Faith, Works and Salvation

Faith is a word with many meanings. It can mean faithfulness (Matthew 24:45). It can mean absolute trust, as shown by some of the people who came to Jesus for healing (Luke 7:2-10). It can mean confident hope (Hebrews 11:1). Or, as James points out, it can even mean a hollow belief that does not result in good deeds (James 2:14-26). What does Paul mean when in Romans he speaks of saving faith?

We must be very careful to understand faith as Paul uses the word, because he ties faith so closely to salvation. It is not something we must do in order to earn salvation – if that were true, then faith would be just one more deed, and Paul clearly states that human deeds can never save us (Galatians 2:16). Instead, faith is a gift God gives us because he is saving us (Ephesians 2:8). It is God’s grace, not our faith, that saves us. In his mercy, however, when he saves us he gives us faith – a relationship with his Son that helps us become like him (Romans 8:29). Through the faith he gives us, he carries us from death into life (John 5:24).

Even in Old Testament times, grace, not deeds, was the basis of salvation. As Hebrews points out, “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). God intended for his people to look beyond the animal sacrifices, but all too often they instead, put their confidence in fulfilling the requirements of the law – that is, performing the required sacrifices. When Jesus triumphed over death, he canceled the charges against us and opened the way to the Father (Colossians 2:12-15). Because God is merciful, he offers us faith. How tragic if we turn faith into a deed and try to develop it on our own! We can never come to God through our own faith, any more than his Old Testament people could come through their own sacrifices. Instead, we must accept his gracious offer with thanksgiving and allow him to plant the seed of faith within us.

What About Faith and Works in James?

James offers a larger number of similarities to the Sermon on the Mount than any other book in the New Testament. James relied heavily on Jesus’ teachings. The author of this epistle (post card) is James, also called James the Just, who is thought to be the brother of Jesus (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3). James was not a believer (John 7:3-5) until after the resurrection (Acts 1:14; 1 Corinthians 15:7; Galatians 1:19). He became the head of the Jerusalem church and is mentioned first as a pillar of the church (Galatians 2:9).

  1. When your life is full of difficulties and persecutions, be glad because a reward awaits you (James 1:2, Matthew 5:10-12)
  2. You are to be perfect, mature, and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:4, Matthew 5:48)
  3. Ask God, and he will answer (James 1:5; 5:15, Matthew 7:7-12)
  4. Those who are humble (who don’t amount to much by the world’s standards) should rejoice in their positions as those whom God loves (James 1:9, Matthew 5:3)
  5. Watch out for your anger because it can be dangerous (James 1;20, Matthew 5:22)
  6. Be merciful to others, because God is merciful to you (James 2:13, Matthew 5:7; 6:14)
  7. Your faith must express itself in helping others (James 2:14-16, Matthew 7:21-23)
  8. Blessed are the peacemakers; they sow in peace and reap a harvest of righteousness (James 3:17, 18, Matthew 5:9)
  9. You cannot serve God and money, pleasures, or evil. Friendship with the world is hatred toward God (James 4:4, Matthew 6:24)
  10. When we humble ourselves and realize our need for God, he will come to us and lift us up (James 4:10, Matthew 5:3, 4)
  11. Don’t slander or speak against others; it speaks against God’s command to love one another (James 4:11, Matthew 7:1, 2)
  12. Treasures on earth will only rot and fade away, so we must store up eternal treasures in heaven (James 5:2, Matthew 6:19)
  13. Be patient in suffering, as God’s prophets were patient (James 5:10, Matthew 5:12)
  14. Be honest in your speech so you can say a simple “yes” or “no” and always be trusted (James 5:12, Matthew 5:33-37)

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The Grounds for Faith

This Sunday we continue in Second Peter, which begs the question as to why would we have faith at all? How can we know God’s plan for us? Can we really trust what is recorded in Scripture? Peter will also address his thoughts as he nears the end of his earthly life. How can we know that what we have followed all these years was right? If you could convey a final message to people whom you hoped would continue and persevere in the Christian faith, what would you say? What would you want them to know?

This letter is in many ways Peter’s farewell address. He reminded them of their source of faith. It was not built on the apostles, but upon another source.

Invoking His Memory

What God revealed to Peter: Peter wants to remind his readers of what they already know, Peter was not holding anything back (2 Peter 1:12). These believers have been established in the truth. He mentions that stirring them up, teaching and encouraging them was the right thing to do, even though his execution was drawing near (2 Peter 1:13, 14). Jesus made it clear that he would not live to a ripe old age, but a martyr’s death (John 21:18, 19).

What Peter requires of us: Peter wants these believers to remember the great spiritual truths he has written in these letters, especially after “his departure” (2 Peter 1:15).

Identifying His Majesty

Here, Peter reviews what we call the Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-13, Matthew 17:1-13). He and the disciples did not follow cleverly devised tales or stories about Jesus; he proclaimed that which he experienced. He was an eyewitness to the glory of Jesus (2 Peter 1:16, 17). The glory faded on the mountaintop, but the Word of God will never fade (1 Peter 1:24, 25). There was a sight (2 Peter 1:16) and there was a sound (2 Peter 1:17, 18). Peter experienced Christ, he did not just believe the right stuff about Him. Peter had a first-hand faith rather than a second-hand faith.

Inspiration of His Message

First Peter addresses the accomplishments of the Bible, moving toward giving us hope for the future (2 Peter 1:19). God’s Word is a light that shines in the darkness. As Galadriel spoke to Frodo giving him a gift of the special lamp, she said, “May it be a light in the dark places, when all other lights go out.”He challenges us to “make more sure” about the prophetic Word, which we “do well to pay attention.”

Then Peter moves to the author of the Bible (2 Peter 1:20, 21). So we beg the questions… can we trust the Word of God? How has it been preserved for us to read today? Is it reliable? Do we interpret the text properly? What does the word inspiration mean anyway? The message did not come from human writers, but from the power of God, people moved by the Holy Spirit.

Questions to Consider this Week:

  1. What people and events does Peter remind his readers (2 Peter 1:16-21)?
  2. What responsibilities did Peter seem to feel he had for his readers (2 Peter 1:12-15)?
  3. What phrases indicate Peter’s view of death?
  4. What can we assume was his attitude toward death?
  5. What do you hope will be your own attitude when death approaches?
  6. What could you be doing now to build toward a “good death?”
  7. In what ways did the transfiguration reveal the majesty of Jesus?
  8. What difference does it make to know that Peter’s teaching about Jesus came from eyewitness testimony?
  9. What difference does it make that the Father said of Jesus, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him.” (Matthew 17:5)
  10. What does this passage tells us about the design and purpose of Scripture (2 Peter 1:19-21)?
  11. What are some ways we can show respect for the Bible?
  12. Other verse to consider about the Messiah: Isaiah 40:1-11, 53:1-12, Micah 2:2-5, Zechariah 9:9, Revelation 21:22-22:7

Commentary:

Peter’s readers needed a reminder that rested on apostolic authority that was in harmony with other Scripture.

The Need for a Reminder (2 Peter 1:12–15)
Returning to the subject of God’s promises (2 Peter 1:4), Peter developed the importance of the Scriptures as the believers’ resource. This was designed to enable his readers to appreciate the value of the Scriptures and to motivate them to draw on God’s Word so they would grow in grace.

Peter’s previous words were a reminder to his readers, not new instruction. 2 Peter 1:3–11 contain basic truths about the Christian life. Peter apparently believed that he would soon die as a martyr. He said he wrote this epistle so that after his death the exhortation in it would be a permanent reminder to his readers.

The Trustworthiness of the Apostles’ Witness (2 Peter 1:16–18)
Peter explained that his reminder came from one who was an eyewitness of Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry, which would have heightened respect for his words in his readers’ minds. This section begins Peter’s defense of the faith that the false teachers were attacking, defense which continues through most of the rest of the letter.

The apostles had not preached myths to their hearers, as the false teachers were doing. They had seen Jesus’ power in action as God’s anointed Messiah. God had clearly revealed that Jesus is the Christ at His transfiguration when God had announced that Jesus is His beloved Son (2 Peter 1:18).

The Divine Origin of Scripture (2 Peter 1:19–21)
The prophetic Old Testament Scriptures confirm the witness of the apostles. That witness is similar to a light shining in a darkened heart and world. Until the Lord returns, we should give attention to the Old Testament and to the apostles’ teaching. That is the only real light available to us. What we have in Scripture originated not in the minds of men but in the mind of God (2 Peter 1:21). The prophets did not simply give their interpretation of how things were or would be. They spoke as God’s mouthpieces, articulating His thoughts in words that accurately represented those thoughts. The Holy Spirit “carried along” the prophets to do so.

The next lesson we will take a look at false teachers. Have a great week.

The Growth of Faith

In my Bible study class, this week we began Second Peter, which involves much less suffering, more practical application; dealing with developing faith, denouncing false teachers and God’s design for the future! Here’s a little outline I noticed so far:

  1. The proclamation of the righteousness of God (2 Peter 1:1-2)
  2. The multiplication of the virtues of God (2 Peter 1:3-4)
  3. The additions by the people of God (2 Peter 1:5-9)
  4. The examination of the calling of God (2 Peter 1:10-12)
  5. The revelation to the apostle of God (2 Peter 1:13-15)
  6. The transfiguration of the Son of God (2 Peter 1:16-18)
  7. The inspiration of the Word of God (2 Peter 1:19-21)
  8. The deviation of the enemies of God (2 Peter 2:1-3:4)
  9. The condemnation of the former world of God (2 Peter 3:5-6)
  10. The destruction of the present world of God (2 Peter 3:7-12)
  11. The creation of the future world of God (2 Peter 3:13-18)

The Place of Faith:

  1. What spiritual disciplines have helped you the most in your Christian walk? Some responses were prayer, personal study, worship, solitude, and even fasting.
  2. What are some things that we have received from Christ (2 Peter 1:3, 4)? The point is that God has given us everything we need pertaining to life, and godliness. He does not withhold things from some people to fending for themselves. There are precious promises given to us so that we can become more like Jesus Himself.
  3. We listed all the character traits that God wants us to develop (2 Peter 1:4-7), which are faith, moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love.

The Progression of Faith:

  1. Faith is the foundation upon which everything else is based.
  2. Moral excellence is the first step or confessing sin and getting rid of the things that the world and the flesh want us to do. We are changed people and do not need to behave like those around us. It answers the question, “What are we to do?”
  3. Knowledge is the “Why?” we strive for moral excellence.
  4. Self-control may be the “How?” Since moral excellence can be difficult, once we understand why we are to live differently, self-control allows us to say no to sin, and yes to God every time. Singer/songwriter Mylon LeFever had a song decades ago, “Love God, Hate Sin.” Pretty Good credo to live by.
  5. Perseverance allows us to stand strong while we exercise self-control. Hold on to the end, endure, and be steadfast in your walk with Christ.
  6. Godliness is the goal, to become more like God. We will never become a God (like some religions profess) but we are to be like Him (1 John 3:2, Romans 8:29).
  7. Brotherly kindness is the byproduct of our growing in godliness. When God invades your heart, the Fruit of the Spirit becomes evident (Galatians 5:22-23).
  8. Finally, love is the quality that defines who Christians, are. The world will know that we are His disciples by our love (John 13:35).

The Purpose of Faith

The goal is growth. We must possess these qualities in increasing measure (2 Peter 1:8), so if they are not, make sure that He has really called you, or adopted you into the family (2 Peter 1:10), because this is the way into His eternal kingdom (2 Peter 1:11).

Commentary:

Peter portrayed the nature of the Christian life with its challenge to spiritual growth and maturity. His readers’ spiritual safety lay in their understanding the nature of their new life in Christ and in their spiritual growth and maturity. Appreciating these realities is the best antidote against succumbing to error.

The Believers’ Resources (2 Peter 1:3–4)
To rekindle an appreciation for the resources God had given his readers, Peter reminded them of God’s power and promises. Many Christians have forgotten how much God has forgiven them, or they have appreciated His forgiveness only superficially. This appreciation is the key to growth in the Christian life.

Grace and peace are possible since God has given all Christians everything they need to lead godly lives. These resources are available through knowing Jesus Christ more personally. To make progress in godliness no believer can get along without God’s Spirit and His Word. These become ours as we appropriate His worthy and excellent promises in the Bible that enable us to overcome our temptations.

The Believers’ Needs (2 Peter 1:5–9)
Having established the believer’s basic adequacy through God’s power in him and God’s promises to him, Peter next reminded his readers of their responsibility to cultivate their own Christian growth. This was to correct any idea they may have had that they needed to do nothing more because they possessed adequate resources.

Since believers have resources that are adequate for a godly life, we should use them diligently to grow in grace. Escaping the corruption of lust takes effort (see 1 Timothy 6:11–12; 2 Timothy 2:2). We must apply all diligence, our most basic responsibility for experiencing Christian growth (2 Peter 1:10, 15, 3:14). To their faith, as a foundation, believers need to add seven qualities with God’s help. Each virtue contributes to the total growth of the saint. Peter arranged the virtues in a random order but presented them so each one receives emphasis. Failure to work on these virtues will make us “ineffective” and “unproductive” as demonstrators of His life (2 Peter 1:8, NIV). The absence of these virtues gives evidence of spiritual blindness to the realities connected with relationship with God, in particular, shortsightedness.

The Believers’ Adequacy (2 Peter 1:10–11)
Simply practicing what Peter had just advocated would prepare his readers adequately for the future. They had no need for the added burdens that false teachers sought to impose on them.

Other people could see the divine nature more clearly in the Christians who added the seven virtues named. This would make God’s calling and election of them clearer to everyone. Also by adding them we can walk worthy of the Lord without stumbling along the way. By pursuing Christian growth we give evidence that God really did call and choose us. One of the greatest motivations for purposing to grow in grace is that when we go to be with the Lord He will welcome us warmly.

What Defines You as a Believer?

Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthian church to help instruct the new church on what it means to be a follower of Jesus. One topic he addressed is the problem of division among the Christians in Corinth. For whatever reason, these believers were not getting along, and were dividing up into little cliques rather than living as the unified church of Jesus Christ. Take a look at this passage:

I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose. For some members of Chloe’s household have told me about your quarrels, my dear brothers and sisters. Some of you are saying, “I am a follower of Paul.” Others are saying, “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Peter,” or “I follow only Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:10-12)

One of the central factors for their disunity in Corinth was the tendency of these new and therefore immature believers to bring into the church elements of their culture that were inconsistent with the Christian life. For instance, in their previous “pagan” experience they were led into “religious mysteries” by a special person designated as a spiritual guide. They strongly identified with this mentor as their doorway into “the divine.” For others, certain Corinthian converts may have studied with a certain philosopher whose teaching and personality defined their intellectual and moral lives. So it felt natural for the Corinthian Christians to identify themselves according to the one who introduced them to Christ, perhaps Paul, Apollos, or Peter. But they must have been extremists because they seemed to define themselves in terms of the old human mentoring relationship, which was threatening the unity of the Christian community in Corinth.

Are we so much unlike them? For some people, denominational identity (or nondenominational identity) says who we really are as Christians. For others, it is our theological position or perhaps the teaching of our favorite theologian. Denominational or theological distinctions aren’t necessarily wrong, but they are harmful when they threaten our unity in Christ. If I let my identity as a Baptist become so elevated that it threatens my relationship with Methodists or Presbyterians, then I am falling into the same Corinthian trap. We have our theological differences based on interpretation of Scripture, but our identity in Christ brings unity. My identity as a Christian is my relationship with Jesus Christ. Everything else pales in comparison to this essential fellowship, through which we are bound to others who have put their trust in Christ.

On Facebook, they give the opportunity to display one’s religious preference. On questionnaires there may be a question asking the same. How often do people use the word “Christian” when asked their religious preference, rather than Catholic, Baptist, or nondenominational?

How do you define yourself as a Christian? How important to you are denominational labels? Have you ever identified so thoroughly with some Christian leader that it threatened your relationship with other believers? How can we be unified in Christ when we who have put our faith in Jesus differ theologically?

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Why Me, Lord?

My Sunday School class has just finished the book of First Peter, which has a lot of great teaching. While the major theme of the book is suffering (which I’ll get to in a moment), here is a sample of many significant verses:

  1. A definite reference to the trinity (1 Peter 1:2)
  2. Suffering is proof of your faith (1 Peter 1:6-7, 9, 4:12)
  3. The prophets predicted the suffering of Christ (1 Peter 1:11)
  4. We are called to be holy, fear God and love others (1 Peter 1:15, 17, 22, 4:8)
  5. The Word of God abides forever (1 Peter 1:24-25)
  6. We are to be hungry to understand God’s Word (1 Peter 2:2)
  7. We are to be living stones (1 Peter 2:5)
  8. Live with integrity while passing through this life (1 Peter 2:11)
  9. We are to submit to the authorities (1 Peter 2:13-14, 18)
  10. We find favor with God when we suffer for doing what is right (1 Peter 2:20, 3:14, 17, 4:14, 16, 19, 5:10)
  11. Jesus is our example, we are to follow in His steps (1 Peter 2:21)
  12. Lifestyle evangelism really is in the Bible (1 Peter 3:1)
  13. God doesn’t hear your prayers if you don’t treat your wife right (1 Peter 3:7)
  14. Always be ready to tell others why you are a believer (1 Peter 3:15)
  15. Jesus preached to the spirits now in prison (1 Peter 3:19)
  16. Just where is Jesus right now? (1 Peter 3:22)
  17. Live for God, not the pleasures of today (1 Peter 4:2)
  18. Exercise your spiritual gift (1 Peter 4:10)
  19. Judgment begins with the household of God (1 Peter 4:17)
  20. Pastors are to shepherd the flock of God (1 Peter 5:2)
  21. Younger men need older mentors (1 Peter 5:5)
  22. We are to humble ourselves before God does it for us (1 Peter 5:6)
  23. We have a spiritual enemy ready to devour us (1 Peter 5:8)
  24. We are told to greet each other with a kiss of love (1 Peter 5:14)

Back to the topic for today:

When we suffer in our lives, we often will think that we did something wrong to deserve the suffering, as if it were some sort of punishment; sort of a cause and effect relationship. While the law of sowing and reaping is very true (Galatians 6:7-8, 2 Corinthians 9:6) and God will at time discipline those whom He loves (Hebrews 12:6), the universe would be quite an unreliable place if God shot us a lightning bolt for every evil deed and triggered some pleasure sensor for doing good. Let’s consider the story of the man born blind in John 9:

“Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.” (John 9:2-3)

A common belief in Jewish culture was that bad happenings or suffering was the result of some great sin, but Jesus used this man’s suffering to teach about faith and the glory of God. We live in a fallen world where good behavior is not always rewarded and bad behavior is not always punished. Therefore, innocent people sometimes suffer. Jesus said the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike (Matthew 5:45).

On a larger scale, think about the reason that people follow God. Do they believe and follow God because of what they get out of it, or because He deserves our devotion and it’s the right thing to do? Think it over. Do you follow Christ because He promised heaven at the end of this life? Would you still follow Him even if you knew hell was your final destination? If God took suffering away whenever we asked, we would follow him for comfort and convenience, not out of love and devotion. Regardless of the reasons for our suffering, Jesus has the power to help us deal with it. We don’t go through this life alone.

So, when you suffer from a disease, tragedy, or disability, try not to ask, “Why did this happen to me?” or “What did I do wrong?” Instead, ask God to give you strength for the trial and a clearer perspective on what is happening. First Peter tells us that you will be blessed and rewarded.