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.

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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.”