteco-Charismatic tradition here. And that’s why I write this post to plead with my fellow Christians in this pond of Christianity, in light of not only recent events but observations and conversations I’ve had with people directly involved in this movement in Ghana.

I hear many Christians appeal to Jesus’ prayer in John 17 for unity amongst his people, and I get the feeling we may not realize the enormity of that task if we continue to stand in the same old place looking at Scripture, Jesus and the church from the same old perspectives. So here are some things that I think need serious re-evaluation if this tradition and others wants to realize unity even within itself (including at their own local church levels) much less unity with other Christians. Some Penteco-charismatics may express these problems to different degrees, but my aim is to simply state them for evaluation, and let the chips fall where they may.

Re-evaluate The Attachment to 1 Cor 2:4

When I was a Pentecostal, one of the basic proof-texts that was used to justify the need for us to display “signs and wonders” was 1 Cor 2:4. The NIV says

My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Cor 2:4 NIV)

I remember reading Derek Prince (a well known Pentecostal voice), who stated that the main criteria for determining who was an apostle was that they needed to be a person that demonstrates signs and wonders, and used this text to back it up. I didn’t know how powerful this interpretation of scripture had a hold on Penteco-Charismatism until I met two different leaders in this tradition, who expressed their frustration at being sidelined within their own tradition because they didn’t exhibit the usual penchant for miracles and signs in their ministries. In fact I just saw a book on Monday by one of the leading voices of this movement in Ghana, which is specifically titled “Power Demonstration”, with pictures of him having healed cripple people on the cover.

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This interpretation has meant that anyone who displays some “signs and wonders” in this movement, no matter how flawed their theology or practice of Christianity is, cannot be questioned because – and here is the standard answer – “If God was not with him, he won’t be able to display such ‘power’ as Paul says”. And therein lies the problem.

Not only is this a pivotal text in this movement, it has become a source of division – a source of gauging one Christian’s “spirituality” over the other, even amongst themselves. Pastors appeal to their ability to perform these “signs and wonders as a demonstration of power” to quench any criticism, and now have a free rein to do as they please. And this teaching is so ingrained in their followers that one can even be labelled “satanic” for being critical of any such preacher.

The sad thing though is that this interpretation of “demonstration of the Spirit and of power = signs and wonders” is not a legitimate interpretation of this scripture. Many scholars have drawn attention to the fact that in context, 1 Corinthians is a letter Paul wrote to rebuke the Corinthian church for adopting the exact behaviour that we see today – the elevation of some Christians and Christian leaders over the other based on their exhibition of one “spiritual” characteristic over another. They point out that v 2 of that 1 Cor 2 contains an essential pointer, which Paul had already elaborated in 1 Cor 1:18 . In v 2 Paul says For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified”, which should point out to us that what is central to Paul is the cross of Jesus. And in 1 Cor 1:18 (and many other parts of Paul’s epistles) points to the self-sacrificial nature of the cross as God’s power, which should show us that Paul is not talking about signs and wonders in 1 Cor 2:4.

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:18 NIV).

It is at this point that I will point us to no less a person than a Roman Catholic – Michael J. Gorman – whose thoughts on the paradox of the power of weakness as a display of the power of God come highly recommended. Unless of course we are still in the “Catholics are heretics” mode of Christianity. But I trust we are wiser than that.

Maybe, just maybe, we all may recover the Pauline sense of weakness for the sake of others being strength, so that real unity can be achieved like he actually pleaded with the Corinthian church to seek and work towards.

Re-evaluate the Elevation of “Revelation” over Scripture

The second such attachment which needs re-evaluation is the tendency to claim a personal position as “revelation” by the Spirit, which can then not be critiqued by anyone else. This flows from a flawed understanding of Paul’s statements about his gospel having been revealed to him (Gal 1:12; Ro 16:25-27; Eph 6:18-20)

I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.” (Gal 1:11-12 NIV)

The above passage has been used within this tradition to justify insulating oneself from being challenged for a theological position, claiming that whatever a person was saying they received it “by revelation, not by human origins”. The colloquial term for this is “revi”. As a result, even when clear heresy is being taught, most Penteco-charismatics feel bound by passages as above to shut up their mouths and receive it as teaching from God’s own Holy Spirit which must be obeyed.

But this could not be farther from the truth. The easiest place to grasp what Paul is talking about when he talks about his gospel being a revelation that is unique is in Ro 16:25-26, with the key in v 26.

Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith” – (Ro 16:25-26 NIV)

Here, the tendency for Christians to read the New Testament on its own without realizing its linkage with the Old Testament (especially in the Protestant tradition, which forgets that Paul is not a 16th century German but a 1st century Jew) has greatly inhibited our ability to get what Paul is talking about. In the Old Testament God had desired that the Gentiles (referred to as “the nations”) will be part of God’s chosen people in the age to come. Paul therefore realized that the return of Yahweh in the person of Jesus signaled the opening of the door to Gentiles. God’s grace of previously choosing only the people of Israel had now reached to the Gentiles through Jesus’s death on the cross, and it was time for them to also become part of God’s people. This opening of the doorway to Gentiles is what Paul considers distinctive about his ministry, as something that has been hidden (and continues to be hidden) to some of the other apostles, but which had been revealed to him. This is what motivated Paul to dedicate himself solely to mission amongst the Gentiles, as compared to his fellow apostles. His “revelation” was not outside the purview of scripture – his revelation was already within scripture, but needed a dedicated person to execute. Jesus Christ simply commissioned him Paul to be such a person. To assume therefore that Paul was somehow teaching us that God could reveal anything outside of scripture and the rest of us mere mortals should just shut up and swallow it hook, line and sinker is to totally misunderstand Paul and simply use him for our personal benefit.

Interestingly after Paul’s great claim of “independence of revelation”, he still “sought the approval of men” after 14 years of ministry by going back to Jerusalem and in his own words presenting “to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain” (Gal 2:2). And he did receive that approval, simply because it was obvious to the Jerusalem leaders (again being 1st century Jews familiar with the OT) that God was using Paul to actualize what God had already spoken about concerning the coming in of the Gentiles.

Re-evaluate A Contract View of Faith

On this subject I’m grateful to Greg Boyd’s book “Benefit of the Doubt” for articulating something which had been on my mind for a while now – the issue of how Christians of many stripes, not just Penteco-charismatics, understand and use the word “faith”. It seems though the the problem shows itself up in extreme forms in the Penteco-charismatic tradition due to the influence of the “Word of Faith” stream in its midstt, but its been around in Protestantism for a long while.

Many people have a view of the word “faith” as mental certainty which works according how much of it one has. As a result, people are taught that once they have mental certainty about something and pray to God about it, they will receive whatever they pray for. This has been key even to evangelistic efforts in most Protestant traditions for centuries. People are even taught that doubt is a sin. Hebrews 11:1 has become the proof-text for this mentality. And yet the same Heb 11 says the people of old who had faith did NOT receive the things promised (v 13). That should clue us in that the idea that God will act according to the measure of your faith is not only bogus, its not what faith is actually about. The idea of faith as the means by which one exercises one’s side of a contract that binds God to fulfill his side is not only unbiblical, it is actually delusional.

The faith that the New Testament talks about needs to be understood again in light of the Old Testament, which pictures it in terms of a relationship. God’s relationship with the people of Israel is pictured in terms of a marriage covenant, not a legal contract. God calls Israel his bride in many OT passages (Jer 3:1,8,14;Hos 2:2,7), and calls her a harlot when she’s proven unfaithful. In marriages we enter into a relationship of trust (not a contract), and we learn to walk with each other, in sickness, in health, till death do us part. The marriage survives not because of faith in the marriage certificate that one receives, but because of constant work by both parties to keep the relationship alive. When one’s trust is in the certificate and not in the character and action of both parties, that is the beginning of the end – and that is exactly what happened to Israel in the exile. The were so certain God’s choice of them as his people was irrevocable, they got comfortable and chased after other gods, and were exiled by Babylon.

Thinking of faith this way may help not only Penteco-charismatics but a large swathe of Christianity to get away from the inevitable sickness that “faith as a contract” produces – individualism, the number one tool against unity. Because we will wake up to the fact that God desires a relationship with his bride – the church – of which we each are individually constituted. Faith then becomes our trust as individuals and as a community in the one who we are in a relationship with, whether we “get” what we want when we pray or not. That’s how a marriage works, not so? Whether we get what we want or not, we stick to our spouse. That’s how the people of old listed in Hebrews 11 viewed faith, which is the reason why even though they didn’t receive the promises, they were faithful to the end.

For me it also begins to make sense why certain New Testament scholars (especially of the New Perspective camp) point out that in many places of Paul’s letters, the Greek word “pistis” should be translated as faithfulness, not as faith. Ah well, what can a mere mortal like me contribute to that debate?

Conclusion

Well, enough of the advise. As they say, a word to the wise is in the north (or is it “enough” rather? I forget). One simple question that Penteco-charismatics must ask themselves is that why does it seem to be that almost every preacher that most people consider chalatans claim a Penteco-charismatic background? Is it because this tradition gifts them the tools for such abuse, and limits their ability to be questioned?

There’s a Ghanaian proverb that says “when your brother’s beard is on fire, keep water close to yours” – obviously in case the flame jumps from his to yours. It’s a simple reminder that we all need to learn from history, and not just our history, but the history of others not like us.

Unity does not come on a silver platter, its hard work and demands listening and learning and repenting sometimes. Let those who are called by their king to unity learn to major on that which is major. That Jesus is Lord. That he has called us to make known his self-sacrificial kind of kingship both in the church, and beyond it. And that the only means by which the world will know if we are truly his disciples is not in the abundance of signs and wonders, not in some unique “revi”, not in our abundance of “faith” we can exercise, but rather “if ye love one another”.

PS: For more on reading the New Testament with the Old Testament in mind, join us on Emmaus Road Moments on 7th March, 2016 and let’s dig in deeper. See ya.

Of Faith, Death and Komla Dumor

I’m sure by now that the news of the death of Komla Dumor has reached far and wide across the length and breadth of Ghana. The grief at such a young promising journalist’s demise has been palpable, and the eulogies have already been flowing thick and fast from the 4 corners of the earth. I myself find it hard to take, for having achieved what he did in Ghana and was achieving at the BBC, I looked forward to even greater heights of achievement from him. But alas, death has it’s own plans, and we will mourn his departure.

But I do not write this not to eulogize him, for many who are better qualified to do so already have. I write this reluctantly, knowing that I had a long list of other things I had been planning to write on, but certain reactions from some Christians to Komla’s death have foisted this need on me. The matter is made worse by the fact that this is not the first time I’m noticing this behaviour.

The Faith Framework

Over the past few 5 decades or more, a certain wind of teaching has become ingrained in the mindset of Christians, which never quite existed in the mainstream of Christian history before the last 100 years. That wind of teaching has taught us certain ideas about faith, and how a Christian’s “success” in life is determined by how strong their faith is. As a result, the one who has the right kind of faith would never see suffering come their way, or will simply ride roughshod over it.

This teaching says that what one needs is to look through the bible like a treasure hunter in search of what it calls “the promises of God” and claim them for oneself. Inevitably enough, these promises always seem to center on health, wealth and prosperity. The key to receiving these “promises” is the measure of your faith. If your faith is “strong” or “high” enough, then you will indeed receive it. And if at the end of the day one doesn’t receive such “promises”, then there could only be 3 conclusions – first, most likely you have not exercised enough faith; second, that there is some secret sin in your life preventing you from receiving such a promise; third, that the devil or his agent(s) are working against you. This kind of faith leaves no room for questions, nor for tension. It claims to know all the answers and reduces everything into a person’s individual ability to make it work for them.

This framework of faith has become the defacto means by which a lot of Ghanaian Christians, especially those of the Charismatic fold, interpret everything that happens in this world. To such Christians then, it is very easy to associate someone like Komla Dumor’s meteoric rise to fame only in the scheme of God having prospered him. Such Christianity therefore always measures people by their earthly achievements, but fail miserably at the most important measure of both the OT and the NT – character development.

In their pursuit of such achievements, they ride roughshod over people (mostly poorer people), and take very little notice as to how they treat their fellow human, despite all that both Jesus and Paul says about how we treat others. Trust me, I know this failing, because I know many people who live by this framework, from family to friends, whose behaviour as Christians I sometimes shake my head woefully about.

Death

And therefore the death of a “prospered” or “blessed” person like Komla is very, very hard for such a faith framework to swallow, since it leaves very little room for God to do what he desires to do, or for the fact that we human beings are not in control of this world. Having associated Komla’s rise to fame with “God’s promises of blessings and prosperity”, they then have to answer the question of why such a person will suffer cardiac arrest at age 41 and die. The only answer that this faith framework can produce is exactly what Mr Duncan Williams can produce – “this is not of God”, i.e. answer number 3.

The question one asks then is that in 2000 years of Christianity, has it always been the case that the Christians who warm the church pews regularly every Sunday, read the bible (or their pastor’s devotional) and pray 5 times a day, give their tithe faithfully (mostly without asking for an account of it’s usage) and holds hands and sings kumbaya with their fellow Christians lives to a ripe old age of 41 (sorry, 90) and has all the material blessings in the world?

Wow, what has Bill Gates been smoking all this while that’s keeping him alive and on top of the world’s rich list, when he’s not demonstrated any Christian belief? Or has he received some charms and amulets from the devil? What about the other billionaires in the Forbes rich list, who don’t even care a hoot about a church building, much less the message that emanates from it. Why are they still alive? They must be dead by now. This framework of faith expects it, even demands it if I dare say.

What about Keith Green, that wonderful Christian musician who sang the great song “There is a Redeemer” we used to sing a lot more when we were young in church, yet died at 29? What about Murray M’Cheyne, who also died at 29 himself, and yet did such wonderful missionary work in Palestine for the Church of Scotland? Did they not have faith? Were they not serving God? Were they smoking the wrong stuff (not Bill Gates’ stuff I guess)? I could go on citing examples of great Christians who died seemingly unfulfilled, but I guess the point is obvious.

And Yet, There is Hope

And yet in recent times I’ve been reading up on the Psalms and the background behind them, and I can only admire more the faith of both Judaism and early Christianity each day (hopefully I’ll write more on this background in the coming weeks). For the Psalms reflect the constant tension, ranging from disappointment in God for his seeming disappearance from the scene to praise of him for his wondrous deeds. But the one thing that Israelites always kept to, again captured in the Psalms, was that YHWH was a faithful god, and will bring his promise of redeeming the world through the nation Israel to pass, even when a large number of them had died in the exile to Babylon and all hope seemed to be lost.

And this belief is what lead to the hope in the resurrection of the dead. I intend to write much more extensively on the hope of resurrection in the coming weeks (I just received another 800 page book on it, so I have no choice), but I’ll give a small bit of it here by saying that their means of dealing with death and with the injustice of the world was the theology of resurrection. It is the background to what Paul says in 1 Thess 4.

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (1 Thess 4:13)

Why does Paul says the rest of mankind has no hope? It is because the Jewish/early Christian ideas about resurrection of the dead was unique to them. Neither Stoicism nor Epicureanism which were the dominant worldviews of Paul’s time had a good answer for the righteous dying, nor in fact did Judaism/Christianity. But the one thing that Judaism/Christianity had was hope – hope that God will remake the world and bring heaven and earth together, and will resurrect the righteous to joyous living in that new world, and the unfaithful to judgement. And that is the right framework within which faith must work. Not in faith that says “I can control the world by my level of belief”, but one that says “I will be faithful to God in pursing his kingdom and his righteousness, and he will provide, in this life or the next”. (Mt 6:33)

Conclusion

Death is painful. Death is cruel. Death is an enemy and not a friend. And yet death is a tool, both in the hands of the creator God, and at the disposal of the devil. Let us be busy in being faithful about the work of the master, that we might participate in the resurrection of the righteous. When death will come, how it will come and through whom it will come is secondary.

The question is whether we are busy about his kingdom, or busy about ours?

Komla Dumor, rest in the father’s bossom, until we meet on that day. I wonder if we’ll need news in that new world, but you’ve certainly given us your best in this one.

Religion – An Endangered Species?

“I just saw ‘Angels & Demons’ and this is my questions, if religion is flawed due to man’s imperfections then why do we still believe”?

This is in answer to the above question that a friend asked, and I’ve quoted them here verbatim.  You can download this article from here. Since Angels & Demons is a fictional story about events in the Vatican during the election of a new Pope, I will seek to make comments only in the light of Christianity. I cannot and will not hold brief for any other religion.

Let me start off by asking a question of my own to this one. When you say “why do we still believe?” the question I ask is “believe in what”? Are we talking about believing in Christianity as a religion, or believing in the church or believing in Christ? Answering this question well is critical to the whole discussion, and must not be trivialized. Therefore in that direction, I’ll digress a little bit by talking about the basis of the Christian’s faith – Jesus Christ.

When He was leaving his disciples he gave them a command to go to the ends of the world and “make disciples” (Mt 28:19). Note that he didn’t say “believers” but “disciples”. And what was the cardinal standard and evidence of this discipleship?

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (Jn 13:34-35).

Another thing which Jesus himself said will mark his disciples out is that they will always be in the minority. It has always been, and will always be the case, that the righteous who live by faith are always a remnant, and not part of the larger norm. Doesn’t that remind you of what Jesus Christ said about the narrow and wide gates (Mt 7:13-14)? Or that out of the 600,000 (counting men only) people who left Egypt to go to the Promised Land, only 2 out of that generation made it? And yet, were they not all saved by the blood of the lamb used to mark their doors during the passover night? Jesus said “many are called, but few are chosen”. Ah, guess what James said about the same calling – “Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself” (Ac 15:14), not “taking all the Gentiles”. Interestingly, it matches perfectly with what God told the Israelites when he set them free from Egypt – “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession” (Ex 19:5)

A third characteristic that he gave of his disciples is that they will be a people of much suffering because of their faith. (Mt 10:24-25;Lk 9:23-24; Lk 14:25-27). This came to existence in the lives of the early disciples and they were never under any illusions about it (Ac 14:22), and neither should anyone who lives by faith. Abraham lived by faith, yet neither did he nor all the great men of faith who came after him receive the promise of an eternal city in the eternal kingdom in their lifetimes, a promise to all who are of the faith of Abraham (Heb 11:13-15). Were they living for a reward on this earth, or living like strangers on this earth, they looked forward to their inheritance – “a city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb 11:10)?

I could go on and on about what Jesus himself said, but then you will get bored. So let me cut to the chase – we must always be mindful of the fact that religion which becomes institutionalized, highly formalized and increasingly hierarchical always exists for the purpose of self-perpetuation. As a result, such religion seeks to exert inordinate control even outside its own bounds and instead of serving as a conduit for expressing a certain faith, becomes the faith itself. It becomes more enthralled in outward symbolism and pretence, pride and hypocrisy. Like the Laodicean church of Rev 3:14-22, it becomes so naked that those who do not belong them even see this hypocrisy, yet they themselves will deny the existence of such a state. Ultimately, such religion moves away from its original purpose and becomes full of man-made rules and regulations. A classic symptom of such religion is that it begins to court the attention and support of the state and the world and abandons it’s simplistic focus on the original basis for its existence.

In this light, let’s look at a portion of Wikipedia’s definition of religion which I find interesting, and note my emphasis.

‘Religion’ is sometimes used interchangeably with ‘faith’ or ‘belief system’, but it is more socially defined than personal convictions, and it entails specific behaviours, respectively”

As stated above, although we may interchange faith with religion, we can see clearly that religion is more encumbered in the social and not in personal convictions, which rather defines faith. There will always be a conflict between faith and religion, and it is increasingly more difficult for faith to triumph over religion when religion has become a conduit for achieving man’s dreams, not God’s.

And that is why I welcome a movie like “Angels & Demons”. Unlike its precursor, which was purely sacrilegious because it distorts historical fact which all historians and archaeologist will not dispute (by saying Jesus had wives and children), this is one that makes you stop and ponder what we as Christians belong to and associate with all the time – the church. In this movie, a group called the Illuminati is deemed to have originated within the Roman Catholic church when the latter stood against Galileo’s observations that the earth was round. According to the same Wikipedia article on “Religion” under the section “Religion and science”,

The Roman Catholic Church, for example has in the past reserved to itself the right to decide which scientific theories were acceptable and which were unacceptable. In the 17th century, Galileo was tried and forced to recant the heliocentric theory based on the medieval church’s stance that the Greek Hellenistic system of astronomy was the correct one”

Here was a church that was basking in the glory of state support, and at the height of it’s power. As a result of Emperor Constantine’s explicit support, Christianity had become state religion and all men in the Roman Empire were required to convert (what happened to “called out”?). Instead of being a suffering church, they were busy ruling over worldly affairs and enjoying the best the world had to offer. They had replaced a priesthood of all believers (“you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood” – 1 Pe 2:10) with an unscriptural separation called the “clergy” and “laity”. They had appointed for themselves a capital on this earth (what happened to “our citizenship is in heaven” – Phil 3:20, and “You have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem … to the church of the firstborn whose names are written in heaven”?). They had been given their own country and city, the Vatican (Abraham must be having second thoughts – “why did I live like a stranger when I arrived on the promised land”). They were busy acquiring property for the clergy through active taxation of both business and their membership, yet the poor membership were left to their own means. They were not feeding the flock, they were feeding on it. They had become the faith. How different were and are they from the Pharisees of Jesus’ time? Oh, and don’t take this as a “Roman Catholic Church” bashing, because I believe majority of the church is guilty of this Laodicean self-deception. The RC church has only been at the forefront of the general march in the wrong direction, that’s all.

Granted that they were not even supposed to be ones deciding on what the scientific world should accept or not, simply because that has never been the mandate of the church of Christ in the first place. If they were not so obsessed at defending their worldly acquisitions and power, they would have been led by the Spirit of God to simply commission a study into the word of God to know what the Word which we Christians believe to be complete and final said about that. They would have noticed in the first place that there is nowhere in the Bible that states the the earth is flat. On the contrary, there is rather Biblical evidence that suggests that the earth is round.

He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers.” (Is 40:22).

And to digress a bit further into the topic of science and religion, as someone said, the fact that the Bible does not mention insects, does not mean that God didn’t create them. The fact that the Bible did not mention dinosaurs does not mean that from the Bible’s standpoint, they did not exist. In fact there is evidence to suggest that the Bible does talk of certain huge animals in Job 40 & 41 and the Psalms (Behemoth and Leviathan). In Job 40 the behemoth is described, and a few of those descriptions are captured below.

He moveth his tail like a cedar” (Job 40:17 KJV)

Behold, he drinketh up a river, and hasteth not: he trusteth that he can draw up Jordan into his mouth.” (Job 40:23 KJV)

I’m not too sure how many hippos and elephants have tails “like a cedar” or trust they can draw up the Jordan. But we might want to take a further look at these chapters and an even more critical appraisal of our Bibles that we keep under your pillows instead of in our hearts henceforth.

But I’m not here to be the apologetic, so I’ll leave my digression here. I believe that the most endangered species of people in this day and age are not those who don’t believe in God and think life is just a passing thing and science will explain all and solve all problems. No, those who need to be preserved are religious Christians, who claim a faith in God but actually only claim a faith in religion.

Because we who claim a faith in God have absolutely very little knowledge of Jesus Christ and what he really stands for, much to the joy of the devil. We are educated Christians with Bachelors, Masters and PhDs in “Rocket science”, and yet cannot discern the simple fact that it is about knowledge of God himself, something that if we will submit to His Spirit, the latter will reveal to us.


This is what the Lord says: Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me …” (Jer 9:23-24).

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better” (Eph 1:17)


Because if God does not give us this, then in spite of all our advanced education and knowledge, the prophecy of Isaiah will be very true of us.


For you this whole vision is nothing but words sealed in a scroll. And if you give the scroll to someone who can read, and say to him, “Read this, please”, he will answer, ‘I can’t; it is sealed.’ Or if you give the scroll to someone who cannot read and say, ‘Read this, please,’ he will answer, ‘I don’t know how to read” (Is 29:11-12).


It is good to have watched Angels & Demons, and I guarantee you personally that you should expect even more books and movies that question our “religion” in the future. The only question is whether we are ready for the onslaught that exposes our duplicity, or if we’ll do the soul searching ourselves before the Mighty Searcher himself arrives, whose eyes like blazing fire (Rev 1:14), already see through us.

Inheritance! What Inheritance?

This article is available in pdf format here

I don’t know how many of us actually have actually taken time to digest Galatians 3, but it is one of those chapters that made me go like “Wow!!!”. I believe it behoves us to go into the implications of the content of that chapter and how they affect the hope and faith we have, against that which God had predetermined from the foundation of the earth. We’ll start off by looking at a passage from that chapter.

The Gospel was First Preached to Abraham?

The Scriptures foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you’” (Gal 3:8).

The first wow comes from realising that the gospel – the good news – did not originate from Jesus Christ on his earthly mission, but rather was in existence way before that, to the extent that it was preached to Abraham. Wasn’t the gospel about Jesus Christ? How did Abraham understand the gospel announced to him then, if there wasn’t as yet the one to bring it into fulfilment? The basis of our modern faith is Christ’s work on the cross that redeemed us from sin and brought us to the Father. But what was the basis of his faith? If “we who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith” (Gal 3:9), then how similar or different is ours?

The key to understanding this is found in the same Galatians 3, this time in v 16.

The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds’, meaning many people, but ‘and to your seed’, meaning one person, who is Christ” (Gal 3:16).

It important to note that in most of the passages in the NT where the word “promises” are used, it does refer to the promises God made to Abraham. In fact, most of the passages containing this word are misapplied in contemporary Christianity to mean some prosperity that God has promised for those who have faith in him on this earth, without recourse to what God has already told our “father of faith”, Abraham.

But back to the point. These promises were spoken to Abraham when God called him out of his father’s house in Ur. God promised to give a certain land through which all nations will be blessed to Abraham and to his offspring. He was to “take possession of the land”.

He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it” (Ge 15:7).

A Stranger in His Own Land. Promise Fulfilled? Not Yet.

But we find that Abraham lived in tents and as a stranger on the land even when he had finally arrived there. He never built a city, neither did Isaac nor Jacob. Even God acknowledged that fact.

The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.” (Ge 17:8).

The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day” (Ge 18:1)

To understand this stranger-in-your-own-land behaviour of Abraham, we have to ask why there is always the attachment of the offspring to the promises, and not just to Abraham, Isaac or Jacob alone. As Gal 3:16 says, it was because that offspring is not a plural one and no ordinary singular one as well. He is the Christ himself. Note that the Israeli nation, though they have inhabited the “promised land” for so many years, have had periods long of total exile from their own land. Indeed, they themselves continue to wait for a Messiah who will grant them total unconditional reign over that land and over the earth. And in that same wise, until that offspring has come, that land will never belong fully to Abraham (and to all who are heirs with him of that promise). It is this offspring who shall bring the promise to fulfilment.

The writer of Hebrews does a brilliant expose on this particular issue in 11:8-10, and it is one that every child of Abraham, everyone who lives by the faith of Abraham, must continuously imbibe.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as an inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign land; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to a city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb 11:8-10).

The inheritance of a city is what Abraham looked forward to, and he looked forward to it by faith alone. It simply wasn’t one he could bring about. Only God in all his wisdom and power could. And obviously he never gained this promise, but he determined to live like a stranger on this earth until that promise was brought to fulfilment by He who had made it. And he was not the only one who lived by faith in the promises, however all those who shared in this faith with him had one thing in common – they were looking forward to a country of their own.

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have the opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (Heb 11:13-16)

So we see that Abraham and these men of faith were waiting for a city that God Himself will build,a heavenly city. What city is this city? Where is it and what is it like? The only city in the Scriptures that match this criteria is the New Jerusalem, described in Rev 21. I’ll encourage us to take the time and read all of it, but verse 1&2 of it says:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” (Rev 21:11-2).

This was their inheritance, and everywhere that you see the word “inheritance” or “inherit” especially in the NT, you should have this picture in mind. This was their privilege and their honour – to be found in the city of God at the end of the age of men. Let us look at some examples.

As for you, go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance (Dan 12:13 – which was spoken to Daniel at the end of all the visions he received from God).

Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified(Ac 20:32 – Paul’s farewell to the Ephesian elders)

who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory” (Eph 1:14 – Paul talking about the Holy Spirit the Ephesian disciples had received by faith).

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:28-29 – speaking of their future inheritance)

He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son” (Rev 21:7 – declaration of God to John in his vision about the heavenly Jerusalem)

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 (Mt 25:34 – Jesus separating the sheep from the goat in his judgement on his throne of glory”

Note that inheriting this city is only an extension of the millennial reign, in which these same overcomers will rule with Christ over the whole world, physical and spiritual.

I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge … and reigned with Christ for a thousand years” (Rev 20:4)

Christ and the Inheritance

So then, did Christ teach about this inheritance of a kingdom, of an eternal city? Did Christ promise the reign in that kingdom (not just entry into it) to his disciples? What did Christ preach at all?

The stage was set for what Christ was to do on this earth even before he entered the world from Mary’s womb, when the angel appeared to her concerning the son she was about to give birth to.

He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; his kingdom will never end”.(Lk 1:32-33)

And so, Jesus carried the message of who he was and what he was bringing to us who believe in his message. Let’s take a look at what he preached at the very beginning of his three year ministry, right after being tempted by the devil in the wilderness.

From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near’” (Mt 4:17).

Jesus began by calling people to repentance. But you will observe that the call to repentance is not for repentance sake, but for a purpose – because of the kingdom. You see, the gospel has always been about the kingdom. It is not about Jesus’ death and resurrection, it is not about redemption from sin. It is not about healing and miraculous deed of Jesus, neither is is about healing us and providing us with daily bread. These wonderful themes aforementioned are the process through which the purpose is achieved – God’s ultimate plan of sharing the reign of the world physical and spiritual with His called out people (‘eklessia’ or the church) in a kingdom whose capital is the new Jerusalem – the one Abraham was looking forward to. The fact that the kingdom Abraham looked forward to is the same one Jesus has prepared for us can be seen in the light Mt 25:34 and other places, which states that the Kingdom was prepared for us “since the creation of this world” or “before the creation of the world” (Eph 1:4; 2 Ti 1:9). It is no wonder then that Jesus himself calls His gospel “the gospel of the kingdom”.

And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Mt 24:14)

It will interest you to know that there are more than 50 references to the phrase “kingdom of God” or “kingdom of heaven” in Matthew alone, not speaking of the other Gospels. In fact, when Peter was beginning to wonder what exactly they were following Jesus for, he got a clear and straight answer reminding him not of gaining repentance from sin and eternal life, but an inheritance in that Kingdom. He didn’t tell Peter of the process, for Peter was already part of those who were following me. He was telling him of the purpose – the kingdom.

Peter answered him, ‘We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?’ Jesus said to them, ‘I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel’” (Mt 19:27-28)

You see, the Jews have always been a strong-headed people who prided in their position as children of Abraham, children of the promise. And Jesus’ message never changed that promise, or made a different promise to them. Have you wondered why there are a so many of the parables which talk about the kingdom of God (“the kingdom of God/heaven is like ….”)? The Parable of the Weeds, the Parable of the Net, Parable of the Mastard Seed, Parable of the Talents & Pounds, Parable of the Wedding Banquet, Parable of the Ten Virgins etc? And neither did the Jews misunderstand Jesus’s message in relation to the promise, for they had come to know and believe he was the Anointed One, the expected king who was going to bring about the kingdom of God.

While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.” (Lk 19:11).

All this belief culminated in the Triumphal entry into Jerusalem described in the Gospels. In fact, the Jews of his day are the direct opposite of modern Christian – they had a good glimpse of the purpose (though not completely), but were completely thrown off tracks when Jesus expounded the process by which they may enjoy that purpose – repentance, faith and obedience to God through a renewed life offered by Jesus alone. On the contrary, we are caught up in different stages of this process, and I honestly cannot say that much for our appreciation of the purpose – the kingdom.

Implications of the Inheritance Life

If we are to be called true children of Abraham (Gal 3:7), then the examples in the life that our father Abraham lived should become cornerstones of our faith. And therefore it behoves us to look at certain characteristics of the life of our “father of faith”, that we may apply these to our own. Because I guarantee you that we cannot have it any easier than he had it and still be fit for the inheritance.

  1. Be ready to live like a stranger on this earth – As we have already established, Abraham lived as a stranger on this earth, this same earth that will be given back to him to rule over when Jesus returns. We as Christians cannot set our goals and priorities on what the worldly also desire. We must fully understand that although we are in this world, we are only waiting for our heavenly city and until Christ returns, we can only wait in faith and in His earthly representative’s power – the Holy Spirit. We should expect the world not to understand us for living like this, because they have not submitted their lives to the Holy Spirit that quickens us. If we endeavour to build our cities now, we will gain the world’s approval alright, but I believe I don’t need to state the obvious when it comes to God’s own.

  2. Be ready to suffer for your faith – Not because God hates you, but because as Frank Viola put it last week, God intentions grow the “human spirit but frustrates the soul and bids death to the flesh”. Between the time God called Abraham and blessed him, till the time he gave birth to Isaac was 25 years. It was such a long time that he was tempted to get the blessing through some other means – through Hagar. Of course that wasn’t God’s plan, but it shows us the importance of total reliance on God for the fulfilment of his own promises to us, something that our rebellious soul hates.

  3. Be ready to loose much for your faith – Related to the theme of suffering is loss. Here was Abraham, missing the company of family, friends and familiar settings. And these losses do not preclude the loss of the comfort of religious institutionalism. Just as Abraham was called out of his comfort zone, history has continuously shown that true spirituality does not breed well in the institutions of the day, which tend to exist for their own self-perpetuation.

    Also this loss could be also very personal. Take the case where Abraham was prepared to lose his son, knowing that God was capable of providing again through resurrection (Heb 11:17-19). Little did Abraham know that the real sacrifice was yet to come in the form of “the seed” – Christ.

  4. Become a friend of God – I’ve heard the popular song “I’m a friend of God”, and I’ve had cause to ask myself how I am a friend of God. We will all agree that friendship does not just form in the air. It is based on sharing a mutual concern or love or participation in something, and our friendship with God is definitely not about our interests, but His. If we are truly friends of God like Abraham was, we will be busy about building his kingdom, not ours. The one thing most important to God on this earth is the church which is to be the bride of Christ (if you doubt that, take some time to digest the book of Ephesians), and we better become active participants in building it, not warming its pews. Oh, and I don’t mean the church buildings, but his organic church, composed of them that that are gathered in his name.


If you study this gospel of the kingdom and it’s attendant Spirit produced lifestyle, it makes you understand the dearth of true spirituality in the church today. And it is not surprising, given the condemnation that Paul pronounced on those who preach any other gospel.

Conclusion

If you study this gospel of the kingdom and it’s attendant Spirit produced lifestyle, it makes you understand the dearth of true spirituality in the church today. And it is not surprising, given the condemnation that Paul pronounced on those who preach any other gospel.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really on gospel at all. Evidently, some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: if anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!” (Gal l:6-9)

Today, the gospel we hear keeps “motivating” us to build our cities on this earth. They keep telling us that what is good for the world is good for us as well. The pulpit has become the stage for teaching philosophy and management skills, all wrapped up with a semblance of Jesus Christ. Even though Paul reminds us to “set our heart on things above” (Col 3:1), we have woefully turned it upside down. As for those who keep to the reformist theology, they unfortunately only continue to harp on the processes as individual in their own right, and fail to see their connectedness to achieve that ultimate purpose.

Or is it because of this?

As for the prophets who lead my people astray, if one feeds them, they proclaim ‘peace’; if he does not, they prepare to wage war against him” (Mic 3:5).

The Parable of the Talents: Lessons for the Walk of Faith

The Parable of the Talents is one parable that today’s Christian must be digesting with alacrity. If well studied, it points to a lot of things that Jesus in his ministry had mentioned, but which we have ignored today. And the most painful deception in most Christians’ understanding of this parable is that it’s relates not to believers, but to unbelievers. I wish to turn the tables of our thinking and draw it’s profound implications to our attention. The story is recorded in Matthew 25:14-30.

Servants of Christ

The first and foremost and probably most fundamental point in this story is that the people who are given the talents to work with are called “servants” of the master. Now unless my understanding of the word servant is not right, a servant is a person who is bonded to serve his master. He has not the right to determine for himself what to do, and only listens for and obeys his master’s command. The clearest typology of this is us Christians. The implication of accepting someone as your lord is that you immediately become that person’s servant – which is exactly what we confess when we are born again. I think today’s fiercely independent Christian finds it hard to accept and walk in the conviction of servanthood to Christ.

Look at Paul’s introductory statement to the Romans church.

Ro 1:1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God …

Hear what Christ says to his disciples:

Jn 15:15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you”.

The privilege of being called friends is Christ’s to give. Our duty however, is as servants to our Lord. Those that do not believe in Christ are not his servants, simply because he is not their Lord. We are, and we must learn to live as such.

Saved to Serve

As we have already established in my previous post, the purpose of we being called into the body of Christ through the free gift of grace is so that we may “do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do”. And this is exactly the responsibility that the master gives to his servants in this parable. It is worth noting that he gives different amounts of talents to different servants – five, two and one. But have you wondered why he said the same thing to both the one who was given five talents and the one who was given two talents?

Mt 25:21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness’”

Mt 25:23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of may things. Come and and share your master’s happiness”.

The idea behind typing both responses to the servant with the five talents and that with two talents is to show you that the response to both is the same. But why? Hasn’t the one with 5 talents done more? Is the master not fair? Au contraire, both have returned 100% profit on the investment, and so both should be commended the same way.

The third servant is called wicked and lazy (v. 26). Of course we all agree that he was lazy, but why will his master classify him as “wicked”? Why will Jesus call some of us his servants wicked? Simply because contrary to Eph 2:10, this servant did not do the good works prepared in advance for him to do. Look at what Malachi classifies as wicked and you’ll see why.

Mal 4:18 And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.

And Jesus’ classification of the vines that bear fruit and those that do not.

Jn 15:1-2;8 “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 that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful…. This is to my Father’s glory that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

Again, the reference is to branches that are already within the vine. In short, we Christians, not any other class of people. Once we are born again, we become a branch within Christ the tree. And to prove ourselves true and faithful disciples, Christ expects us to bear “much” fruit.

Calibre of Fruit

What is the kind of fruit we are to bear or the good works we are to do? Well, there are no listed “good works” in the NT for us, though there are many references to people having done what could be classified as good works. I have come to believe however, that there is only one underlying principle that help us classify what we do as good works – works done in the love of God.
Eph 1:4-5 (4)For he chose in him before the creation of the world to be the holy and blameless in his sight. In love, (5)he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.

Note the KJV way of putting this verse 4.

Eph 1:4 According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.

A careful analysis of both versions of the same passage will tell you that our adoption as sons and our holiness and blamelessness is gained through Agape love. This kind of love can only be given us by the Holy Spirit of Him who wants us to love to the same measure as He has loved us.

Ro 5:5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he gives us.

Do you see why Jesus Christ gave the commandment to love and why Paul calls it the law of Christ?

Jn 13:34-35 A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

Gal 6:2 Carry each other’s burdens, in in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

And have you ever wondered why the introductory sections in most of Paul’s letters express either a prayer or a gladness that love may be manifested among the brethren?

Phil 1:9-10 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ.

1 Th 1:2-3 We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Th 1:3 We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love everyone has for each other is increasing.

Col 1:3-5 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ and of the love you have for all the saints – the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven …

… Not the faith and love that we exhibit by warming church pews everyday and shaking three hands at the end of the service, but one that tells us “we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers” (1 Jn 3:16). As a little point of digression, I think it’s a bit ironic (if not intentional) that the two passages that clearly depict the measure of love God has for us and the measure of love he expects from us are all in some Jn 3:16 form i.e. Jn 3:16 and 1 Jn 3:16.

The Importance of Works

It is vital to understand the principle that works done after our initial belief in Jesus is the only thing that guarantees us “an inheritance among the saints” (Ac 20:32). This understanding underscored every effort of the apostles of old and was a point of exhortation to all whom they came into contact with.

1 Thess 2:19-20 For what is our hope,, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory.

2 Ti 4:7-8 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to those who have longed for his appearing.

Paul speaks of those whom he has won for Christ and whom he has worked with in Thessalonia as his “crown” that he will glory before Christ with. And here is one reason why we need works of our own to “glory” before Christ.

Rev 19:7-8 Let us rejoice and be glad, and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was give her to wear. (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints)

If the fine linen of the bride is made up of “righteous acts” of the saints, and you have none, do you expect to be among the bride? Note that in all the messages to the seven churches in Rev, Christ always said “I know your deeds”, not “I know your confession of me”. However, he promises good things to those who overcome. Overcome what? I’ll leave that to your pondering but I guess we’ve already passed over those waters.

Judging the Works

First of all, the church will be judged separately from the world in two stages. As the apostle Peter says,

1 Pe 4:17 For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God, and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

I think it is time that Christians took a second look at the Parable of the Weeds and the Parable of the Net carefully. It paints a picture which can be quite frightening for some of us Christians. Note in the parable of the weeds that the wheat is planted and the enemy comes to plant weeds among the good ones. However, when harvest time comes, the wheat is harvested from among the weeds and sent for storage, whiles the weeds are gathered to be put in the fire. This paints a picture of faithful and unfaithful Christians. The angels will do a separation of these, and the destination of the unfaithful is declared as the lake of fire. It is important to note that in Christ’s explanation he said the field was the world.

Christ is not interested in judging the world when he comes the first time. He is interested in picking those who are faithful to him. And to those who are unfaithful, there is no second chance. They will be thrown straight into the lake of fire. It will seem then that it is better for those of the world who do not receive Christ. At least they will go through the judgement of the second resurrection. This same picture is painted by the Parable of the Net, and again by the Parable of the Talents under discussion. The servant who had one talent was not considered “wicked” because he had spent the money, but because he did not do anything with it. Christians who do not walk in deeds according to the will of their Father will find themselves in very dire straights on the day of Christ’s return.

The second form of judgment of the Church is a judgment of quality, and is depicted in 2 Co 5:10 and 1 Co 3:12-15.

2 Co 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due to him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

1 Co 3:12-15 If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

The first passage mentions being judged “for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad”. This is a judgment of our deeds while on earth, and whether they were done according to the will of God or whether they were done in the flesh.

The second passage talks about the judgment process itself, and points out that it is quality that counts. Those whose works are of gold, silver or precious stones will be rewarded with the inheritance of being an heir in the coming kingdom of Christ, and will rule with him when he returns to the earth(Rev 20:1-6). Those whose work are of wood, straw or hay will not be considered a part of that inheritance, but will only be subjects in Christ’s kingdom. They would have “entered” the kingdom (Mk 9:47), but would not reign in it(Ro 8:17).

Let me give you a scenario. Supposing two men reach heaven, one carrying a very small box of gold, and the other carrying a high and mighty pile of wood, representing their work. Now they both appear before the judgment seat of Christ and their work is tested by fire. I guess we all know what will happen. But the latter person is what modern Christians are striving to be like, not the former. I shudder to think of whether today’s icons of Christianity will even make it at all to the judgment seat and what the quality of their work will be like.

Then again, we have work to do to make sure we are part of those that bring in gold, silver or precious stones because, nothing else is of more worth than ruling the physical and spiritual world with Christ. Make sure you are a part of it.

Faith of the Centurion

Recently I’d been reading on what the NIV appropriately titles as “The Faith of the Centurion” in Luke 7:1-10. This passage taught me a lesson on faith, and I want to put down my perspective of it as gleaned from this passage. Of course I’m only going to scratch the surface of this topic, since there are a million and one other writings on this most important issue.

The story goes of a servant of a centurion who was valued highly by his master fell ill. The centurion sends the elders of the Jews to see Jesus and plead for him to heal the servant. Jesus agreed to go, but on the way the centurion sends friends to Jesus saying

Lk 7:6-8 “(6) … Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. (7) That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. (8) For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come’, and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this’ and he does it.”

Jesus later expressed surprise at the faith of this centurion, telling the crowd following him that he hasn’t found such great faith in Israel, and when the centurion’s friends returned, the servant was healed.

I pondered over why Jesus said he hadn’t found such faith before, and what the Holy Spirit taught me I want to share here. I’ll call these the steps to faith.

Belief in An Almighty God

As a military man, the centurion was well versed with the notion of authority. He himself was “under authority, with soldiers under me”. He is able to give instructions to his soldiers, and they must be carried out, or they face the penalty of death. In the same way, his statements show a conviction that Jesus was a man of might and authority over the spiritual realm (and by extension the physical as well). In other words, he was God or sent from God – and the centurion considered himself unworthy to receive Jesus under his roof. Jesus only needed to give a command. This tallies with what the writer of Hebrews said about God.
Heb 11:6 “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him

In this day and age of increasing rebellion against God conveniently named “atheism”, it is very important that any form of faith that can be considered Christian faith be first founded on the fact that there is an Almighty God whose will we must seek to do. I recently had an arguement with a professing Christian who had a lot of questions to ask about why Christians do what they do, and I had to remind them that if they did not believe in God’s existence, then no answer I could give will be enough to convince them. I believe I’m writing to Christians and therefore do not need to go into the intricacies of the existence of God.

Absolute and Resolute Belief in His Word

But say the word, and my servant will be healed”. Having established the fact that Jesus was a man of authority as he himself was, he goes on to tell him to just “say the word”. For us Christians who already express a belief in God, this statement is of unparalleled importance. It is the difference between living faith and dead faith, between commitment and lukewarmness, between the good servant and the unfaithful one.
Faith is not founded on emotions. It leads to emotions. It is not founded on logic. It leads to logic and wisdom – and is one of the reasons why Paul discourages arguements based not on the authority of the word of God but on logic. Faith is founded on the word of God, and our obedience to it. Heb 11:1 defines faith as
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see.” And this is exactly what the centurion expressed.

But how can we achieve this? We believe in God, but we’ve not seen him before. How can we be “certain of what we do not see”?

  • We are certain because he told us so. Ge 15:5-6 “He took him outside and said, ‘Look up at the heavens and count the stars – if indeed you can count them’. The he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be’. Abraham believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness”

    Abraham believed God’s promise or God’s word, and God considered him righteous. Note what Jesus said in Jo 6:47 “He who believes … has everlasting life” – not shall have. In the same way by believing in God’s word, God immediately imputed righteousness to Abraham. Faith is based on accepting God’s word – very simple.

  • They say seeing is believing. But seeing before believing is not faith. Faith is based on what has been said by God before, and clinging to them then brings the physical manifestation of them.

Jo 11:39-40 “Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone’. Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, ‘Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days’. Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?”

  • What is the guarantee that the word of God is true? That what God has written in his word will come to pass? Because His word is truth. Jesus told his disciples in Jo 15:3 “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you”. Ah, so the word of God can cleanse us? Then know these as well:

Jo 17:17 “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth”.

2 Sa 7:28 “O Sovereign Lord, you are God! Your words are trustworthy …”

Jo 14:6 “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me’”

Jn 1:14 “The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”

These expound emphatically one of most fundamental declarations of the nature of God and His word. You cannot believe in one and ignore the other. You cannot claim a belief in God but ignore His word or vice versa.

Confession and Appropriation

It is important to note that what the centurion believed, he did not keep to himself. He personally sent some elders to Jesus to plead on his behalf for his servant’s healing. Believing that Jesus Christ could heal his servant was not enough to save him – taking the steps to see that happen was.
This is the point where faith has an emotional manifestation. A genuine faith will always be confessed and acted upon by its professor.
Ro 10:8-10 “… (8) But what does it say? ‘The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,’ that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: (9) 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. (10) For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.”
Note that v 9-10 are preceded by v 8, – “the word of faith we are proclaiming” confirms what we have concluded before that faith is based on God’s word. However, the residence of faith is not in the mind. It is in the heart. This is where faith and emotions meet.
We all know that it is emotions that drive us to do what we do. Remember, every decision is pondered in the mind. Once the mind is made up, we begin to act on our decisions with our emotions now taking over. This is how a Christian is able to withstand all the pressures that the devil brings against him – because he/she takes the word of God personal. We can’t begin to really experience faith in God if we will not allow it to take control of our hearts. How many references are there to people storing up the word “in their heart”?

Ps 31:30-31 “The mouth of the righteous man utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks what is just. The law of his God is in his heart; his feet do not slip”

Ps 119:11 “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you”

Pr 3:1-3 “My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you prosperity. Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the table of your heart.

I could go on and give all the listed verses from the small concordance in my study Bible (I’m sure a bigger concordance will give me almost more than twice what I have here) but the point is still made – the repository of faith is the heart. The word must be stored in the heart, which is the driving seat of human body. So faith and emotions are very compatible because true faith leads to action, but it’s foundation is the word of God.

Allow me to digress a bit here – faith is different from hope, which is stored up in the mind. Someone pointed out to me 1 Th 5:8

1 Th 5:8 “But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation

Faith and love emanates from the heart and must be protected by a breastplate. Hope is in the mind. Also faith is here and now – it is an active thing, not something of the future. Remember the number of people Jesus healed because they had faith in him. He didn’t say they should wait for a future resurrection before they receive their healing. He healed them there and then. So even though something we may be claiming from God by faith has not yet manifested, continuing in the faith that what you asked has already been provided is what makes what your desire come true.

Jas 1:5,6 “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God …. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind”.

See another example of the distinction between faith and hope. Col 3:3-4 points out that by faith you are now in Christ, but your hope is to be glorified with him when he appears.

Col 3:3 “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God”

Col 3:4 “When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory”.

Most often but not always, references to hope in the NT are to future events of glory, whiles references to faith are to a present status of a disciple relative to Christ or His word.

Living out Your Faith

Although not exhibited by the centurion in our passage, I cannot close this article on faith without talking about living out your faith. You have believed God’s existence and believed in His word. You have stored up his word in your heart and confessed him with your mouth. Aren’t these enough? Well, I’ll raise a few hairs here by saying that going through these things guarantees you a place in His kingdom, but not an inheritance in it. Why? Because faith without works is dead. We’ve already established that saving faith does not depend on anything but repenting from sin and believing that Jesus Christ is Lord. Period. No rituals, no “works of righteousness” or “penance” or “good deeds” is required. It is free, by grace and by faith.
Eph 2:8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.

But there is a purpose for that salvation through grace. Interestingly it is stated in the same breath as this one is, but I can count the number of times I’ve heard somebody preach about it in the same breath as the one stated above.

Eph 2:10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Tit 2:14 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.

The purpose of salvation by grace is so we can show our faith by our works – works which God has prepared way in advance for us. Note I didn’t say gain faith by our works but show forth our faith by our works. Works is the evidence of faith, not the guarantee of it.

Jam 2:14-19 “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith, I have deeds’. Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.”

I believe this passage does not require a rocket scientist to understand, as my brother Odarno will tell you. However, I’ve heard some prosperity preacher massacre this passage beyond recognition before and I only pray for God’s mercy for him.

The passage in James also matches what Jesus said in Jn 15:1-2

Jn 15:1-2 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off ever branch in me that does not bear fruit”.

Note that the branch that is cut of was already IN Jesus the tree. This signifies one who is already a self-declared Christian, but who is bearing no fruit. Such a person on the day of Christ’s return for the first resurrection will be sent straight to the lake of fire, where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth”. My next post will go into more details on this issue of the faithful and unfaithful servant.

But what are these works? Well, they are simply works done in the love of God. In the same Jn 15, Jesus talks about “remaining in his love”. This love is the love given by God himself, and it is the same standard that Christ requires of us.

Jn 15:9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love

Jn 13:34-35 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another”.

Eph 1:4 “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons …”

In all these passages, the word love here refers to the “Agape” love. This love can only be given us by the Holy Spirit.

Ro 5:5 “And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”

Gal 5:22 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy , peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law”

Well, I need not say more on this. If there is no evidence of faith in our lives, we need to look again at it because even the demons claim faith in God, but we all know their destination. And if our works done in faith are not motivated by the love of God, they become worthless deeds, and stand the chance of being called evil deeds.

Mt 7:22 “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles? Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

Conclusion

To conclude, there is no doubt about the importance of works after faith. Rev 19:7-8 tells you explicitly what they are for.

Rev 19:7-8 “Let us rejoice and be glad and five him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean was given here to wear (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints)”

The KJV says “righteousness of the saints” but almost all other translations have the above rendering. If you do not have any righteous acts to contribute to the garment, where do you think you will be? Your guess is as good as mine. Are you still warming the pew?