Work Hard for God

The relationship between faith and works is an important Biblical concept that may require diligent study to understand. Paul states clearly that we are saved “not as the result of works,” whereas James insists that “faith without works is dead.” I have thought and written plenty on that subject before, and there are many resources available for those who want to understand what scripture has to say about faith and works.

But there is another, closely related subject that we may not think much about. We might call this subject “our efforts” versus “the grace of God.” This is an important subject because for many of us, once we understand that we are saved by God’s grace rather than earning our salvation through our own efforts, we start to feel that it is somehow wrong or disrespectful to God for us to put forth personal effort. After all, if God is to get all of the glory, then we should not be putting any emphasis on our own efforts, right?

In reality, when we try our hardest and do our best to serve him with diligence and effort, it is often in that very moment that God’s grace is truly working in us. Paul said “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.”

Peter tells us twice in the first chapter of his second epistle to “apply all diligence” in the specific growth we seek in our Christian walk. Those words convey the idea of “making haste,” or as we might say, “showing some hustle.” In other words, do not just sit around waiting for lighting to strike. Get started. Show some effort. God will work through you.

The English Standard Translation of Peter’s words literally says “make every effort.”

In the first chapter of his letter to Timothy, Paul gives this instruction: “I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.”

Timothy had a gift, just as every last one of us has a gift from God. It is time for us to kindle that gift afresh. And we need not be timid about it. God’s children can work each day with power, love, and discipline. If you need an engraved invitation, it is already there in the words of scripture.

Maybe we feel like if the effort comes from us, then it takes the credit away from God. But just as Paul’s exceptionally hard work was rightly seen as a manifestation of God’s grace, so every good thing we could ever do, think, or say, is credited directly to the God in whom we live and move and have our being.

So work hard for God. Rely on Him for strength, look to Him for guidance, and give Him all of the glory. But work hard while doing it.

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No Room for Boasting

Is the church basically just a group of people who think that they are better than everybody else, because they hold themselves to a bunch of traditions and rules that they think makes them superior?

Perhaps unfortunately that is sometimes the way churchgoers actually feel, but the Bible itself does not describe Jesus’ church that way. In fact, the book of Romans takes pains to make it abundantly clear that the righteousness of the church is NOT about how good they are as people, but rather how kind God has been to pour His grace out on those who will put their faith in Him.

The book of Romans gives us principles such as these:

“There is none righteous, not even one… There is none who does good, There is not even one.”

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.”

“Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith.”

The point is that people in the church are not naturally “better people” than those outside. Rather, they are clothed with the goodness of Jesus. “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:27). Church is all about Jesus, and His goodness.

These principles led Paul to say these words in 1 Corinthians 4: “To me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself… Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.”

In other words, Paul was saying that the job of the church is not to figure out who is the best Christian and who is the most lousy, or to brag about how good we are. Instead, judgment belongs to God, and we rest in His promises for those who are faithful.

And yet, while the church is not obsessed with being “better than” other people or figuring out who is the holiest, it is still true that the church strives for moral excellence. In the fourth chapter of 1 Thessalonians, The church in Thessalonica is commended for walking as they should, with the instruction “that you excel still more.” Again in the same chapter they are complimented for the love that they have for one another, yet they are told, “but we urge you, brethren, to excel still more.”

And in an odd way, it is the very fact that the church is justified by faith rather than by works that enables the church to grow spiritually. Because of Christ’s sacrifice and the words of scripture, we can know that we have eternal life (1 John 5:13), and this frees us from negative thinking and constant fear of punishment or failure, so that we can walk down the path of holiness with confidence and joy. We can also be free from the pettiness of comparing ourselves to those around us. It has been said, “it is amazing how much can get done when no one cares who gets the credit.”

The church is not simply a place for “good people” who make all the right decisions in life. It is a place for broken people to find justification by faith, to rest in God’s promises, and to follow Him as well as they can on the pathway of righteousness.

Scriptures and Thoughts on “Righteousness”

What is righteousness?
Just like the word sounds, it indicates behavior that is morally justifiable or right. Comes from the English word “rightwise,” meaning in the right way.

Hebrew
tsedeq/tsedaqah – honesty, justice, merits, right, righteousness, righteous acts/deeds, vindication.  It is a diving attribute and one that humans should strive to develop.

Greek
dikaiosune – used to describe conduct in relation to others, especially in business or legal matters. Frequently used as an indication that one is innocent of a crime of which they have been accused. Contrasted with wickedness.

The same word is also translated as “justification,” showing that the two English words, righteousness and justification, refer to two sides of the same idea and are very closely related.

How does righteousness differ from holiness?
The meaning of holiness is associated with being separated or called out. We are called out to be a righteous people, so the words overlap in meaning, but differ in emphasis.

What are “faith-based” and “works-based” righteousness, and what is up with the big discussion surrounding them?
It is important to understand that we could never be righteous on our own:

(Ecclesiastes 7:20) “There is not a righteous man on earth.”
(Psalm 14:2-3) “No one does good, not even one.”
(Romans 3:10) “No one is righteous.”
(James 2:10) if you stumble in one point, you are guilty of breaking the whole law.

Our righteousness is a gift from God:

(Romans 3:21-23) “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

(Romans 3:24) we are “justified by His grace, as a gift.”

(Romans 5:1) “We have been justified by faith.”
(Romans 5:17) “the gift of righteousness…”

(Ephesians 2:8-9) of salvation… “It is the gift of God, not a result of works, that no one may boast.”

(2 Corinthians 5:21) “He made Him who knew no sin… that we might become…”

(Titus 3:5-7) “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

(Genesis 15:6) “And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.”

Trying to earn our salvation by works is pointless, or worse:

(Galatians 5:4) “You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.”

So how do we reconcile this with verses on the importance of righteous actions on our part?
(Romans 8:13) “If you live according to the flesh, you will die.”

(Sermon on the mount) “know them by their fruits… he who does the will of My Father in heaven will enter… he who hears my words and acts on them/does not act on them”

(James 2:17) “Faith without works is dead.”
(1 John 3:9) “No one who is born of God practices sin/will keep on sinning.”
(Hebrews 10:26) “If we keep on sinning deliberately/willfully, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins…”

(1 Peter 3:12) “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” The righteous and “those who do evil” are separate groups of people. It appears that you cannot be both.

Why are these verses in the Bible? What do they tell us?
(2 Timothy 2:22) “pursue righteousness…”

(1 Corinthians 9:27) “I discipline my body… so that I myself will not be disqualified.”

An important verse to consider:
(1 John 2:29) “If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.”

(Philippians 1:11) “Filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

What does this verse mean?
(Matthew 5:20) “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Can I be kept out of heaven for being unrighteous, even if I am a baptized believer?
(Revelation 2:5) “repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent.”

(Revelation 2:16) “repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.”
(Revelation 2:22) “Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds.”

In other words, they need to make things right with God by changing their actions, or else.

What is it that they need to repent of, and how will they know when they have repented? What punishment follows if they do not?

(1 Corinthians 6:9) a whole list of people who do certain actions will not inherit the kingdom of God.

 What are the main components of day-to-day righteous living?
It is a practice:
(1 John 3:7) “Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.”

We live by principles set up ahead of time:
(Genesis 39:6-10) Joseph did the right thing despite consequences.

(1 Peter 3:14) “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled”

“Do right by” those in your life:
(Isaiah 33:15-16) “He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly, who despises the gain of oppressions, who shakes his hands, lest they hold a bribe, who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed and shuts his eyes from looking on evil.”

(Psalm 106:3) “Blessed are they who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times!”

 (Ezekiel 18:5-9) “If a man is righteous and does what is just and right— if he does not… lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel… does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, does not lend at interest or take any profit, withholds his hand from injustice, executes true justice between man and man, walks in my statutes, and keeps my rules by acting faithfully—he is righteous; he shall surely live, declares the Lord God.”

What are some common but meaningful examples of doing the right thing?
Giving back too much change… etc.

What is “righteous indignation” and should I have it?
(Psalm 7:11) “God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day.” An anger which is right to have.

It may sometimes be appropriate. See thoughts and scriptures on “wrath”

Scriptures and Thoughts on “Grace”

What is grace? What is so amazing about it?
11 – Hebrew
hên – favor shown by one person to another
Greek
charis – a favor or a gift of benevolent goodwill.

 12 – “The wide span of meaning that this word has then makes it imperative that one give special attention to any particular passage that he is dealing with that makes use of that word. Otherwise, he may be attributing to the writer and idea that the writer did not have in making use of that word.” – Jack Lewis

 Romans 6:23 – 13 – Grace is amazing because of its scandalous generosity, going beyond what we deserve to give us what we most need.

 What does it mean to be saved by grace?
Ephesians 2:8-9 – 14 – a gift, not a result of works, no reason to boast
Romans 11:6 – 15 – not on the basis of works
Romans 3:23-25 – 16 – Jesus paid the price on our behalf so that we could receive a gift that we could not afford

 If we are saved by grace, is right living technically necessary?
Romans 6:1-4 – 17 – A theology of grace that diminishes the seriousness of sin is flawed
Romans 6:16-18 – 18 – an understanding of grace that does not include freedom from sin is inaccurate
Romans 6:20-23 – 19 – we are saved by grace precisely because we are freed by grace from slavery to sin and its outcome, death.
Romans 8:12-13 – 20 – if you living according to the flesh you must die (spoken to saved persons)
Hebrews 10:26-27 – 21 – if we go on sinning, there no longer remains a sacrifice – yes, God’s grace is contingent upon our future actions!

 If we are saved by grace, is baptism really necessary? How would that not be “works based” salvation?
Epehsians 2:8-9 – 14 – not a result of works
Romans 11:6 – 15 – not on the basis of works
1 Peter 3:21 – 22 – baptism now saves you
Acts 2:38 – 23 – baptism is for the forgiveness of sins
How do we reconcile these passages?

John 3:5-8 – 24 – you must be born again by the spirit
Romans 6:1-4 – 17 baptism is a new birth
Titus 3:5-7 – 25 – the washing of regeneration and renewing of the holy spirit – baptism is associate with a new birth and with receiving the holy spirit

Could it be that baptism is the means by which we enter into the condition that we could not possibly earn, merit, or deserve?

Galatians 5:2-6 – 26 – Is there a difference between seeking justification through circumcision and seeking it through baptism?

Revelation 1:5 – 27 – Jesus blood takes away our sins
Revelation 7:14 – 28 – saints wash their robes in the blood of the lamb
Hebrews 9:13-14 – 29 – we are washed by Christ’s blood
Acts 22:16 – 30 – baptism is a washing away of sins

Could it be that baptism is coming into contact with Christ’s saving blood, which cleanses us in a way in which we could never cleanse ourselves, while circumcision is a denial of Christ’s blood in favor of another method of atonement altogether?

Think of the illustration of a new car that your parents buy for you, all you have to do is get a ride to the dealership and pick it up. Does this requirement of your physical action to receive the car nullify their sacrifice? Does getting a ride to the dealership, getting the keys, putting them in the ignition, etc. mean that you are trying to earn/deserve/merit the car and nullify your parents’ gift?

Christians who believe that Baptism is necessary for salvation are not trying to “save up enough good deeds” to cash them in for a ticket to heaven. After being baptized they do not feel they have earned the right to brag about some great feet they have done. They simply understand the Bible to teach that the water of baptism is the place where we receive the gift that we could never have purchased.

There is a real distinction between deserving, earning, meriting, boasting, etc. and simply accepting what has been given to you through some necessary physical act.

 When and how can I receive God’s grace?
The word grace simply means a gift or an unmerited favor.
1 Peter 3:7 – 31 – simply by being alive you are receiving grace!
Ephesians 2:8-9 – 14 – when you have faith, you receive God’s grace
Acts 4:32-33 – 32 – living as a Christian is a life full of grace
Acts 22:16 – 30 – in baptism our sins are washed away, this is by God’s grace!

 What is the concept of “irresistible grace” and is it taught by scripture?
John 6:37-40 – 33 – Jesus will keep all who the Father will give Him
Titus 3:5 – 25 – He saved us according to His mercy
Do either of these indicate that man has no say in his destiny?

Ephesians 2:1, 4-5 – 34 – we were dead, and He made us alive together with Christ
John 1:12-13 – 35 – born of the will of God, not the will of man
God’s will is certainly the deciding factor in our salvation, without His will being to save us, we would have no hope. But does that mean we are incapable of resisting Him?

Hebrews 3:14-15 – 36 – do not harden your hearts
John 3:20-21 – 37 – everyone who is evil does not come to the light, he walks in truth comes to the light
These passages seem to indicate that it is possible to resist the good news, that we have a say in the matter of whether we respond favorably.

2 Peter 3:9 – 38 – If God is not willing that any should perish, then why is the way narrow that leads to eternal life? If God’s grace is irresistible and He wants all to be saved, why will all not be saved?

 Is it possible to fall from grace? If so, how?
Galatians 5:2-6 – 26 – we fall from grace when reject it in favor of earning or meriting that which in reality we must accept humbly as God’s free gift.
Hebrews 10:26-27 – 21 – if we go on sinning, there no longer remains a sacrifice – yes, God’s grace is contingent upon our future actions!

 If grace is something that no one deserves, how is it fair that some people will benefit from it and other people will not?
Romans 6:23 – 16 – the wages (what we earn) of sin is death. It is fair any time we sin and receive death.
Matthew 20:8-16 – 40 – it is right for God to give our just wages to us, and it is His to do what He wants with the salvation that is His alone to give, and which none of us has earned. The fact that anyone will be saved at all is the part where God goes BEYOND what is fair to what is generous.

An Outline of the Book of Romans

Colosseum in Rome
The following is an overview of Romans based on our weekly Sunday Morning Bible Study at Mankato Church of Christ from June-July, 2015.

Introduction.
Paul addresses himself to the Romans and expresses a desire to come see them. (1:1-17)

 No one is justified by works.
The world is a dark place, spiraling downward into sin. (1:18-32)
Even “good, moral people” fall short. (2:1-29)
Being a Jew does have some advantages, but NO ONE has the ability to justify himself to God based on his own merits. (3:1-20)

We are justified by grace through faith in Jesus.
Salvation is made available to us through Jesus Christ. (3:21-5:21)
It is a gracious salvation, it is not deserved. (3:21-5:21)
We access it by faith. (3:21-5:21)
Faith is a trust in God despite discouraging circumstances, and is completed and evidenced by obedience. (4:18-25, James 2:14-26)

We are not only justified, but also sanctified.
This salvation is not merely forgiveness, so that we may continue in sin that grace may abound. It is also comprised of a transformation, as we die to sin and are set free from our slavery to it. (6:1-23)

How and why the Old Law has been done away with.
How can Jews simply lay aside the Old Covenant law code? Because they died to it when they died with Christ, that the law of the Spirit might replace it. (7:1-6)
Are we saying that the law is bad? Not at all, but that sin has used it to ruin us. We are in desperate need of Jesus Christ, not merely the law, to solve this problem. (7:7-25)

Sanctification by the power of the Spirit.
It must remain amply clear that living according to the flesh still leads to death, even under this new covenant. (8:1-13)
Walking not according to the flesh but in righteousness is achieved by following, setting the mind on, and being indwelled by God’s Spirit. It is a matter not merely or rule keeping, but of inward change. (8:1-8:27)

What a glorious plan God has made, that He should justify us to Himself, that Christ Himself would not condemn, that having given us His Son, God would also give us all that we need. (8:26-39)

God is not breaking any promises to Israel.
God always knew that not all Hebrews would be saved, and that the Gentiles would come in, and has spoken accordingly through the prophets. (9:1-33)
The invitation is certainly open to all Jews, since Christ is the fulfillment of Judaism. (10:1-11:6)
Gentiles ought not to be arrogant about this, for though God may use them to make the Jews jealous, He can just as easily remove them from the plan if they display unbelief. (Romans 11:7-36)

Therefore, give your life to God.
In light of this doctrine, your service and your sacrifice to God is to give your life to Him. (12:1-2)

Your relationships with fellow Christians should be mutually edifying. (12:3-13)
You should treat your enemies with kindness rather than revenge. (12:14-21)
You should be in subjection to your government. (13:1-7)
All of your relationships are to be governed by the law: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. (13:8-14)

Do not judge your fellow Christians over matters of personal opinion. (14:1-12)
Avoid causing a brother to stumble by your actions, even if those actions are not inherently sinful. (14:13-23) 

Closing thoughts and reminders
Accept and edify each other. (15:1-12)
Paul’s expression of personal joy at the success of the congregation and the salvation of the gentiles (15:13-21) and reaffirmation that Paul wants to visit. (15:22-33)
Warning about those who cause divisions. (16:17-20)

Greetings to many diverse Christian brethren. (16:1-16, 21-24) 

All glory to God through Jesus Christ. (16:25-27)