Taken from Mike’s series on justification here.
Archive for the ‘works’ Category
Posted in Christmas, culture, gospel, grace, incarnation, My videos, sermons, videos, works, tagged Christmas, culture, gospel, grace, My videos, sermons, videos, works on 19 December, 2010 | 4 Comments »
…or at least Pharasaical in your Christianity
(taken from this sermon on The Two Sons: Luke 15):
1) You’re in church
Luke 15:25 – the field is the older brother’s natural habitat. Not the far country. Close to the banquet. But not in it.
2) You’re angry
v28 – older brothers have volcanic anger. Which is difficult for you if you’re an older brother type because you are a good boy or girl. You’re not supposed to be angry, but you are. Furious actually and it bubbles beneath the surface.
3) You’re self-promoting
v29 – “Look!” says the older brother. Look at my record. Look how good I am.
4) Life with God feels like slavery
v29 – “All these years I have been slaving.” You feel like God is a slave-driver and you are one of his billions of minions trudging along.
5) You can’t admit to sin
v29 – “I have never disobeyed your orders.” You think of sin as simply disobeying direct commands from a heavenly slave-master. Or you think of it as not being as externally bad as the next guy. You would never think of sin as a matter of the heart. You don’t think of sin as a relationship problem with Jesus and others. And so you never admit to sin. You cannot admit to it because your whole identity is founded on being better than others.
6) You don’t allow yourself to celebrate
v29 – a young goat with one or two friends, maybe. But I don’t think this elder brother even asked for a goat. He’s not into extravagant celebration, he’d rather slave. He’s not into cutting loose, he’d rather scrimp and save. He’s not into asking for things, he’d rather earn. Is that you?
7) Everything’s unfair
v29 – he got more than me! You’re always looking over your shoulder at what the other person has and crying foul. Life has the audacity NOT to follow your work ethic. Good things happen to bad people, bad things happen to good people and you hate that. Because you’re all about ‘fairness’ and you despise the grace of God. The thought of really bad people being forgiven and ending up in heaven seriously disturbs you.
8) You cannot associate with sinners
v30 – he can’t even bring himself to say “my brother.” It’s “this son of yours”. If there’s a party with sinners you just wouldn’t go. What on earth do you have in common with these people? You can’t relate to sinners outside or inside the church. You’d never think of joining an outreach to the homeless, or drug addicts or prostitutes – they are a different species after all. And if Christians confess sin to you, you have advice but no real understanding or empathy.
9) You’re wracked with superiority
v30 – Jesus defines it as ‘wild living’ (v13) but the older brother spins his own interpretation, ‘squandered your property on prostitutes.’ The older son needs to be better than his brother. Therefore his brother needs to be worse. Is that you? Are you better? And do you need to be better, and others need to be worse.
10) You don’t know the grace of Jesus and the love of the Father
This is the heart of it all. This underlies all the other signs. The older brother is outside the banquet as the parable ends. He is a stranger to his father’s love. And it’s his own goodness that keep him out of the feast. His goodness doesn’t get him into the baquet. His goodness keeps him out. And remember this feast represents heaven!
Are you an older brother? When people talk about relationship with Jesus and the love of God do those phrases just pass you by? Do you know what it is to be a sinner celebrated by Jesus? Do you know what it is to be welcomed by Jesus and eat with Him? (Luke 15:1-2; Rev 3:20). Do you know what it is to be adopted by Jesus into the divine Family and call on the Most High God as Father?
That is the only kind of Christian there is. Heaven is only for sinners reconciled by the blood-bought redeeming love of Jesus.
Jesus says in Matthew 18:3: “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Lay down you pride. Be reconciled to Jesus who died to welcome you. Come on in and join the joy.
More from this sermon.
14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder. 20 You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. 25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
As a teenager I approached a minister, full of doubts and struggles and a thousand misunderstandings. My question was, Why doesn’t God seem to accept me? I’ve prayed the prayer a thousand times, why does heaven seem to be silent?
He told me that I shouldn’t worry about whether I was accepted, I just needed to get on and really live the Christian life.
So I went off and tried that (or at least what I imagined the Christian life to be). And I failed even by my own standards. And, despondently, I slinked off from Christian things for a good few years.
What kind of faith did I have at that time? I’d have probably articulated the gospel as something like: God’s big. You’re small. Behave.
I didn’t have gospel faith. I had demon faith (v19). I believed God was one. I believed Jesus was God’s Son. But little more.
Now what would James counsel at this point? Is James chapter 2 the encouragement to add good works to such rudimentary faith? Is he exhorting those with demon faith to top up their merit levels until they hit salvific proportions?
No. James is discussing the kind of faith that saves . In v14 the word “such” (or “that” in ESV) is important. James is not making a calculation: Demon faith plus good deeds equals salvation! Instead this is about discerning what kind of faith is true saving faith.
And the answer is – true saving faith is the kind of faith that’s always being fulfilled in active service. In other words, saving faith (Genesis 15 style) always leads to obedience (Genesis 22 style).
So what should that minister have said to me? I wish he’d said this:
“Glen, I don’t think you really know the gospel. I don’t think you could have the slightest understanding of Christ for you while harbouring these doubts. I don’t think the kind of faith you have is really the active, life-giving, always-leading-to-loving-service kind of faith. So let me tell you the gospel again, and drive it home to you until assured, authentic, vital faith is birthed in you. Let me preach the gospel of faith alone to you once more, knowing that the faith that saves will never be alone. Let me overwhelm you with the promise (Genesis 15) and then you’ll bear fruit in obedience (Genesis 22).”
I think that’s the approach to a dead faith: preach faith alone. And I think it’s completely mandated by James chapter 2.
This morning I led a little bible study in Philippians 3:1-11. We went away feeling that we shouldn’t build or glory in our spiritual CVs. Instead we should count them as loss – dung even.
So we resolved once again to be anti-works-of-law, anti-flesh, anti-the-circumcision-sect, anti whatever is anti-grace.
But of course that’s not really Paul’s point is it? Paul’s not interested in going from circumcision to anti-circumcision. Anti-circumcision is also rubbish (Gal 5:6; 6:15). You can be a determined opponent of works righteousness and still know nothing of Christ. All you’ve done is erect another basis for your right standing with God (understanding grace).
The opposition Paul makes is not between works-of-the-law and anti-works-of-the-law. Instead it’s the difference between works-of-the-law and knowing Christ (which is a synonym for faith).
Paul doesn’t compare his legalistic righteousness with an abstract ideal called “grace”. He compares it with the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord, in Whom he is hidden. That’s what made him consign the spiritual CV to the dung-heap.
If we try to consign our own boasts to the dung-heap by will-power we’ll never achieve it. Being ‘anti-works’ never works. The only solution is, v7 – the sake of Christ, v8 – knowing Him and v10 – continuing to want to know Him.
I walked away from our study thinking, Why didn’t I ask the most obvious question when considering Philippians 3? The most obvious question is, What’s so great about knowing Jesus?
In answering that, the rest falls into place.
Isaiah warned us and Jesus repeated it – it’s hypocritical to honour the Lord with your lips while your heart is far from Him (Isaiah 29:13; Mark 15:8). It’s something I pray about every Sunday, “As I preach or pray or sing, may my lips and my heart be set on the Lord Jesus.”
But there’s another danger. We can react the other way and disdain anything ‘external’. We say to the world: “I reject ‘works’, I’m all about the inward life.” And so we’re constantly taking our spiritual temperatures. We neglect ritual (as though it always leads to ritualism). And we start to think of faith as a thing – the one really meritorious work!
The faith-works polarity becomes, in our thinking, an internal-external polarity. Internal – good. External – bad. We start to imagine that mental acts are good old grace while physical acts are nasty old law.
But that’s not how it is. There can be a crippling legalism of the heart (ever felt it?) and there can be a wonderful liberation in gospel rituals (ever experienced that?).
No but seriously, take it. Because here is a gospel ritual which, because it is external, brings home the grace of Jesus all the stronger.
We are not (or at least we should not be!) memorialists. Jesus has not left us a mental duty with the bread and wine as mere thought prompters. We have been left a meal. To chew. And to gulp down. There are motions to go through. And they are the same motions we performed last week. And the week before that.
But here’s the thing – these motions are means of God’s grace and not in spite of their externalism but because they are external. Here is a gift that comes to you from outside yourself. And it comes apart from your internal state. But nonetheless it is for you – sinner that you are.
So take it regardless of whether your heart is white-hot with religious zeal. Take it regardless of whether you are really, really mindful of the gravity of it all. And as the minister prays the prayer of consecration and your mind wanders… oh well. Don’t ask him to start again. Go through the motions I say. Your heart is meant to catch up with the motions. That’s why the motions were given. Because our hearts are weak and not to be trusted.
So allow the Word to come to you from beyond. Allow Him to love you first. Don’t disdain ‘going through the motions.’ For many on a Sunday - those grieving or sick or gripped by depression – they need to be carried along by these motions. And for all of us – if we’re going to be people of grace, we need these externals.
Without looking at James 2 see if you can remember which way around his body/spirit illustration goes.
Body / Spirit = Works / Faith
or is it:
Body / Spirit = Faith / Works
In other words, does faith enliven our works or do our works enliven our faith?
Got the difference? Made your choice?
Ok, now you can check.
Here we consider why it is that the concept of reward is not counter to the doctrines of Christ alone, grace alone and faith alone.
So let’s ask: Why do people consider the concept of reward to be a potential threat to the doctrines of grace? Well, often the argument runs something like this:
- Grace means that everything is a gift
- If everything’s a gift then there’s no room for merit (you can’t earn gifts)
- Reward is based on merit (otherwise it’s not reward it’s just random)
- Therefore, grace means there’s no room for reward.
But is this really the definition of grace with which we want to begin? The whole burden of this series has been to show that Christ – our David, our anointed Champion – needs to be at the heart of our thinking. And so we saw that preaching is not simply lifting our eyes to some general divine battle plan but focussing us on the King who wins the battle for us. Grace is not basically God’s empowering of our work but something completely outside ourselves – the victory of our Champion. Grace is, at heart, Christ’s work for us, to which we contribute nothing. Grace alone is effectively just another way of saying ‘Christ alone.’ It is the affirmation that the victory is secured by Christ without us having lifted a finger to help.
Now with this definition of grace – is there room for reward? Well yes. Think of how the Israelites plundered the Philistines
When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran. Then the men of Israel and Judah surged forward with a shout and pursued the Philistines to the entrance of Gath and to the gates of Ekron. Their dead were strewn along the Shaaraim road to Gath and Ekron. When the Israelites returned from chasing the Philistines, they plundered their camp. (1 Sam 17:51-53)
On the basis of David’s victory they plunder the Philistines. Without the victory they would all have died. In victory none of them could claim credit for securing it. But in response to it, some will have chased hard, killed many and brought back much plunder. At the same time it’s conceivable (though we’re not told and I don’t think this happend) that some may simply have gawped in wonder at the victory of David and barely moved an inch. Both kinds of soldiers win the day. Some participate in the victory more fully. That’s really the very simple point I want to make with this post.
Again it emphasises that faith is not synonymous with inactivity! We get these strange ideas about faith since we’re used to playing off faith against works all the time. We say things like ‘I’m not saved by my works, I’m saved by my faith’ – which is a really unhelpful way of framing things. It makes it sound like faith is the one meritorious work (an internal mental act) that I summon up to earn salvation. The message becomes – “Don’t do works (external physical acts), do faith (internal, mental acts)!” And then we get our knickers in a twist worrying that any external, physical acts are necessarily worksy. But no.
Think about Numbers 13. The spies come back from the promised land with grapes like basketballs. Caleb and Joshua say “We should go up and take possession of the land” and the people stay put. A distinct lack of physical activity. Perhaps they were worried about earning the promised land! Was this a rejection of works and an instance of faith? No it is utter faithlessness through and through. Not going up is faithless in Numbers 13 and going up is faithless in Numbers 14. Why? Because of the LORD’s promise. He promises success in the first instance and failure in the second. Their response to the promise is what constitutes the faith/works divide. Inactivity can be utter unbelief. Tremendous striving can be pure faith.
Faith is receiving the promise appropriately. In Anders Nygren’s phrase, faith is being conquered by the gospel. In 1 Samuel 17 terms, faith is looking at the giant fall and understanding who it is who’s won – your brother and king. From faith – which is simply looking away from self to the Victorious King – may flow all kinds of things like cheering (emotions) and plundering (good works). And if you’ve really seen the victory it’s pretty hard to see why you wouldn’t cheer and why you wouldn’t plunder. But cheering and plundering doesn’t win the battle – the king does. “Faith” is just another way of directing our attention away from ourselves (even away from our joyous response to salvation) and fixing it solely on the Saviour. The fruit of this faith will come forth in all manner of affections and works which are the organic outflow of the work of Christ alone. In 1 Samuel 17 terms the plunder comes from:
- the victory of the king alone
- is empowered by the bread of David (v17ff)
- and is the natural overflow of praise which necessarily attends seeing the victory aright.
Now Christ expects us to go hard after reward. Otherwise, why dangle it in front of us?? (e.g. Luke 19:17!!) But just as we’re expected to rejoice, so too with pursuing reward, we simply do not have the resources in ourselves. Nor is it an abstract providence that grants us divine energies to rejoice and to plunder. Rather it is a focus again on the Champion, our Brother, that will produce both the shout and the charge into enemy territory.
So having looked again at our triumphant King… Go in war to love and serve the Lord.