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Posts Tagged ‘works’

Taken from Mike’s series on justification here.

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At Transformission Mike Reeves spoke of life “in the flesh” and “the spirit of slavery” that dominates those who are in Adam.

When you think of the realm of “the flesh” (or the “sinful nature” – NIV), what do you imagine?  So often our minds run to ‘the naughty things’.  Gross disobedience.  Licentious living.

That might be an outworking of the flesh.  But in Romans 8:15, Paul charactierizes life in the flesh as bound by a spirit of slavery.  This spirit is contrasted with the Spirit of adoption.  It’s whatever is opposed to our gracious adoption by a generous Father.  Similarly in Galatians 4, Paul makes the contrast between slaves and sons and the slavery is all about bondage “under the law”.  In Philippians 3 the horrific evil of “those dogs” – the circumcision sect – is that, through their legalism, they were “putting confidence in the flesh.” (Philippians 3:1-11).

Life in the flesh might be about sex.  But – even worse – it might be about circumcision!  Vain self-confidence can be found in the party animal.  But how much more can such vanity exist in the champion of temperance.  And with the added stench of self-righteousness!

We can be distracted from much bigger battles when our struggles with “the flesh” merely focus on “bad behaviours.”  As John Gerstner has said: “The thing that really separates us from God is not so much our sin, but our damnable good works.”

The devilish thing about religious carnality is that it doesn’t appear to us as carnality.  Instead the “spirit of slavery” makes us toil away at our “damnable good works”.  And just as the licentious sinner gets less and less of a kick out of their drug of choice, so the self-righteous prude finds less and less goodness to take pride in.

Take the example of 18th century moralist Samuel Johnson.  At Transformission, Mike read to us from his prayer journals.  Each entry is a window onto life “in the flesh.”  Here is the diary of a carnal man:

September 18, 1738 – Oh lord, enable me by your Grace to redeem the time which I have spent in sloth, vanity and wickedness, to lead a new life in your faith, fear and love; and finally to obtain everlasting life.

1757 – Almighty God, enable me, from this instant, to amend my life that I may not finally lose the things eternal.

1759 – enable me to shake off idleness and sloth

1761 – I have resolved till I am afraid to resolve again. Yet, hoping in God, I steadfastly purpose to lead a new life.

1764 – I have made no reformation; I have lived totally useless, more sensual in thoughts, and more addicted to wine and meat. Grant me, O God, to amend my life. My purposes, from this time, to avoid idleness. To rise early. To read the Scriptures.

A few months later: I have now spent 55 years in resolving; O God, Grant me to resolve aright, and to keep my resolutions. I resolve to rise early, not later than six if I can.

1765 – I purpose to rise at eight, Because though I shall not rise early, it will be much earlier than I now rise, for I often lie till two.

1775. When I look back upon resolutions of improvement, Which have year after year been made and broken, Why do I try to resolve again? I try, because reformation is necessary. I try, in hope of the help of God.

It is pitiable, laughable and tragic.  This is what “the spirit of slavery” does to a person.  And it is every bit as fleshly as the debauched hedonist.  Only Christ can save.

Listen to Mike’s excellent talks here.

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From my sermon this morning (Isaiah 9:2-7).

UPDATE: This rant has since become this poem…

Sermon audio here.

Don’t have the spirit of Scrooge.

Don’t have the spirit of Winterfest.

Don’t have the spirit of Santa.

Look again to the manger.

Text below…

(more…)

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…or at least Pharasaical in your Christianity
(taken from this sermon on The Two Sons: Luke 15):

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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.

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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.

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3)    You’re self-promoting

v29 – “Look!” says the older brother.  Look at my record.  Look how good I am.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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More from this sermon.

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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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‘Anti-works’ never works

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.

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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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