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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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?