I am not awesome.

Yesterday I saw a video making it’s debut into the social network system, and it is soon to be viral, I am sure.  It is posted on a faith oriented website and as the speaker opened his mouth to begin building up women, my stomach immediately dropped:

Here is the script of what this man says:

You are beautiful.  You are smart.  You are funny.  You are kind.  You are unique.  You are worthy of love and affection.  You are never too much and you are always enough.  You are precious.  You are a diamond, a rose, a pearl, the most stunning of all God’s creation.  You are worth more than you could ever imagine.

Worth more than the numbers on a scale, the hair product you use, or the shoes you wear.  More than how many girls wish they were you or how many guys wish they had you.  More than the price tags on your clothes or the percentage at the top of your math test, or even the number of followers you have on twitter.

Your worth surpasses all earthly things because in the eyes of the Lord God, you are loved.  And you are worth dying for.

Regardless of who you think you are.  Whether you are a model in a magazine or you model pottery with grandma.  Whether you are on the hot list or the not list.  Whether you are head cheerleader or a high school drop out.  Whether you are miss popular or you have never had anyone you have called  a friend.  Whether you love yourself and love your life or you can’t stand to look in the mirror and you feel like everything in your life is falling apart.  Whether you are such a winner or you feel like the world’s biggest failure, regardless of who you think you are, the reality is that you deserve someone who would give up their life for you because you are powerful and strong and capable.  Read about the women in the Bible.  Esther, Ruth, Martha, Mary.  These women changed the world forever.  And inside of you, each and every one of you is a woman with that same power and that same strength and that same world changing capability, and your responsibility is to find that woman and to set that woman free.  This is who you are.  And any voices in your mind that try and tell you differently are from the enemy.  And the next time you hear them, this is what you say, you say “Nuh uh, not me Satan, I am a daughter of the living God:  cherished, loved, and adored above all things by the creator of all things for the glory of Him who is greater than all things.  I am awesome.”

And please, don’t you forget it.

Women.  Please.  Do not buy into the lies.

Why?  Because the premise is fundamentally flawed.  Life, meaning and purpose is not about you.  It is about God.  It is all about God.  If you already believe all of these things about yourself, you are proud and deep in sin.  God alone should satisfy you, not confidence in yourself and in your abilities to “change the world”.  If you have no self esteem and think “woe is me” because you have no ability to change the world, you are in sin for lack of faith in God for His ability to work through you.  Either way, to look unto yourself for purpose, beauty, satisfaction, confidence, whatever – that is sin.

The Bible makes it extremely clear that in and of ourselves we are sinful, we are wicked, we are dead in our trespasses and hostile to God (John 8.44, Rom 3.10, Eph 2.1, Rom 8.7).  We are in desperate need of a savior!  But God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish (as we all deserve) but should have everlasting life (John 3.16).

Our confidence is not in ourselves.  Our confidence is in Jesus Christ.  Alone (Heb 4.16).  Apart from Christ, I can do nothing (John 15.5).  Apart from Christ, I can only sin (Rom 14.23).

The only statement of relative truth benefit that this man makes is “I am a daughter of the living God:  cherished, loved, and adored above all things by the creator of all things for the glory of Him who is greater than all things.”  But even in this, we must beware of the pride expressed therein:  we are not loved above all things.  We are loved as part of the bride of Christ, the body for which He died on the cross.  Yes, this is lavish, unmerited, godly, unfathomable, agape love which we cannot comprehend – but I am not #1 in His eyes.  He exists primarily for His own glory.  And saving us and sanctifying us brings Him glory (Is 42.6-8).  Collectively.  We are each a part of the body.  I am not God’s entire focus.  You are not the apple of God’s eye.  We, together, as a corporate body of believers, are His bride.

Esther, Ruth, Mary and Martha did not change the world.  God changed the world through Esther, Ruth, Mary and Martha.  It is most certainly not our responsibility to find the Esther inside of us, our responsibility is to love God fully.  With all of our hearts, with all of our souls and and with all of our might (Deut 6.5, Matt 22.37).

God might use you to change the world.  He might not.  He might send you home to your family to speak of His greatness with your immediate relatives like the demoniac at Gerasenes.  This man had been possessed for years, and Jesus set him free.  You probably remember the story; Jesus cast the demons into the pigs and they all ran off of a cliff and drowned in the sea.  The man wanted to follow Jesus as a disciple, and Jesus sent him home:

“Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you.”

– Mark 5.19

Whatever God’s plan for our lives is, it is our responsibility to serve Him, love Him and trust Him.  We must look at and to Him, not ourselves.  It is only in and by Christ that we can approach the throne of grace (Heb 4.16).  Not because I am beautiful, or smart, or precious, or whatever else this man spoke to an empty auditorium.  Let us not build ourselves up for who we are, who we think we are, or who we want others to think we are.  Look to God.  Find your satisfaction, fulfillment and confidence in the blood of Jesus Christ.  Alone.

“Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain,
But a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised.”

– Prov 31.30

I am not awesome.  You are probably not awesome either.  But that’s OK, because Jesus is.  And that is all that matters.

We Must Know Our Sin

Last month I was on a three hour flight and was providentially sitting next to a pastor from Los Angeles.  We got into conversation and quickly realized that we had very similar belief structures, the same heroes of the faith and overall worldviews.  Because of some recent conversations I had been having and also the anonymity of talking with a stranger, I asked him his opinion on a question I have wrestled with for most of my Christian walk:

“What is the minimum by which a person can be saved?”

What I mean by that is, what does it take?  Because at times the Scripture seems so clear:

“…if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

 – Rom 10.9

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

 – 1 John 1.9

“…for whoever will call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

 – Rom 10.13

And then of course Jesus’ continual teachings:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”

 – Matt 22.37

“Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God’.”

 – John 3.3

But my question has always been, how do you know if you have sincerely done that?  Jesus also says that we can know a tree by its fruit (Luke 6.44), and we are exhorted to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2.2).  This is no small deal here, we are talking about eternal salvation or damnation.  I want to know beyond a shadow of a doubt, to know that I know that I know.

And this pastor’s answer has been etched into my mind.  He said, “If a person has been truly broken over his sin, and turned to God for forgiveness.”

Repentance is the key.  Turning from sin.  But to truly repent, one has to understand his depravity, his sinful nature, his just deserts of damnation and his complete, utter need of a savior.  Brokenness.

Do you grieve over your sin?

Does it break your heart that your sin puts Jesus on the cross?

“What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COVET.’  But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead.  I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.  So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.”

 – Rom 7.7-12

Paul, in the book of Romans, spends a great deal of time and energy speaking about the Mosaic Law:  a list of things to do or not do to maintain our standing before God.  Paul is very clear in this passage that the Law is holy, righteous and good (Rom 7.12).  We are often tempted to say that the Law was bad and grace is good.  But the reality is that our sin is what is bad – and when our sin meets the Law, it fosters more sin.  But when we die to the Law, we are made alive to grace and God gives us the Spirit to empower us to fulfill the Law.  Our actions do not change, from being under the Law and living under grace:  obedience.  Our hearts change in motive.

But Paul makes a dynamic statement in Verse 7:  “I would not have come to know sin except through the Law.”  It is extremely important that we know our sin.  We do not revel or glory in it – and when Christ redeems us and sets us free from it, we ought not remember it in any light other than to praise God for how He has changed us and is continually changing us.  But there is no salvation apart from repentance, new birth and becoming a new creation.

And we have to know and be broken over our sin to in order to repent.

Do you know your sin?  Do you know what God has defined as sin?  There are in-exhaustive lists throughout Scripture:

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.”

 – 1 Cor 6.9-10

“But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

 – Rev 21.8

All sins are damnable.  And God, as creator, gets to define what sin is.  We do not.  And while these lists include outward and inward sins – sins of action and sins of the heart, Paul sums it all up to say that “whatever is not from faith is sin” (Rom 14.23).

Let us examine and probe our ways,
And let us return to the Lord.

 – Lam 3.40

Let us know our sin.  Let us be broken over our sin.  Let us ask God what He considers sin, and let us confess that His truth is right and our understanding is flawed.  Let us repent of our sin.  Let us turn to a Savior.  Let us be broken, and let us be saved.

Lawless

When I moved overseas, after the initial shock of the cultural differences wore off, perhaps the greatest continual tension in my life was my loss of the American perspective of freedom.  The culture in which I live was a community based culture and an extremely monitored society.  My job was in eco-tourism, so I traveled at least half of the time, and this society requires that you report to the local police anytime you stay the night somewhere.  And going into remote areas where foreigners rarely traveled made the police visits quite long and cumbersome at times.  You were supposed to have travel papers by your in-country sponsor, giving permission to travel and you had to explain your purpose every day.  “I want to climb your volcano” was rarely sufficient.

Freedom.  What does that really mean?

“Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives?  For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband.  So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man.  Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.  For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death.  But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.”

– Rom 7.1-6

Paul states clearly that we are Spiritually enslaved either to the Law, and consequently sin, or to God and righteousness.  We have a slave master, one way or the other.

Unfortunately, with a Spiritual slave master, we cannot visibly and consciously see our bondage and often times we fool ourselves to think that we have no master.  That is, after all, what it is to be American, right?

This passage in Romans has gripped my attention for the past week, speaking specifically to our freedom from bondage to the Law.  God’s Law is perfect and good.  It is when it interacts with our flesh that it produces sin.  The problem is not the Law, it is our flesh.  Our goal is to fulfill the Law (Rom 13.8-10, Gal 5.14), and scripture tells us that love is the fulfillment of the Law.  But we also know that in our flesh we cannot fulfill the Law, but struggle against it.

That is why we need Jesus!  Because He fulfilled the Law in His life and death and enables us to keep the Law through redemption of our hearts and through the power of the Spirit.  Paul teaches us that through Jesus’ death, we died to the first husband:  the Law, and therefore can be married to Him through grace.

Notice the key here:  we do not become lawless when we die to the Law.  But we die to the Law “in order that we might bear fruit for God” and “so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter” (Rom 7.4, 6).

We make a pivotal transition:  We no longer seek to be holy before God by keeping the Law, but we are in Christ and consequently keep the Law.  We do not keep the Law to be in Christ.

“Marriage is not for the sake of the vows, the vows are for the sake of marriage.”

– John Piper

We are not losing our rights, therefore, by being in God.  We are gaining freedom and empowerment to keep the Law because it is an outpouring of love and thankfulness to Him for our salvation and forgiveness.  It becomes our Spirit’s desire to act according to the Law of God.  If we try to earn His favor, we will always fail.  But if we are in Him, we will keep His Law.  That is why Jesus can say that we will know one another by our actions (Luke 6.44)!

Therefore, let us love God.  Our thankfulness and love will translate into the fruit of the Spirit:  Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control (Gal 5.22-23).  And by living in and by the fruit of the Spirit, we keep the Law (Gal 5.14), and glorify God, and thus people will know that we are in God.

Resolved VII

I have come today to reflect on the last of Jonathan Edwards’ resolutions.  Oh to be a person of such conviction!  When I was in High School, I was often accused (mostly by myself) of being too serious, incapable of relating well to most of the other students, except – of course – for the philosophicals and thinkers of my class.  I distinctly remember sitting with a group of friends one day – who claimed to be Christians – and thinking to myself as they were quoting movies and acting like fools, “there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks” (Eph 5.4).  I still wrestle with this balance, as I do believe God gave us creation and humor to enjoy.  So what exactly is the prohibition against silly talk?

Jonathan Edwards apparently had no problem with this balance, and his first resolution here (and all following) is exceptionally convicting:

61.  Resolved, That I will not give way to that listlessness which I find unbends and relaxes my mind from being fully and fixedly set on religion, whatever excuse I may have for it—that what my listlessness inclines me to do, is best to be done, &c. May 21, and July 13, 1723.
62.  Resolved, Never to do any thing but my duty, and then, according to Eph. vi. 6-8. to do it willingly and cheerfully, as unto the Lord, and not to man: knowing that whatever good thing any man doth, the same shall be receive of the Lord. June 25, and July 13, 1723.
63.  On the supposition, that there never was to be but one individual in the world, at any one time, who was properly a complete Christian, in all respects of a right stamp, having Christianity always shining in its true lustre, and appearing excellent and lovely, from whatever part and under whatever character viewed: Resolved, To act just as I would do, if I strove with all my might to be that one, who should live in my time. Jan. 14, and July 13, 1723.
64.  Resolved, When I find those ”groanings which cannot be uttered,“ of which the apostle speaks, and those ”breathings of soul for the longing it hath,” of which the psalmist speaks, Psalm cxix. 20. that I will promote them to the utmost of my power; and that I will not be weary of earnestly endeavouring to vent my desires, nor of the repetitions of such earnestness. July 23, and Aug. 10, 1723.
65.  Resolved, Very much to exercise myself in this, all my life long, viz. with the greatest openness of which I am capable, to declare my ways to God, and lay open my soul to him, all my sins, temptations, difficulties, sorrows, fears, hopes, desires, and every thing, and every circumstance, according to Dr. Manton’s Sermon on the 119th Psalm,. July 26, and Aug. 10, 1723.
66.  Resolved, That I will endeavour always to keep a benign aspect, and air of acting and speaking, in all places, and in all companies, except it should so happen that duty requires otherwise.
67.  Resolved, After afflictions, to inquire, what I am the better for them; what good I have got by them; and, what I might have got by them.
68.  Resolved, To confess frankly to myself, all that which I find in myself, either infirmity or sin; and, if it be what concerns religion, also to confess the whole case to God, and implore needed help. July 23, and August 10, 1723.
69.  Resolved, Always to do that, which I shall wish I had done when I see others do it. Aug. 11, 1723.
70.  Let there be something of benevolence in all that I speak. Aug. 17, 1723.

Speaking all things into existence

“God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.  And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and  upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.”

– Heb 1.1-4

I absolutely love the book of Hebrews.  It is unsigned, and many people would argue that Paul wrote it, but irregardless, the book is solid.  If you need to fall in love with Jesus for the first time or for the fiftieth time, just read the first few chapters.

These first few verses are deeply implanted in my mind.  The little phrase,

“He upholds all things by the word of His power”

blows my mind.  I wrote before on how God used this verse to radically free me from a random and short lived fear of flying, and praying that verse back to God daily for months and meditating on the magnitude of the reality therein has regularly rocked the foundations of faith on which I live.

Jesus is continually speaking you, me, this computer on which I am typing, and everything in the world into existence.  His creative power is so vast and powerful that He is upholding the universe – just by commanding “exist”.

For years I planned to practice medicine, and my undergraduate degree is in Biology.  As I child I loved to be outside, I would take my younger sister on “nature walks” through the woods, and catch all sorts of critters.  I used to rescue baby birds that had fallen from their nests and raise them, housing them in an old robin’s nest and feeding them worms.  I enjoy to look at nature, creation, the way things work and while I have always known that there is a time when the answer to the question “why” is “because that’s how God made it”, in studying biology I thrived on continually learning one more step between what I understand and God’s creative force.

God created the natural laws.  He established gravity, the orbits of planets, the spin of the earth and the moon to control tides.  He also created the molecular makeup of everything in existence; DNA, the transcribing of genetic material into RNA and ultimately into proteins, the exact function of each part of the molecule, and He knows the depths and expanse of everything in creation.  It was not too long ago that scientists believe the atom to be the smallest particle in creation – undividable.  And God has not only known, but he imagined, created, and continues to speak atoms and all of their makeup into existence.  The micro and macro realms of reality all exist by His spoken word.

And us.  He speaks you and me into existence.  Ps 139 is one of my favorite Psalms, it speaks to God’s knowledge, sovereignty and power over us as a comforting force.  And one of it’s strongest claims is the simple fact that He knows and has ordained the exact number of our days:

“Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them.”

– Ps 139.16

Nothing is too big for God.  He is speaking you, me, our DNA and the universe into existence.  But he also has sovereign power over these forces, as creator, he can change the way things work or temporary interrupt the natural laws:  and this is what we understand as a miracle.  The parting of the Red Sea and the Jordan River, turning water into blood, Jesus being born of a virgin, His resurrection from the dead, miraculous healings, Jesus walking through walls, ascending back to Heaven on a cloud, transporting Phillip instantaneously from the wilderness to somewhere else;  these are all ways that we see God disrupt the natural laws that He has put in place for His divine purposes.  He can speak things into existence and He can change things by the word of His power.  Therefore, let us trust God.  He is in control and He has a plan.  He is speaking you and me into existence, and He has the exact number of our days ordained and planned.  He can change things, He can disrupt the natural laws and He will see his perfect end attained.  Therefore live boldly, trust Him, and obey His statues, for His word does not return void (Is 55.11).

The Ultimate Act of Love

What is the ultimate act of love?

It is clear what we culturally believe in movies:  remember “City of Angels”?  Seth, the angel, gives up his angelic nature and takes on humanity and death for just a moment with Maggie.  The movies John Q, The Road to Perdition, Pay it Forward, X-Men, The Matrix all tell the same basic story:  one’s love for another (or the whole world – like Neo in the Matrix) drives him to give up his life for the other’s well being.

When men in America ask for permission of their girlfriends’ parents to marry their daughter, part of the expression of undying love and devotion is, “I will always put myself between her and danger; I would die for her”.

Sacrificial death.  The Japanese capitalized on it with the kamikaze pilots during WWII.  “Divine Wind” is the literal translation of the word kamikaze, and is built on the unifying belief in the culture which unites Samurai and Bushido codes alike:  Loyalty and honor until death.  The greatest act of devotion to the country was to give one’s life.

The jihad:  Service to God.  “The struggle” as it directly translates – either internally to the fulfillment of religious duty or externally against the enemies.  The greatest jihad according to Ibn Habbaan (author of Book of Jihad) is “the one in which your horse is slain and your blood is spilled.”  Death.  For God’s honor, or the furthering of Islam.

Around the world, in various religions and in various cultures, we unanimously agree that the greatest act of love and devotion is to give one’s life for another.

God is the creator of the the universe.  He established natural orders and He defined love because He is love (1 John 4.8, 16).  If God created us to understand love and placed that intrinsic understanding of love within human nature, then wouldn’t it follow that God would express Himself in the same manner by which He defined love?

Have you ever thought of the absurdity of Almighty God, the one who spoke all things into existence, humbling Himself to take on the form of man, and submitting Himself to human cruelty to the point of death (Phil 2.5-8)?

Some people believe that God is limited.  He is the giant clock maker who set all things in motion, and when pieces of His creation break, He has to jump in a fix them.  He does not know the future, He does not know what will happen, He is reactionary.  But God defined love, and it was His plan from before He spoke the world into existence, to redeem sinful human beings through His own death.

“And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

 – Rev 13.8

Jesus was slain from the foundation of the world.  Not after however long Adam and Eve lived in Eden and then fell.  Since the moment God said, “Let there be light” (Gen 1.3).  And the plan was so settled that when Adam and Eve did sin, God told them He had a plan (while cursing the Devil in the snake’s body):

The Lord God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
Cursed are you more than all cattle,
And more than every beast of the field;
On your belly you will go,
And dust you will eat
All the days of your life;

And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed; 
He shall bruise you on the head, 
And you shall bruise him on the heel.

 – Gen 3.14-15

Jesus is the seed of woman – the Devil bruised His heal by killing Him on the cross, but Jesus crushed His head when he defeated death through His resurrection.

God established the order of creation:  Mankind in need of a savior, the retribution for sin being found in blood alone (Heb 9.22), and Jesus as the perfect sacrifice for the sin of the believers.  Redemption.  God could have set up another route to salvation.  He could have created a world in which there is no sin.  He actually did create a world in which there is no rebellion from His ways:  Heaven!  The angels long to look into the mystery of salvation (1 Peter 1.12).  Because they are in a setting in which they are in God’s presence, they are worshiping Him continually, and they do not understand God’s plan of redemption experientially.  But they understand the magnitude and glory of it, and that is why all Heaven rejoices at the salvation of one soul (Luke 15.7).

But here on Earth God has a perfect plan of redemption by the blood of Jesus Christ:

But the Lord was pleased
To crush Him, putting Him to grief;
If He would render Himself as a guilt offering,
He will see His offspring,
He will prolong His days,
And the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand.

 – Is 53.10

God, who is love, defined what love was, and then acted it out.  He loved the world so much that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believes in Him might not perish but have everlasting life (John 3.16).

And the only response to such great love is to die to our flesh daily, take up our cross and follow Him (Matt 16.24).  If God would die for us, and offer us eternity with Him, what less can we give back to Him than to offer our lives back?

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.  And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

 – Rom 12.1-2

Good Works: Who has them?

“[God] has always commanded that there be a life of obedience to vindicate the reality of faith which unites us to God as our righteousness.”

– John Piper

It’s the age-old debate: faith verses works.  The Protestant Reformation began primarily by the personal study and salvation of Martin Luther.  He knew his own sinfulness and wrestled with the doctrines being taught within the Church, primarily that of the indulgences:  forgiveness of sin that was purchasable.  He began reading the Bible, and he came to understand salvation by grace alone.  He sparked the Reformation in 1517 by nailing his 95 Theses to the door of the All Saints’ Church in Wittenburg, Saxony.   John Calvin, John Wycliffe and other forefathers of the faith also helped to spearhead the study and application of Scripture directly and individually within the Church.

Martin Luther so believed in the doctrine of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone that he sought to have the book of James removed from the Bible.  Why?  Because James speaks so directly and bluntly to the necessity of obedience, using extremely bold language:

“You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.”

– James 2.24

James argues that Abraham was justified in being willing to offer Isaac as a sacrifice on the altar (James 2.21).  But Paul builds the foundation of his theology on grace.  God’s working of forgiveness apart from anything that we can do:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

– Eph 2.8-9

How can these two work together?  How can James say that a man is justified by works and Paul say that a man is justified by faith?

First we must define some terms.  Justification.  What does that mean?  Justification is the theological, judicial term that simply means our debt has been paid, our punishment is satisfied, we are forgiven.  People erroneously simplify the doctrine, and make a play on words stating that justification is making it “just as if I had never sinned”.  The reason that this is inadequate is because our sin is not erased.  Our sin is forgiven!  Jesus paid the punishment on the cross.  All sin will be or has been punished – either in Jesus on the cross, or on the offender in eternity in Hell.  No sin is wiped away without punishment.

The punishment of the sin of the believer happened when Jesus died on the cross.

So how is it, then, that one is counted just before God?  Here is where the tension arises.  Paul says through faith, James says through works.

The second factor that we need to consider is the audience and intention of each author.  Paul wrote specifically to an audience that would seek to earn their salvation through their works.  James was writing to an audience that cheapened grace by thinking that since they were covered by grace it did not matter what they did.  That is why, at face value, it appears as though the apostles contradict one another.  But if we dig in to the meat of what they are saying, we realize that they would argue the same point:  That faith is a gift and is the saving factor, but the one who is saved acts in obedience and holiness:

“But someone may well say, ‘You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.'”

– James 2.18

James and Paul would both never separate the two.  A person who has been justified has been set free from slavery to sin, and set free to obedience – or works.

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”

– Eph 2.10

Another theological term which defines part of salvation is sanctification:  The progressive growing of the believer in obedience and holiness or godliness, which is culminated at our death is glorification – that moment when we leave our sinful bodies and receive our new and perfect bodies and are made completely holy before God.

Justification always leads to sanctification.  If someone believes, cognitively, that Jesus paid the punishment for sin and offers salvation to those who would believe, this alone is not enough for salvation.  As James says, “You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder” (James 2.19).  It is the transforming work of grace by which the believer has died to sin and lives to righteousness (Rom 6).  James and Paul just worded their arguments differently to impact a different audience.  But the point is the same.  Faith is the foundation.  And works are the outpouring of faith.  If you do not have works, clearly your faith is not saving faith – but of the same type that demons have.

“God has not taught, does not teach nor will He ever teach that eternal life has been based on and merited by anybody’s good needs.  Nevertheless he has always, does now and always will teach that good deeds are a necessary demonstration of the validity and authenticity of faith that unites us to Jesus our righteousness on the basis of whom we are saved.”

– John Piper

Let us acknowledge our sinfulness and inability to please God in and of ourselves through works.  Let us trust Jesus’ saving work on the cross and embrace salvation through faith alone, by grace alone.  And let us live our lives in response to that amazing gift.  Let us die to sin, live to righteousness, and seek to honor God – who would love us enough to send His son to die in our place.  Let us not continue to place Jesus on the cross through sinning, but let us love Him through obedience!

Perhaps Martin Luther, who started all of this conversation, said it best:

“We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.”

Let’s get busy. Like farmers.

I am not a farmer.  I know very little about farming.  But the community in which I grew up was dominated by farmers.  In fact, my parents’ house is nearly surrounded by corn fields, and their nearest neighbor to the north is one mile down the road, and some of my friends’ worked the summer job of detasseling corn and baling hay!

Many analogies in scripture are agricultural, as the Hebrew people were a farming people.  Jesus Himself used many such analogies, and perhaps one of the most familiar is that of the sower and the seed.  Jesus tells a story of the sower who sowed seeds in four types of soil:  beside the road, the rocky soil, the brier patch, and the good soil.  This analogy speaks directly to the work of the believer (the sower) sharing the Gospel (the seed) to nonbelievers (the varieties of soil), and the different responses that will be had to the Truth of the Gospel.

There arose a dispute amongst the believers in the church at Corinth, as to who followed which teacher (Paul, Apollos, Peter and Jesus – 1 Cor 1.12).  Paul wrote them to put this debate to rest, and he made this statement:

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.”

– 1 Cor 3.6

This truth is fundamentally important in considering our work and task as believers.  We are called to make disciples of all nations (Matt 28.18-20).  This is the responsibility of everyone who is saved, everyone who has been forgiven by God through the blood of Jesus Christ.  But we cannot force someone’s faith to grow.  It is God alone who causes growth.  Salvation, faith and holiness are all gifts of God that we cannot force, earn or impart to someone else (Rom 6.17, 22-23; Eph 2.8-9).  It is our responsibility to share and God’s responsibility to remove the heart of stone and give faith to people (Ez 36.26).

Missionaries around the world use the term “Abundant Gospel Sowing”: sharing the Gospel everywhere you go, with everyone you meet.  But often times we get lazy or tunnel visioned, and we use Paul’s example as an excuse.  One might say, “It is my job to sow seed” and another might say “It is my job to water the seed”, while another might heretically say, “It is my job to prepare the soil“.

Think about the farmer.  If we are to be farmers in our Gospel witness, we are to do all of the jobs.  Farmers are some of the hardest working people in the world!  They do not rest until the job is done.  And they work according to the season.  In the Spring, they sow seed, in the summertime they pull weeds and in the fall they harvest.  In the winter, they prepare for the upcoming year, sell their excess and tend to their land.  Just because it happened to occur in Corinth that God used Paul to sow the seed and start the church and Apollos continued the discipleship, we should not expect that God only has one job for us in which we should focus all of our energy and time.

We are farmers (Matt 13.3).  We are fishermen (Matt 4.19).  We are disciple-makers (Matt 28.18-20).  A person has to hear of Jesus and the offer of salvation before he can be made into a disciple.  A young disciple must learn to drink the milk of the Word before he can eat the meat of the Word.  All of us are continually growing in sanctification, obedience and holiness, and we must push one another on to love and  good deeds (Heb 10.24).  Let us be busy.  Let us not get lazy, and let us not neglect aspects of disciple-making by assuming that we have only one gift and therefore only one responsibility.  Let us work for the season, and always remember that the “harvest is plentiful” (Luke 10.2).

“How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed?  How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard?  And how will they hear without a preacher?  How will they preach unless they are sent?  Just as it is written, ‘HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!’”

– Rom 10.14-15

You never know who is watching.

When I was in my High School years, I regularly heard this from a variety of people:  youth pastors, friends, teachers, etc.  I never realized at the time how egocentric and ungodly this exhortation to right living is until a few days ago while listening to someone speak on the impact a church was having.

Yesterday, while talking with my mentor, we were laughing together about the personal confessions from a sect of people who believe God to forbid physical labor on the day of worship.  They were admitting that they would drive their cars half way to the house of worship and then walk the remainder of the way, so as to appear to other worshipers as to have walked the entire way as driving is forbidden on this day.  No matter that God could see their lack of devotion, they wanted the others to think they were spiritual and devout.

I went on a variety of trips while in High School – service trips, by nature, mission trips by name.  After going abroad to sing, perform, paint, or provide some other service, the reflection at the end of these trips was usually, “We cannot know the impact that we had” and/or “You never know who was watching”, or some other self-serving, feel good accolade by which we made one another feel good for our fruitless efforts.

That might be a bit harsh.

Yes, it is true, that God has ordained and uses every moment of our lives to His perfect end.  And there might be things that we do or say that forever impact another person’s life, or help him along in his spiritual journey.  But let’s think about this honestly.  How many strangers have forever impacted your life?  Or how many people do you observe, and affect you greatly in their successes or failures of faith, service or life?

And even if we did fundamentally impact people regularly, would you want to be that person to someone else?

Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.  Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.  Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them.  Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord.  Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.  Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.  Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.”  

– Col 3.17-23

This passage is riveting by nature because it takes all of the earthly perspectives and focuses them rightly on God.  Whatever you do, do unto the Lord.  If we serve God, He will work out all of the intended impact that our actions can and might have – for His glory.  If we work for man, then no benefit is to be had.  Yes, God will use our human efforts to His glory as all things glorify Him, but we will receive no eternal reward (Matt 6.5).  If we go out and seek our impact on other’s lives, we are not storing up treasures in Heaven, but our own egos here on the earth.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

– Matt 6.19-20

We deceive ourselves to think that we are so influential that our actions impact the world.  We also do ourselves a great disservice to forget that God sees everything and weighs and judges the intentions of our hearts (Jer 17.10, 1 Sam 16.7).

Yes, we are instructed to care for the world:  to serve the orphans and widows, feed the hungry, care for the poor and make disciples of all nations (James 1.27, Rm, 12.20, Matt 28.18-20).  But our intention is to honor, serve and glorify God, not to impact the world.  God will impact the world.  That is His right, prerogative, and intention.  Therefore, let us be satisfied when we know that we have been obedient to Him, and trust Him to handle the rest.  Let us not ease our consciences by assuming that someone was impacted, that someone was watching who went unnoticed.  Let us seek God, trust Him and take comfort in obedience and faithfulness to Him alone, as He alone is the judge and He sees everything that we do – including the intention of our hearts!

We do know who is watching.  God is watching.  Let us live as such!

Do you love the fall?

fall

Fall is in full swing.  The leaves are changing, the air is brisk, and here in Denver we have even had some snow!  Everyone loves fall, don’t they?  The changing of the seasons, the the colors, the pumpkin spice lattes.  The pumpkin-flavored everything.

I was at church on Wednesday and was chatting with a woman from Ukraine who made the unique statement that she does not like fall.  I was so surprised, I am pretty sure I have never heard someone say that, so I dug a little bit.  “I just don’t like death.  All of the trees and plants are dying.  They turn nice colors but they are dying.”  She continued, “In Ukraine we associate flowers with death because we put them on the graves and as soon as they start to droop and die, I have to get them away from me.”

Wow.  I was quite intrigued by her thought process and I felt quite shallow that I have accepted the “changing of the leaves” without processing the reality of the reason that they are changing.

Now, we know that large trees are not fully dying – they drop their leaves and draw their resources inward to survive the winter.  But it is quite morbid, in a sense, that we revel in the changing colors that are a consequence of death to the plants or individual leaves.

Have you ever considered God’s perspective on death?  People regularly quote Paul saying that for him “to die is gain” (Phil 1.21) and that he would rather be “absent from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor 5.8).  But what about God?

“Precious in the sight of the Lord
Is the death of His godly ones.”

– Ps 116.15

Precious.  It is precious to Him when we draw our last breath and enter into His presence.

And conversely He takes no pleasure in the death and ensuing destruction of the wicked:

“Say to them, ‘As I live!’ declares the Lord GOD, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?”

– Ez 33.11

God loves us so much that He gives us blessings in this life.  He draws us to Himself, He gives faith, fullness of life and satisfies us here on the Earth.  But His greatest gift is Himself.  Eternity in relationship with Him, worshiping Him, loving Him and enjoying Him forever.  And it is precious to Him when we leave this earth and enter into His presence.

That is why Paul could say:

“But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, ‘DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory.  O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?’”

– 1 Cor 15.54-55

Death has no victory or sting over those who will leave Earth for the New Earth.  Is it scary?  Absolutely.  Will it hurt?  Perhaps.  But God gives us grace for the moment.  He gives us mercies for each day, and He will help His children to die well.  Will those left behind be sad?  Yes, they will miss the one who has gone on.  But we have an expectation of glory (Col 1.27)!

I was talking with a friend last night whose mother is sick and awaiting a liver transplant.  I asked him if the situation scared him, and he answered quickly and definitively, “No.  If she passes on, she will go to be with God, and I will join her in no more than fifty years.”

When I moved overseas, with the expectation of only being gone for four years, it ripped my heart apart.  I cried like a baby for the entirety of the first flight.  And no one died!  I was just leaving for a few years!  But my friend has a solid and Biblical perspective.  To die is gain.  To go into eternity is to be in the presence of Christ, the Savior.

And God sees the death of His children as precious.  When you approach death’s door, if you are abiding in Christ, your death and homecoming will be precious.

Let us live as such.  Let us remember that to die is gain.  Live this life to it’s fullness through the power of the Spirit and the freedom of grace.  Let us honor God in everything – eating, sleeping, drinking, working, relationships.  And then, when God calls us home, let us rejoice and consider our passing as precious and be expectant of our future glory:  eternity with the all-satisfying, almighty, gracious, holy God who loves us and saved us from His own wrath.

But let us also live lives of urgency.  Because there are many dying around us every day that have no hope.  To them death is the doorway into an eternity of damnation and suffering.  Torment and pain will be their existence forever, if they die without the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.  This is why we can hate death.  It is the punishment for sin (Rom 6.23).  It is a judgment and consequence on our physical bodies for having sinned in any way throughout our lifetime.  Though death can be a passage of hope for the believer, it is a passage of terror for those separated from God, and God forbid that we trivialize the expectation of judgment upon anyone.

There is no greater thing in life than to live a life of eternal significance, and to do so is to obey Jesus’ final command:  Taking the Gospel to those who do not know it, and making disciples.  Let us not revel in death, as it is terrible for so many, but let us not fear it either, as we have the hope of glory.

Praise God!