3 Kinds of Works Christians Argue Over

Works have long been a source of argument among Christians. “What place do works have in salvation?” is generally the question that gets Christians at each others throats, which is wonderfully ironic.

One of the sources for the incessant arguing is a confusion of definitions.

When Christians talk about “works,” I have discovered there are at least three different things they are talking about.

  1. Works of the Law
    When Paul speaks about salvation being by faith and not works, he’s referring to works of the law: circumcision, Sabbath keeping, food laws, etc. “No flesh is justified by deeds of the law” is Paul’s main point. The law can’t save and was never intended to save anyone. The Law was given as a covenant between God and Israel to stay in their Promised Land. If there was a law that could give life, then Christ died in vain. I am all for people who maintain that salvation is not by works of the law.
  2. Works of Religion
    Other Christians are talking about religious ritual when they talk about works. These kinds of works are “things you do in church.” These works include: baptism, communion, catechism, confession, etc. The Catholic Church tends to stress these. When Luther was against works and said salvation was by faith alone, he was primarily talking about Catholic works of penance. These works are not anything that helps anyone else, but rather stuff you do to make yourself have a better standing before God, in your mind. I am all for people who maintain that salvation is not by works of religion.
  3. Works of Love
    The New Testament says Christians are supposed to do works and there are several passages that flat-out say that a lack of works means no faith. “Works” in these passages are not works of the law, nor are they works of religion. When the Bible speaks positively of works (which it does frequently), it is talking about loving acts for others. When James says “Faith without works is dead,” the works he refers to are fulfilling the Royal Law, love your neighbor as yourself. As Paul says, “faith works by love.” If I do all kinds of works but have not love, it profits me nothing. I am all for people who maintain that salvation goes hand-in-hand with people who do loving works.

Works can be either good or bad. Good works are always things done to reflect the love of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We show our salvation, our new birth, our new creation in Christ Jesus, by demonstrating His love to those around us.

If these new works of love are not a growing part of who you are, you should have zero assurance of salvation. How do you know Christ is in you, unless Christ is living through you?

Works of the law and works of religion result in self-righteousness, pride, and judgmentalism. Works of love forget self and seek to please your neighbor for his good to edification. As we do to the least of these, we do to Christ.

Love is the good works the Bible wants you to do. Faith works by love. If love is not working out of you, then faith is not in you.

“Ye Are Gods” and Pushing the Limits of Heresy

Psalm 82:6 says, “Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the Most High.”

The “gods” and the “ye” here are the children of Israel. Even more directly, they are the leaders of the nation of Israel. He uses the term “gods” in verse 1 of the same chapter, “God stands in the congregation of the mighty; He judges among the gods.”

He goes on to criticize the leaders of Israel because they are not doing anything to correct the injustice going on in the nation. Clearly then, gods here are the leaders of Israel who are responsible for correcting the people.

The Hebrew word in use is elohim, the very same word used for God Himself. Calling people “gods” seems rather problematic for us! But the Bible does it a number of times. Consider the following just from the Book of Exodus:

Exodus 4:12-16—Moses will be as God to Aaron.
Exodus 7:1—I have made you [Moses] god to pharaoh—he will speak God’s words and do God’s miracles, God’s spokesman
Exodus 21:6—elohim is the Hebrew word translated “judges.”
Exodus 22:28—use gods and rulers interchangeably.

Perhaps this can be traced back to Genesis and the creation of humanity. God made them both, male and female, in the image of God. People were put here to rule and subdue creation. People were God’s representative on earth to take care of His creation. It was our stewardship.

This can then be seen in Psalm 82. Israel is God’s chosen people. To know God in that day you had to know Israel. They were supposed to obey God and receive blessings, this would make them a light among the Gentiles. In the nation of Israel there were leaders chosen who spoke for God–prophets, priests, kings, etc. They were to be elohims for the nation of Israel. God spoke to these people and they were in the place of God for others.

We see the same thing elsewhere in Scripture. Parents need to be careful how they parent as we are the first notions of who God is for our kids. Bosses are to remember that they have a Boss in heaven and rule accordingly. Anytime you are the authority over someone you are in a position to show them what God is like.

This is all heightened even more in the New Testament. Jesus quotes Psalm 82 in John 10. Some of the people of Israel are upset with Jesus because He made Himself to be God. Jesus quotes this verse and says basically, “If they were called gods because they had God’s word revealed to them; how much more should I be called God when I am doing these miracles and revealing more of God to you?”

If you look at the implications of the Gospel–Christ will be in us and we will be in Him, we are members of His Body, etc., we can grasp a fuller conception of being God’s representatives on earth. Consider the following:

Matthew 10:39-42, 14, 20—Christ says if they receive you they receive me, and if they receive me they receive the Father.
Romans 8:17–We are joint-heirs with Christ.
Galatians 2:20–No longer I who lives but Christ who lives in me.
2 Peter 1:4–Partakers of the divine nature
Hebrews 2:9-11–We are one and Christ is not ashamed to call us brothers.

Continue reading ““Ye Are Gods” and Pushing the Limits of Heresy”

When Wisdom Gets You in Trouble

A couple weeks ago there was a “March for Science.” In the lead-up to this event, Niel Degrasse Tyson made a video about the wonderfulness of science. He explained the Scientific Method–the testing of hypothesis to get repeated results–as the best thing man has ever invented to discover truth.

I have no problems with any of that part. There are problems with his implications though.

Tyson thinks that the Scientific Method is the test for truth, but he also knows he can’t say it that forcefully because Science keeps changing. Old results are replaced with new results due to better equipment and advancements. Therefore, Tyson doesn’t talk about truth; instead he speaks of “emerging truth.” Tyson knows enough to know that for Science, truth is emerging.

Tyson, however, moves quickly past this shifting notion of emerging truth, and says we should let scientists run everything. They are the ones who know the “truth” so we should shut up, hand the keys over to them, and let them drive. Tyson’s main motivation becomes political power. We should let scientists dictate our political decisions.

Except he just got done saying that truth is emerging, so how can we trust his conclusions enough to take action on them if new truth might emerge?

The irony of modern atheistic science is that it is becoming a religion. Since these atheist scientists have such a hatred for religion, they are ignorant concerning religious history.

Continue reading “When Wisdom Gets You in Trouble”

Resurrection and Creation

There are people who worry that cremating a corpse will prevent God from resurrecting the body, or so I’ve heard. This may be one of those apocryphal issues that no one truly has.

There are other ways to die that would seem to cause a problem then, like people who die in real fires. Or bodies that were eaten by animals, digested, and deposited around the forest. Or bodies thrown into the ocean so their decaying bits are carried around by currents.

You get the idea.

The Bible says that from the dust we came, and to the dust we will return. Genesis tells us that “the Lord God formed man out of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”

I think this gives us assurance that if your body is dust and spread about, God can put it back together. He made it once; He can do it again.

1 Corinthians 15 says that our bodies will be raised from the dead. Our bodies will be changed. We currently have an earthly body; it will be raised in a heavenly body. We have a corruptible body; it will be raised incorruptible. We have a mortal body; it will be raised immortal.

Paul points to the resurrection of Jesus Christ as proof that resurrection is possible. If God can raise up Christ; He can raise up anyone else. If Christ did not rise and there is no resurrection, then you won’t rise either, and we are of all men most miserable. Amen.

Christ’s resurrection is a model for how resurrection takes place. Christ is the firstfruit from the dead. A “firstfruit” is the early harvest that lets you know the rest is coming. It’s a guarantee of more to come.

Christ’s resurrection and the creation of humanity are both types of our future bodily resurrection.

Genesis says that God made us. We did not evolve. There was a moment when God formed man and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living soul.

Resurrection will happen the same way creation did. Both involve God taking us from the dust of the ground and sticking us together and giving us life.

How was Christ raised from the dead? Did He evolve over time, or did He just get up?

Resurrection is a new creation. It’ll happen the same way the old creation did–there will be a change, in the blink of an eye. A pile of dust will become a living being. The second creation will reflect the first one.

If God is powerful enough to create us the first time; He’s powerful enough to do it again. If God is powerful enough to raise the dead; He’s powerful enough to re-create your pile of dust body, decaying in the ground.

Resurrection of a decayed corpse is no more a problem for God than making you the first time. He’s a pretty big God. He can handle it.

Old and New Covenant Messed Up Applications

Your Bible is made up of the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. These are different covenants that God made with different people.

As much as there are similarities in general between the covenants, there are also major differences.

Most of the charges Bible-doubters launch at Christians is due to not understanding the differences between the covenants.

But you don’t have to be a Bible-doubter to mess this one up. Many Christians mess up the covenants, particularly in applications.

As simply as I can put it, here is the main difference between the covenants:

The Old Covenant stressed the physical
The Old Covenant was between God and the physical, racial nation of Israel. There were 600+ laws, most of which were about physical actions, summarized in the Ten Commandments written on physical stone. There were physical blessings and physical curses associated with obeying or disobeying those physical laws. There was a physical city with a physical temple where God physically (at least temporarily) met with His physical people. They needed physical priests to go between their physical selves and God. They needed physical sacrifices with physical blood and physical grain offerings to maintain their physical covenant.

The New Covenant stresses the spiritual
The New Covenant is between God and all those who are spiritually reborn and spiritually placed into the spiritual Body of Christ. Members of this new covenant have all spiritual blessings in heavenly places. They don’t serve in the oldness of the letter, but in the newness of the Spirit. The Spirit, along with the exalted Christ, intercedes, not a priest. They live for a spiritual and eternal country. They walk in the Spirit. They bring forth spiritual fruit as they exercise gifts of the Spirit.

If you understand this basic concept, you will be set free from many incorrect applications of Scripture. Allow me to demonstrate:

Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans because of God’s judgment on the sins of Mardi Gras.
Nope, sorry. Hurricane Katrina happened in New Orleans because the city is built on a swamp in a place known as Hurricane Alley. God does not judge in such ways for sin under the New Covenant.

If America returns to God, He will restore our land.
Nope, that was for Israel. God is no longer dealing with physical nations, nor physical blessings and cursings like He was in the Old Covenant. There is no longer Jew nor Gentile in the New Covenant.

If America rejects God, He will judge our land.
Nope, that was for Israel. If God kicks us out, pray tell what godly nation is going to replace us? There are consequences for sin, we reap what we sow, but God is not dealing with cursing nations due to rebellion because He has no such agreement with nations in the New Covenant.

If I skip my quiet time I’ll have a bad day.
You’d probably have a bad day anyway! Again, thinking that a spiritual act will result in a physical blessing is an Old Covenant concept. It’s probably also mostly superstition! Again, there are natural consequences for sin, but God will not purposely nail you for not doing quiet time.

If I obey God I will get money and health.
Nope, no such agreement is in the New Covenant. Health and Wealth doctrine is largely fixated on Old Covenant promises given to Israel. The New Covenant says anyone who desires to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution, in fact.

All my physical stuff is a blessing from God.
Not necessarily. A large amount of physical things is a warning sign in the New Covenant. It might mean you have sold your soul, that you are building bigger barns because you are ensnared with the deceitfulness of riches and the cares of this world. Lay up treasure in heaven. Work for eternity, not for temporal blessing.

All such applications, which are thrown around by the vast majority of evangelical churchdom, are a misunderstanding of the New Covenant and the Old Covenant.

If you are hearing something about judgment or blessing and it’s physical, perk up those ears! If you are hearing something about nations, hold up! If you are told that money means you’re doing it right, watch out!

Is the application primarily physical? Then you’re probably not dealing with the New Covenant correctly. It’s not that the physical is unimportant, it’s just not stressed. It’s not what drives the member of the New Covenant. Physical things are more or less irrelevant–“I have learned in whatsoever state I am in, to be content,” says Paul.

Physical results can be an indicator of performance, but they are not always. Sometimes horrible physical results means you’re doing something wrong–you keep ending up in jail for breaking the law. Sometimes horrible physical results mean you’re doing something right–Christ was physically crucified after all, and He tells us His followers will get persecution.

Old Covenant stresses the physical; the New Covenant stresses the spiritual. If you mess these up, you will get messed up applications.

How Not to Talk to Kids About Sin

“And, if you play this record backwards, you can hear a voice saying ‘Satan has his own religion. Satan has his own religion.’”

“How awesome is that?” my friend whispered to me.

Our youth group was dragged to a series of lectures about the dangers of Rock Music. It was the late ‘80’s, when rock music was at its dangerestest.

We learned about subliminal messages heard while playing records backwards. I was never quite clear how backward messages were picked up by my subconscious. I don’t recall that ever being explained. However, the invention of the iPod seems to have put an end to this nefarious Satanic scheme.

We learned about album artwork and the dangerous occult symbols hidden in paintings of scantily clad women. I believe I saw more scantily clad women at this Christian conference than anywhere else at that point in my life.

We learned about highways to hell and all my friends being there to party. We learned about sex and drugs. It was quite the education.

It was firmly ground into our little heads that listening to rock music will make us a drugged up minion of Satan that impregnates scantily clad women.

Mostly what these lectures did was fill us with an intense desire to listen to rock music. My radio was soon moved next to my bed so I could quietly listen to AC/DC and Metallica without anyone knowing.

As I familiarized myself with rock music, I did no drugs, I worshipped no Satans, and much to my junior highish hormonal regret, impregnated no scantily clad women. Rock music was a giant letdown.

Kids don’t always know what they are doing or why. Adults appear to be authorities, people who have been around and know more. There is a responsibility inherent in adulthood: look out for those youngsters and help them out.

Unfortunately, adults lack sense ourselves. Although we know sin is dangerous, we can go overboard in explaining its danger. We revert to the worst case scenario. Tiny sins always lead to slippery slopes to doom, no exceptions, so BE AFRAID!

Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, has been around the block a few times. In his treatise on the vanity of life, the Book of Ecclesiastes, he talks about sin and appears to be much less alarmed.

“Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself? Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time?” Ecclesiastes 7:16-18

“It is the same for all, since the same event happens to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, to the clean and the unclean, to him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As the good one is, so is the sinner, and he who swears is as he who shuns an oath.” Ecclesiastes 9:2

Here, perhaps, is the clincher of all clinchers, Ecclesiastes 11:9a, “Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes.”

Did you catch that one?! Solomon tells young men to follow their heart and go after everything they see! Really? That’s what the God-inspired Scriptures say to young idiot men raging in hormonal lust? “Go for it?” That’s the message?

Wow, I‘m glad Solomon was only a king and not a youth pastor.

But hold up a second. Solomon has a lot of other things to say about sin, too.

“Let not your mouth lead you into sin” Ecclesiastes 5:6a

“But it will not be well with the wicked, neither will he prolong his days like a shadow, because he does not fear before God.” Ecclesiastes 8:13

“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” Ecclesiastes 12:13,14

OK, now that’s better. Now we’re on safe ground with Brother Solomon.

But this is the same guy and the same book saying these things. How can Solomon, in the same breath, say that sin doesn’t seem to end up all that bad and yet also say we should pursue righteousness and avoid evil?

Solomon has two arenas in view. When it comes to temporal benefit, doing right and avoiding sin is mostly a waste. You will see the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer. Avoiding sin and doing good doesn’t pay well on this earth.

But Solomon also speaks about sin in light of the eternal arena. When it comes to judgment day, your sin will cost you and your righteous deeds will win praise.

I quoted Ecclesiastes 11:9a earlier about letting young men sin. Look at the entire verse (include the “b” part) and see how it conveys this point:

“Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.”

Yeah, OK young men, go for it. Live it up. Go get what you see and follow your ridiculous heart. Live it up. But remember, you’ll stand before God with that someday.

When it comes to talking about sin with young people, I think we should follow Solomon’s lead. Solomon has no problem telling young men that sin is kind of fun and more than likely you’ll get away with it.

Now, wow. Even I can’t quite see myself saying that. But let’s be honest. I remember the scare tactics used to get kids in youth groups to take purity vows and to abstain from pre-marital sex. We were constantly told what evils would befall us if we got a girl pregnant. Well, wouldn’t you know it; two young people in that group went out and had a baby outside of marriage.

They didn’t die. They didn’t lose their baby. They didn’t become Satan worshippers. They aren’t on drugs. In fact, 30 years later, these young people turned out quite normal. They are married, attend church, and have a well-functioning family.

As we are told, many young people leave the church once they get the freedom to do so. One of the many reasons why is because they have discovered that awful things generally do not happen when you sin. Oh sure, we can share the story about what happened to that one kid who is now on drugs and life is totally destroyed. It happens, but for the large extent, sin is something that happens and then life goes on. All those dire youth group warnings didn’t come true. What other lies did youth group tell me?

Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, knew sinners often get away with sin and do fine. “In my vain life I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing.”

We must be careful to not overplay the dangers of sin. Stealing cookies from mom won’t necessarily lead to a life of robbing banks. I stole many cookies: I have yet to rob a bank.

Sin is bad. In no way is Solomon telling us to tell kids to go ahead and sin with impunity. What Solomon says is that sin is often overcome. Doing what is right doesn’t pay well on earth. But this earth isn’t all there is. Eternity is a long time and you will stand before God with all you’ve done. Sin and righteousness matter—this life may not prove it, but Judgment Day will. Layoff the heavy-handed “your life will be destroyed” doom about sin. Instead, point kids’ minds to eternity and their stand before God.

Although It’s Been Said Many Times and Many Ways, You Are Not Saved By Faith Alone

I have been talking about Church History on Wednesday nights to our church group. Last night I dealt with Martin Luther and his claim of justification by faith alone.

Justification by faith alone has come to be called Sola Fide. That’s the Latin for “faith alone.”

Generally speaking, people who hold to Sola Fide also hold to Sola Scriptura–Scripture is our only basis for doctrine, it is our only authority.

I find this somewhat ironic since the only time Scripture says “by faith alone,” it says “NOT by faith alone.”

James 2:24, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

Luther, who held to Sola Scirptura, knew that James didn’t believe in Sola Fide. Therefore, as all good theologians do to maintain their pet point, Luther decided James shouldn’t be in the Bible.

I am going to go with James over Luther. The work that James is talking about in James 2 is love. The beginning of his talk about faith and works surrounds the Royal Law–love your neighbor as yourself. They were not doing this in the church based on their treatment of rich and poor people.

God gives promises to those who love Him (James 2:5). Note he didn’t say promises are given to those who believe Him.

Faith and love go together. Paul says in Galatians that faith works by love. John says we love Him because He first loved us.

Faith without love is not acceptable faith to God. Love is kind of a clinching matter. When push comes to shove, love is the determining factor. It would be nice if there were a verse that clearly stated that faith without love didn’t cut it.

Oh wait! 1 Corinthians 13 to the rescue

“If I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

Faith without love won’t cut it. Paul concludes 1 Corinthians 13 with “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

The greatest is love; not faith.

You are not saved by faith alone. Faith must have love. Loveless faith is not what God is looking for. Loveless faith does not save. Love is what God desires from us. Love is greater than faith.

A doctrine that separates faith from love is a doctrine that is going to lead to problems. It will make you look more like a Pharisee than like Christ.

Love is a huge deal with God. To miss that is to miss God Himself–God is love. Faith in God who is love, results in love to Him and love to others. Therefore, if there is no love, then you don’t really know or believe God, because God is love.

Since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love.

Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.