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Posts Tagged ‘faith’

siftedThese are stunning verses from the night before Jesus’ death:

‘Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’ (Luke 22:31-32)

Notice these 10 contrasts:

  • Satan makes a fearful proposal. Jesus gives a fearful permission.
  • Satan treats Simon like an inanimate object. Jesus calls Simon by name – three times in one sentence.
  • Satan is ruthless with Simon. Jesus is personal.
  • Satan sifts Simon before the world. Jesus lifts Simon before the Father.
  • Satan is weaker than Jesus but Simon is weaker than Satan.
  • Simon thinks of himself as iron for Jesus (see v32). Jesus doesn’t call him Peter (‘Rock’), He considers Simon to be as ‘flaky’ as wheat.
  • Simon thinks his resolve will motivate his brothers (v32), Jesus knows it will be his weakness that strengthens his brothers (v31).
  • Jesus prays for Simon, but His support will include the need for Simon to turn back.
  • While Jesus prays for Simon’s faith not to fail. Simon fails big time.
  • It’s not Simon who “fail’s not”, it’s Jesus’ prayer.

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faith

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(55 mins!)

Statements people make about faith:

“I wish I had your faith”

“As you know I could never share your faith”

“Faith is believing something you know isn’t real.”

“You just got to have faith.”

John 1:10-13 – Faith is recognizing and receiving

John 2:11 – Faith is responding to the glory of Jesus

Dutiful Derek

Derek’s Father says: “We’re going to visit the Grand Canyon and you’ll be awestruck!”

Derek says: “Do I have to be awestruck??”

Derek’s Father says: “One day you’ll meet a girl and you’ll fall in love?”

Derek says: “Do I have to fall in love?”

Derek’s Father says: We’re going to church to hear about the glory of Jesus and we’ll believe in Jesus.

Derek says: “Do I have to believe in Jesus?”

That’s a funny question isn’t it?

Faith is like being awestruck or falling in love – it must happen if you’re recognizing the glory of Christ!

John 3:13-16 – Faith is looking away from self to Jesus (cf Brazen Serpent)

John 20:24-31 – Faith is meeting the risen Jesus

The Christian life is a life of continuing faith

Through the Bible.

Faith is not something in me that I need to drum up

Faith is not a leap into the dark – it’s stepping into the light

In fact it’s being in the dark and having someone switch the light on

Faith is not a hoop you have to jump through to get something else: salvation

Galatians 2:17-3:5

Faith is receiving Jesus – it’s a life-long love affair.

Galatians 5:6

It begins by being passive with God and bears fruit in love for others

1 Samuel 17       

Faithless, fearful Israel are saved by their Faithful, Fearless King.

Their unbelief turns to faith when they see His victory: they shout and advance

Every day we need to same: to look to our Champion, to shout and advance.

The life of faith is a continual looking to Christ.

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Taken from Mike’s series on justification here.

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Why does faith save? [repost]

Why is it that faith saves?  What’s so special about faith that it brings such benefits?

Because here’s how the whole deal is usually set up:

First we insist that God does not save us by our works.  No sir, we believe in ‘justification by faith alone.’  Therefore it’s not that God is armed with a clipboard and some binoculars waiting for an external moral act in order to flick the ‘justification’ switch.  How ridiculous.  No, no.  Instead we imagine God (with clipboard and brain scanner) eagerly seeking for a certain mental act within us.  And then He’ll zap righteousness into our account.

Yeah.  That’s much more reformed…

But honestly, for many, that is the doctrine of justification by faith alone in a nut-shell.

Yet for the thoughtful who’ve been reared on such teaching it raises big questions.  Like, why faith?  Is it just that ‘faith’ keeps us humble and God simply wants to remind everyone who’s Boss?  In which case why give us Christ’s righteousness at all?  Why not just leave us in a sort of righteousness limbo forever – that’d keep us humble right?  And what’s the link between this act of mental assent and that imputation of saving stuff??  It all seems so arbitrary.

And it would be completely arbitrary so long as we keep Christ out of the discussion.  But once Jesus is central – and by that I mean the Person of Jesus (not just the Provider of a Perfect Righteousness) – then things start to fall into place.

Because faith is receiving Jesus Himself (John 1:10-12).  He gives Himself to the world in life and death, He pledges Himself to us (marriage style) in the gospel.  When we hear the gospel rightly we are swept off our feet by such a proposal and find ourselves saying “Yes.”   That is faith.  And by faith we are united to Christ.  In that union we have our salvation because salvation is all in Jesus.

So there’s nothing at all arbitrary about the connection between faith and salvation.  Because there’s nothing arbitrary about the link between a marriage vow and marriage union. Once we are united to Christ by faith, then of course we instantly have His name, His wealth, His family connections.  Of course then instantly we have the righteousness of Christ imputed.  But it’s not an impersonal imputation in response to an impersonal faith!

Justification by faith alone does not mean “being zapped simply because of mental assent.”  But we’ll never get that unless we put union with Christ at the centre.

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This post is continued from here.

I’ve been pleased that, in the last month, the 321 video has been shared so widely.  It’s meant that I’ve been able to interact online with a handful of people who have raised questions about the presentation.  I’d say the reservation people have had is this: “Where’s repentance?”  In fact it’s pretty much the only objection I’ve heard so far.

I was bracing myself for Trinitarian discussions. I was gearing up to present robust defences of Adam’s historicity.  None of that has come up.  Yet.

But a good 8 or 10 times someone has said “This is a deficient gospel because there’s no summons to repent.”

There are a number of ways to respond to this.  One is simply to say “This is only a 5 minute summary.  You can’t say everything.”

Another is to say “the word ‘repent’ is not magic.  John’s Gospel, for one, gets along fine without it.”

Another is to say: “Repentance is not, properly speaking, a part of the good news.  The good news is the announcement of Jesus – His dying, rising, enthronement and return.  The gospel is not about us, it’s about Him.  Repentance is the response to the good news.”

Those things are true and they need saying at some point.  But in most cases I’ve responded with a question of my own.  Roughly speaking I’ve asked “Since 321 presents humanity as lost in Adam with no spiritual life in ourselves and no ability to produce life… and since the new life is presented as coming entirely from beyond us in Jesus… and since the new life of Jesus is presented as an all-embracing, marriage-like oneness with Jesus… what does the command to “be one with Jesus” lack which using the word “repent” would add?”

I’ve asked that kind of question many times but I’ve not yet received an answer.  So let me ask it more generally…

If we proclaim the renunciation of self in Adam and the receiving of new life in Christ, what more do we want in our definition of repentance?

I know that no-one in these discussions wants to question salvation by “faith alone.” But I do fear that – in wanting something more – ‘faith alone’ is exactly what’s in jeopardy.

In some evangelistic presentations I see a desire to present salvation as a discrete series of steps.  There tend to be a sling of synonyms made into stages.  The unbeliever is told to confess and profess and turn and surrender and trust and repent and submit and admit and believe and commit and do.  It’s not the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church.  It’s more stream-lined than that.  And it’s about internal, mental hoops to jump through.  But still, so often it’s a system we offer to people rather than the simplicity of offering the Son.

Have you ever heard a “close the deal” evangelistic talk in which Jesus Himself is not presented or offered? Perhaps the preacher has simply piled up illustration upon illustration – “There’s a line… cross the line.  Jesus has given you a cheque… bank the cheque.  In the Matrix there’s a red pill and a blue pill… which pill will you take?” What might begin as a call to “simply trust Jesus” becomes an exhortation to adopt this attitude or that, this resolution or that, and then…  Well the thing is, when repentance is this discrete thing then the sinner who repents is only really left with their discrete repentance.  They’ve “made the step”, or whatever, but they’re in great danger of leaving the meeting with a resolution not a redeemer.

All of which is to say – Offer Christ.  The new life is in Him.  And if a non-Christian hears this offer and says “I’m not sure I have it in me to repent”, tell them:

“You definitely don’t have it in you. But God has given it to you in Jesus. Have Him!”

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This is part of a series exploring the interaction of 321 and the four events which more commonly organise an evangelistic presentation.  We’ve had

—  321 and Creation

—  321 and Fall

—  321 and Redemption

Now we’ll consider 321 and Repentance.

You’ll notice that I’m not considering Creation, Fall, Redemption and Consummation.  More properly those are the four gospel events – all four resting in God’s hands.  I’m considering “repentance” rather  than “consummation” simply because the evangelistic presentations with which we’re familiar tend to finish with our work not God’s.  And perhaps that’s significant!  We’ll see.

Today we’ll examine repentance according to 3, 2 and 1.  Tomorrow we’ll draw out some implications…

How does 3 shape our understanding of repentance?

Trinity means that God is Giver (see here).  Therefore the Fall is a failure to receive from the giving God (see here).  What then will repentance involve?  Well it can’t involve a summoning up of religious resolve!  It can’t be the determination of the sinner to “get serious” and start making up the missed payments.  That kind of self-will is virtually the essence of sin!

No, repentance with the triune God means receiving the gift of the Son.  The Father has given Christ to the world (John 3:16).  The new life is not in us – it’s in Jesus (1 John 5:11).  Repentance – the new life we must have – is a gift of the Father, present in the Son, offered by the Spirit (Acts 5:31; Acts 11:18; 2 Timothy 2:25).

How does 2 shape our understanding of repentance?

Adam cannot repent.  Adam can only perish.  This is a vital point to grasp and Edward Fisher in The Marrow of Modern Divinity expressed it well in dialogue form:

— I conceive that repentance consists in a man’s humbling himself before God, and sorrowing and grieving for offending him by his sins, and in turning from them all to the Lord.

— And would you have a man to do all this truly before he come to Christ by believing?

— Yea, indeed, I think it is very meet he should.

Why, then, I tell you truly, you would have him to do that which is impossible.

According to Paul, the unbeliever is dead in transgressions and sins and bound to Satan (Eph 2:1-3).  No exercise of moral or religious effort can deliver such a person (Phil 3:1-9).  The law, even the law of God, is powerless to save (Rom 3:20; 8:3).  And so the unbeliever is sunk in sin and flesh, bound to Satan, under the law’s condemnation, without hope and without God in the world (Eph 2:12).  There is nothing within the unbeliever that will help them.  Asking Adam to repent is like asking a corpse to ‘get fit’.  There needs to be a new life.  But the unbeliever is in no position to summon it.

How does 1 shape our understanding of repentance?

When I married my wife, “single Glen” died.  That old existence was put to death in our covenant union.  In this sense “old Glen” did not contribute to the marriage, “old Glen” was killed by the marriage.  I became new in one-ness with my wife.  And this newness was a radical, all-of-life revolution.  Nothing remained the same.  Every aspect of my life had to be rethought according to my married identity.  But I didn’t earn any of this.  It was all a gift that came part-and-parcel with the marriage.

In the same way, sinners are offered covenant union with Christ.  In this oneness they are killed and given a new existence.  Everything is different.  Nothing remains untouched by this unbreakable oneness.  The sinner does not (and cannot) earn it.  But in Jesus there is, suddenly, a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17).

So then, what kind of “repentance” does 321 preach?

Let me break it down into some propositions that I tweeted earlier in the year:

  • Adam cannot repent. Adam can only perish.
  • True repentance must be done to us (as faith is done to us) since the greatest sin is to imagine that we can ‘do penance.’
  • There cannot be impenitent faith (if it’s true faith) or unbelieving repentance (if it’s true repentance).
  • Repentance and faith are not two separate stages of salvation. They are two sides of the same coin. But note – this is a coin God gives to us!
  • Repentance is given to us because Christ is given to us – and that’s the direction of travel, from Him to us.
  • We do not offer repentance to God as our part of the bargain. We’re summoned to repentance in the gospel because this is the life of faith.

And as we offer Christ, we tell the unbeliever exactly what a life of one-ness will look like with Jesus.  Just as ‘marriage prep’ unveils the good and the bad of the union on offer, so we prepare people for the radical, total-life-change which Jesus brings.  But at the end of the day we offer Christ.  And we say as Spurgeon did:

Do not attempt to touch yourself up and make yourself something other than you really are, but come as you are to Him who justifies the ungodly. …The Gospel will receive you into its halls if you come as a sinner, not otherwise. Wait not for reformation, but come at once for salvation. God justifieth the ungodly, and that takes you up where you now are; it meets you in your worst estate. Come in your disorder. I mean, come to your heavenly Father in all your sin and sinfulness. Come to Jesus just as you are: filthy, naked, neither fit to live nor fit to die. Come, you that are the very sweepings of creation; come, though you hardly dare to hope for anything but death. Come, though despair is brooding over you, pressing upon your bosom like a horrible nightmare. Come and ask the Lord to justify another ungodly one. (From “Justification of the Ungodly” by C.H. Spurgeon.  A sermon on Romans 4:5 – found in “All of Grace“)

For more on preaching repentance in evangelism, see this paper I wrote a few years ago.

And stay tuned for part two where we’ll tease out some more implications…

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James 2:14-26

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.

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A little while ago I lamented a certain kind of evangelism that is all too common.  It’s basically the call to younger brother types to come to their senses, to wrench themselves away from the far country and to return to the father with a pre-prepared sorry speech.  The evangelist will even feed them a ready made, line-by-line repentance spiel – one with magic words guaranteed to effect a reconciliation.  The whole encounter goes something like this:

“We all know who God is don’t we?  He’s the Big Guy and you’ve been avoiding Him haven’t you?  Allow me to latch onto some guilt feelings you’ve experienced.  Let me call that ‘conviction of sin’.  And now let me promise relief from those feelings if you’ll only return to the Big Guy and bring this speech with you.  I guarantee it’ll work (becausetherewasthisthingcalledthecrosswhichyoudon’tneedtoknowaboutnow butIneedtocrowbaritinbecausethesewordsaremagic).  Anyway, the ball is now in your court.  It’s all down to you.  If you’re up to the challenge, carefully repeat this prayer after me…”

The whole paradigm is one in which “God” is taken for granted, Jesus is a helpful mechanism to fix the guilt problem but the real Name above all names is Decision before Whom all must bow in self-willed surrender.  Almighty Decision towers above you, are you equal to His call?

Let me suggest that the answer to all of this is (unsurprisingly) focussing on Christ.  Evangelism is speaking of Jesus.  It’s lifting Him up by the Spirit (which means Scripturally) so as to present Him to the world as good news.  So we say ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good.’  We basically hold out the Bread of life saying “Tasty isn’t He??”

Now if we approach evangelism with Christ at the centre, there are many advantages:

1) Jesus simply is the most interesting and attractive Subject.  You might have some cracking gags, moving anecdotes, contemporary illustrations and memorable catch-phrases, but they’ve got nothing on the power and beauty of Christ.

2) Faith is immediately seen for what it is – receiving Christ as He’s offered in the gospel.  Faith is not “banking the cheque” of forgiveness.  What does that even mean?  What do any of our illustrations of faith actually mean?   Far better simply to hold out Christ and say “Look and live!”

3) Decision is dethroned. We don’t so much tell the world to believe in Jesus.  Far more than this, we tell the world about Jesus such that they do believe (Steve Holmes).   Because faith is a response to contemplating Christ.  The spotlight does not fall on the listener and their willingness to summon up the necessary response.  The spotlight falls on Christ Himself.

4) You don’t have to worry about offering cheap grace.  You’re not offering ‘a blank cheque’ for free, you’re offering the Lord for free. To receive the it of grace/forgiveness/a ticket to heaven is entirely different from receiving Him – the LORD our Righteousness.  In this way conversion and discipleship are held together.  The one who simply receives Christ has unmistakably received a new Master.

5) You don’t sell Christianity on the back of some abstract fringe benefits.  Instead the preacher says “The one thing you get for receiving Jesus, is Jesus.  But if you’re seeing things clearly, the one thing you want is Jesus.”

6) Because of this, you don’t have to fence all your promises of forgiveness and freedom and new life with ‘…if you really, truly, ruly believe’.  Since faith is receiving the Christ who is offered there’s no chance of the listener trusting an abstract promise in vain.  Those who receive Jesus receive Jesus.

7) The decision time at the end of the talk is de-emphasized.  It is not the business end of proceedings.  The real business is holding out Christ by the Spirit (and therefore in the word).  The listener receives Christ as they are won by the gospel preaching.  They can trust and receive Christ in their seats during the preaching.  It’s not about a form of words that they must parrot at the end.  If you want to pray at the end that’s fine.  But it’s only confirming a receiving of Christ that’s occurred during the preaching.  Faith comes by hearing.

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I’m in Africa for a couple of weeks.  I’ll post a few more thawed out thoughts than usual.  Talk amongst yourselves while I’m gone…

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From a recent comment:

How does Christ’s work and our faith relate?

What we don’t want to say is that Christ’s sacrifice brings 99 units of salvific merit and my faith brings 1 unit of salvific merit and between His contribution and mine I have accumulated the necessary 100 units.

Even if we say the blood of Christ is 999,999 units and ours is only 1 we have put our faith up where it doesn’t belong. We have made our faith into a work – a contribution towards salvation.

To say “faith alone” is another way of saying “Christ alone” – it is to say our salvation lies entirely outside of us (and therefore outside of our ‘works’). Instead salvation lies entirely in Christ.  A ‘faith alone’ person rests in the fact that the blood of Jesus has done everything.  But of course we’re not resting in the blood of Jesus alone if we have added our faith into the salvific equation.  In that case we would be trusting in “Christ plus our trust.” We then become (to some degree) the objects of our saving faith and not Christ alone!

Let me reiterate. Faith is absolutely essential. A person is not saved if they are not resting in Jesus.  But this ‘faith’, this ‘resting in Jesus’ is not our contribution to the equation.  It’s a description of what happens when Jesus ’sweeps you off your feet.’  It’s falling in love.  It’s being conquered by the gospel.

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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?).

Take communion.

Please.

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.

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Melancthon wrote to a guy called Brenz to clarify the difference between the Protestant position on justification and Augustine’s.  The difference is vital!

Luther being Luther, he couldn’t help adding a P.S. to Melancthon’s letter:

And I, dear Brenz, in order to get a better grip on this issue frequently imagine it this way: as if in my heart there is no quality that is called faith or charity, but instead of them I put Christ himself and say: this is my righteousness; He is the quality and my formal righteousness, as they call it. In this way I free myself from the perception of the law and works, and even from the perception of this object, Christ, who is understood as a teacher or a giver; but I want Him to be my gift and teaching in Himself, so that I may have all things in Him.  So he says: I am the way, the truth and the life. He does not say: I give you the way, the truth and the life, as if He worked in me while being placed outside of me. He must be such things in me, remain in me, live in me, speak not through me but into me, 2 Cor. 5; so that we may be righteousness in Him, not in love or in gifts that follow.

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A common question.  How to respond?

Well let’s think about the assumptions underlying the question.  If I’m detecting them rightly they go something like this:  Faith is an attribute which ‘believers’ rustle up and which God accepts as payment for heaven.  Having accepted the “faith” token from the righteous, God then rewards them with a whole “preferred customers package” of benefits (eternal life, forgiveness, feeling’s of love and purpose, etc).  Meanwhile, God finds ‘unbelievers’ lacking in this attribute called faith and so consigns them to this other place called hell.

So the question then comes, How can that be right?  And of course, if that’s what “God”, “faith” and “eternal life”mean, then it isn’t right – it’s an absurd and capricious set-up which every Christian should repudiate.  Thankfully, it’s nothing like the gospel.

The gospel is this: God gives us His Son by the Spirit.  Christ is Himself eternal life (1 John 5:20).  To receive the gift of Christ is what we call faith (John 1:12).  To refuse Christ is to resist the Spirit.  And it is also, by the very nature of the case, to refuse eternal life.  

Therefore God does not sit back and then reward an attribute called “faith” which sinners bring to the table.  God actively offers Christ to sinners.  As Christ says,

Whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the LORD, but he who fails to find me injures himself; all who hate me love death.  (Proverbs 8:35-36)

 

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In 1738 John Wesley returned from the mission field convinced of one thing: He was not a Christian.  He wrote in his journal, “I am fallen short of the glory of God… my heart is altogether corrupt and abominable… alienated as I am from the life of God I am a child of wrath and heir of hell.”  (Arnold Dallimore, George Whitfield, vol 1, p179)

He was certain at this point that the only way of salvation was “by faith” – whatever that meant.  He knew he needed “faith” and he also knew he didn’t have it.

“I was strongly convinced [he wrote] that the cause of my uneasiness was unbelief, and that gaining a true, living faith was the ‘one thing needful’ for me.” (p181)

At this point the Moravians made a lasting impact on both John and Charles.  Yet the “faith” which they preached was oftentimes an internal religious experience rather than an outward-looking reliance on Christ.  This was the kind of “faith” which the Wesleys sought.

Arnold Dallimore comments “The views to which the Wesleys were led by these means became of historic importance, for these views influenced the beliefs they held throughout life.  They both spoke of ‘seeking Christ’, yet as one analyses the pertinent passages in their Journals it becomes evident that they were actuallly seeking faith more than they were Christ. Faith had become the great desideratum in their thinking, insomuch that they began to look upon it as an entity in itself.  Under [the Moravian] Bohler’s instructions they had forsaken their trust in personal endeavours and works, but faith had become a kind of new endeavour which they substituted for their former endeavours and a work which took the place of their former good works.  They had still learned nothing about receiving Christ in the fullness of His person and the completeness of His saving work, but were concerned about faith itself and what measure of it might be necessary for salvation.  Charles expected that the coming of this faith might be associated with some visible presence of Christ, and John looked for an experience which would be accompanied by an emotional response.  ‘I well saw’, he wrote, ‘that no-one could, in the nature of things, have such a sense of forgiveness and not feel it.  But I felt it not.'”  (p181-2)

They both embarked upon a tortuous spiritual path in order to discover this faith.  On the 24th May 1738, at a religious society meeting in Aldersgate Street, London, John heard someone reading Luther’s preface to Romans.  As Wesley described it, Luther’s writing was a “description of the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ.”  That in itself is an interesting take on Luther’s concern!  But, understood in this way, Wesley found himself responding to these truths.  He famously wrote in his Journal:

I felt my heart strangely warmed.  I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for my salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.

This is considered by many to be John’s conversion.  Yet other factors cast doubt on it.

Within a week Wesley was, in his own words, ‘thrown into perplexity’ when a friend asserted that faith must be fully assured or it is no faith at all.  He took a trip to Herrnhut, home of the Moravians, to enquire about ‘the assurance of faith.’

But this gave no clarity.  As Dallimore writes, “since the Moravians formulated their beliefs to a considerable degree on personal experience, their answers to Wesley’s enquiry were many and vaious.  One preacher said that ‘the full assurance’ was a blessing received at the same time as justification, but another asserted that it was a separate experience to be entered into after conversion.  Another stated that it was the coming of the Holy Spirit subsequent to conversion… and still another claimed that it was no more than a rich Christian maturity and was attained simply by steady Christian growth.”

Dallimore lists the effects of this confused spiritual counsel on a perplexed Wesley:

First, it influenced him towards combining Scripture and experience in formulating doctrinal beliefs.  Secondly, it increased in him that introspective tendency.  Thirdly, it caused him to believe that the Moravians possessed something which he did not have, and therefore that (as some of them intimated) a second Christian experience was possible – an experience, he believed, which would accomplish in him that larger victory in which the experience at Aldersgate Street had failed.  By the time he returned to England, Wesley had become something of a Moravian himself.”  (p194)

And what was the result for Wesley personally?  Well in the short term he continued to be greatly perplexed about his spiritual state.  So much so that eight months after his Aldersgate Street experience, John wrote this in his Journal:

“My friends affirm that I am mad because I said I was not a Christian a year ago.  I affirm I am not a Christian now.  Indeed, what I might have been I know not, had I been faithful to the grace then given, when, expecting nothing less, I received such a sense of forgiveness of sins as till I then never knew.  But that I am not a Christian at this day I as assuredly know as that Jesus is the Christ.” (p196)

What an astonishing thing to say!  Completely assured that Jesus is the Christ.  Completely convinced he’s not a Christian.

What do we learn from this?  Class?

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Fear, Faith and Abraham

“According to the bible, either life overwhelms you and we call that fear. Or God overwhelms you and we call that faith. In the end only faith is the answer to fear.”

From the King’s English

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I’ve only caught snatches of the BBCs Nativity, but two scenes interested me.

When Gabriel appears to Mary he doesn’t tell her the news.  There are no words from on high here.  No, no, that would be oppressive and authoritarian.  Instead he invites Mary to look within to the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit gives her an experience of the truth.  A very modern (or should that be ‘post-modern’) take on revelation.

And faith?  Well the Magi (from a very brief viewing) seem pretty much in the dark about the whole thing.  Only one of them has any kind of certainty about what they are seeking.  And even he keeps his cards close to his chest.  They seem a lot more sure about the astronomy than about the Child.  And what really matters is the journey.

Now, back to preparing our own nativity…

 

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Faith Alone sermon

Can you imagine a beggar outside Buckingham Palace, begging for change.  And she’s not a rough diamond.  She’s not a salt of the earth character deep down.  She’s unpleasant, she’s selfish, she’s backstabbing, she’s grubby, she’s been in and out of prison all her life and she’s only got herself to blame.

The Queen comes out of the palace and starts talking to the woman.  And she doesn’t just spare some change for the poor unfortunate, she holds out her hand and helps the woman up.  She gets dirty lifting the beggar to her feet.  And she leads the beggar into the palace, past the security, past the bewildered staff.  And they sit down to eat dinner together in the royal banquetting hall.

At the end of the dinner, the Queen makes an announcement.  She officially adopts the woman into her royal family and shares all her wealth with her.  She will share everything – even the throne – with this awkward, angry beggar.

And we say – That’s ridiculous!  Nothing like that would ever happen.

The truth is that something far greater than this HAS happened.  And it’s happened to us.

Faith Alone sermon audio.

Full text below….

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Why is it that faith saves?  What’s so special about faith that it brings such benefits?

Because here’s how the whole deal is usually set up:

First we insist that God does not save us by our works.  No sir, we believe in ‘justification by faith alone.’  Therefore it’s not that God is armed with a clipboard and some binoculars waiting for an external moral act in order to flick the ‘justification’ switch.  How ridiculous.  No, no.  Instead we imagine God (with clipboard and brain scanner) eagerly seeking for a certain mental act within us.  And then He’ll zap righteousness into our account.

Yeah.  That’s much more reformed…

But honestly, for many, that is the doctrine of justification by faith alone in a nut-shell.

Yet for the thoughtful who’ve been reared on such teaching it raises big questions.  Like, why faith?  Is it just that ‘faith’ keeps us humble and God simply wants to remind everyone who’s Boss?  In which case why give us Christ’s righteousness at all?  Why not just leave us in a sort of righteousness limbo forever – that’d keep us humble right?  And what’s the link between this act of mental assent and that imputation of saving stuff??  It all seems so arbitrary.

And it would be completely arbitrary so long as we keep Christ out of the discussion.  But once Jesus is central – and by that I mean the Person of Jesus (not just the Provider of a Perfect Righteousness) then things start to fall into place.

Because faith is receiving Jesus Himself (John 1:10-12).  He gives Himself to the world in life and death, He pledges Himself to us (marriage style) in the gospel.  When we hear the gospel rightly we are swept off our feet by such a proposal and find ourselves saying “Yes.”   That is faith.  And by faith we are united to Christ.  In that union we have our salvation because salvation is all in Jesus.

So there’s nothing at all arbitrary about the connection between faith and salvation.  Because there’s nothing arbitrary about the link between a marriage vow and marriage union. Once we are united to Christ by faith, then of course we instantly have His name, His wealth, His family connections.  Of course then instantly we have the righteousness of Christ imputed.  But it’s not an impersonal imputation in response to an impersonal faith!

Justification by faith does not mean “being zapped because of mental assent.”  But we’ll never get that unless we put union with Christ at the centre.

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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.

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