Salvation Is Hard

Many years ago I was talking to an older guy about fixing a broken something or other. He was a handyman type, knew how to fix everything. I’m a waste of space at fixing things.

He was telling me how simple it was to do this repair. To emphasize how simple it was he said, “It’s as easy as getting saved.”

I was stunned by his statement. I remember laughing and saying something like, “Hm, I never thought getting saved was all that easy.” He was then stunned by my statement!

There are many who think “getting saved” is easy. If you view justification by faith alone the way most do–nodding your head yes at the appropriate time of the emotional Gospel presentation–then yeah, getting saved is easy.

Easy Salvation agrees to the facts of the Gospel and you’re good to go.

What amazes me is watching Jesus Christ talk to people about salvation. He drove so many away. In fact, Jesus always seemed to make salvation harder than people thought.

The classic example is the Rich Young Ruler, “Go and sell all your stuff and give to the poor, come, and follow me.” Can you imagine explaining to the Rich Young Ruler that making a repair was “as easy as getting saved?”

It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. That sounds hard to me.

The gate is strait and the way is narrow; few there be who find it. Sounds pretty hard to me.

If you don’t hate mother, father, son, and daughter you cannot be my disciple. Sounds pretty hard to me.

Anyone who desires to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. Sounds pretty hard to me.

Take up your cross, deny yourself, and follow me. Sounds pretty tough.

I think you get the idea.

Salvation is not mental assent to facts about Jesus. Salvation is a new way of life, one that must be thought about carefully. You sure you want to do that? You sure it’s worth it to lose your money, your family peace, your friendships, your cares of this world, and your carefully constructed reputation that will become dung?

You sure?

Yet most people will say, “Pssh, I’ve never had to do any of that, and I’m saved. It was easy for me.”

Judgment Day is going to be a real shocker to many people. Don’t be one of them. Wake up today. Read the Word. Realize that salvation is the hardest decision you’ll ever make and it might possibly ruin your life.

For many in the Great Cloud of Witnesses, salvation didn’t pay off until they were dead and finally inherited the Better Country.

Until then, salvation kind of stunk. Don’t rush people into making a decision. Particularly don’t push kids into it; they have no idea what the implications are. So much of our Gospel is wrong and so many of our Gospel presentations are wrong.

Read the Parable of the Sower. 3 out of 4 didn’t get in. If words mean what they say, salvation is not easy.

If you think it is, more than likely it comes from your warped, man-made view of justification by faith alone.

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3 Problems With Luther’s Opinion of James

Earlier I wrote about Martin Luther’s problem with the book of James. Luther wants justification to be by faith only. James disagrees with Luther. This led Luther to say the following:

“Therefore St James’ epistle is really an epistle of straw, compared to these others, for it has nothing of the nature of the Gospel about it . . . The epistle of James gives us much trouble, for the Papists embrace it alone and leave out all the rest…Accordingly, if they will not admit my interpretations, then I shall make rubble also of it. I almost feel like throwing Jimmy into the stove . . . I maintain that some Jew wrote it who probably heard about Christian people but never encountered any. Since he heard that Christians place great weight on faith in Christ, he thought, ‘Wait a moment! I’ll oppose them and urge works alone.’ This he did.”

I would like to make several points about this quote.

First, he says James has “nothing of the nature of the Gospel about it.” This is a common attack on James, probably from people copying Luther. James only mentions Jesus Christ twice. He makes no mention of resurrection, Gospel, the cross, or any other Gospely words.

The reason is not because James doesn’t know the Gospel or is somehow opposed to it (his half-brother was the Messiah, people!). The reason is because he’s writing to a group of people, Jewish Christians, who already think they are saved and yet are showing no signs of conversion.  He is writing to defeat easy-believism. He wants people to know that even demons believe! Faith isn’t the whole story.

James is an epistle intended for an audience in our day as well. James is very practical. People don’t like practical; we like the theoretical. We’d rather theoretically believe we are saved than actually have to practically live as though we were. James knows our state today; it was the same state of religion in his day. There is nothing new under the sun.

Secondly, Luther says James gives us trouble because “the Papists embrace it alone.” Most of the push-back I’ve received about questioning justification by faith alone, has been phrased in fears of Catholicism. I have been accused of being Catholic and of dragging my church back into Catholicism. I find this ridiculous.

I am not Catholic. I feel creepy just going into Catholic type places. I am not telling anyone to become Catholic. I don’t want you to light candles, do holy water things, do hand motion kneeling things, baptize babies (which Luther did despite his “by faith alone” bluster), or any other man-made, humanly devised rituals that accomplish nothing but feelings.

Accusing people of becoming Catholic, or undoing the Reformation, for questioning the unbiblical idea of justification by faith alone is merely the modern day political response of your enemy politician being Hitler. I recommend some more thought on the issue rather than a flippant dismissal and fearmongering about being Catholic.

Here’s a little historical fact for you: James was not Catholic.

Third, Luther says “some Jew” saw Christian faith and said ‘Wait a moment! I’ll oppose them and urge works alone.’ This he did.” Notice what Luther did to James’ quote. Luther says James “urges works alone.” Did you get that? Did James ever say people were justified by works alone? No he did not.

The main problem with Luther’s theology appears to be a habit of putting “alone” in places where no one put “alone.”

This is where you know Luther is getting carried away. He’s just making stuff up now. He made up that Paul said we were justified by faith alone, which Paul never said. He made up that James said we were justified by works alone, which James never said.

Slightly rephrasing quotes is quite common in Christianity, and other areas as well. Get original quotes, not people’s quotations of quotes. Go to the source. James and Paul don’t say what Luther says they say. Read the Bible. Seriously. Read the Bible. Check what you hear with Scripture. Test the spirits.

Luther was right to question the Catholic Church, particularly on their idea that you need the Catholic Church, its priests, and systems to get right with God. You don’t. Kudos to Luther for sticking his neck out to fight that fight.

But Luther is just a guy and just as fallible as a pope, which amounts to a lot fallible. I am also fallible. Here’s some news: you are fallible too.

Our job is to read Scripture and help each other understand more and more of it. To assemble together to encourage one another to good works, and so much the more as we see the day approaching.

Justification by Faith and Obedience

Despite the fact that Martin Luther and many since him tell you that you are justified by faith alone, the Bible says we are not justified by faith only. Justification comes with a faith that includes some other stuff.

Obedience is one of those things.

There are many who think that since they believe the Gospel, or “said the prayer,” that they are saved. They’re “in.” All that salvation stuff is done, now I just live my life and then go to heaven when I die.

But true justifying faith has some qualifiers, a couple tests to see if it’s legit. We’ve talked about several already in the last days’ posts.

Obedience is another aspect of justifying faith. The fact that one time at camp when you were 7 a speaker terrified you about going to hell so you “got saved,” means next to nothing.

Justification is not given to those who believed for a few minutes a number of years ago. Justification makes you righteous. If your faith at camp was legit at 7, it will have resulted in a continuously growing righteous life. Your faith may indeed have begun at camp when you were 7, but if these things aren’t there, then your faith was not legit.

The Apostle Paul talks about the “obedience of faith” a couple times in Romans. Rome had faith. How did Paul know they had faith? Because their obedience shone to many people around them. Their faith was obedient.

Paul says that whatever is not of faith is sin. Therefore, whatever is of faith can’t be sin. Faith makes you do what is right. Faith is obedient. Faith comes by hearing God’s word, and as every single person in Hebrews 11 knows: faith does what God says to do.

Paul talks about people who have “not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report?” Paul speaks of obey and believe as synonymous. What is the Gospel telling us to do? To deny self, take up the cross, be a living sacrifice, live a new life in Christ as the old one has been crucified.

Watch what Peter says in 1 Peter 2:7

Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner,

The opposite of believe for Peter is to be disobedient.

If you think you have faith and yet you are not obeying the commands of the New Covenant, think again. Granted, there is a sanctifying and growing process, but obedience grows. If getting saved at camp when you were 7 is many years ago now and obedience hasn’t become a regular part of your life, your faith was in vain, you are yet in your sins.

Obedience comes with faith. Faith without obedience is no faith at all.

Justification by Faith and Love

Martin Luther told us we are justified by faith alone, something the Bible never says. But for some reason we are adamant about going with Luther’s take. Even people who otherwise can’t stand Luther go with his take. Bizarre to me.

I believe the Bible says we are justified by faith and faith includes several things. I believe love is another of those things that determines whether you have true, justifying faith. This may, in fact, be the  biggest thing your faith needs for you to be saved.

God is not impressed by outward actions, nor does He take professions with the mouth all that seriously. God judges people by the heart. Israel brought sacrifices to God and sang nice songs and said nice things about God, all things God told them to do, but He rejected them because their heart was not near Him. They didn’t love Him.

External obedience in doing what God said to do still might not demonstrate justifying faith. You might just be following your training, your group, or your traditions. You might be doing it out of pride or reputation. Maybe it’s guilt and you’re trying to work off sins. Listening to God (faith) without love for God is not listening to God.

Faith and love are huge words in Christianity. A faith that doesn’t work is no faith at all. Faith that justifies works.

For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.
–Galatians 5:6

Faith works by love. This means love is a thing that makes faith work and faith works loving things. True faith works together with love.

Merely nodding your head to the facts of the Gospel does not save a person. It’s more than just an intellectual agreement with facts. It’s a change of heart, a response to God’s love that responds in kind. We love Him because He first loved us. He first loved us when, while we were sinners, Christ died for us.

And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
–1 Corinthians 13:13

You’ve heard this verse hundreds of times, but have you ever thought about it?!

Love is greater than faith? 1 Corinthians 13:2 says if you have all faith, even to the extent that you could move mountains, it does you no profit without love.

There are many who say they believe in God or in Jesus Christ, yet their “faith” shows no signs that they love God, or Christ. “If you love me, keep my commandments.” True faith operates out of love. Love for God will keep you obeying God. Faith and love need each other. Faith does not stand alone.

Faith without love is no faith at all. It is an unprofitable faith. Even the demons believe in God, but they certainly don’t love Him. Demons are not saved even though they have faith. Faith without love is a huge problem.

Love is a really big deal with God. He doesn’t want intellectual assent; He wants you to love Him in response to the great love wherewith He loved us.

If you love God and the Gospel of His Son Jesus Christ, your faith will work things in you that are consistent with that love. Faith works by love and love is greater than faith.

When Jesus Christ was asked what the greatest commandment was, He did not say “Believe in the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind.” Nope. He said, “Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind.”

Love is a big deal. You’re fooling yourself if you think love has nothing to do with whether you are saved or not. Your faith better have love with it. Not a squishy feeling kind of love either, but a love that keeps His commands. That’s true love and true faith. They work together.

Justification by Faith and Confession

OK, more than likely my title triggered a few!

When we hear “confession” we immediately think of a Catholic Church with the little doors into the little box where you talk through the screen to the priest. You tell him your sins and he tells you what to do to get them removed.

Confession literally means “to say the same thing as.” Therefore, confessing your sins, like in 1 John 1:9, has nothing to do with Catholic confessionals. It means to agree with God, to say the same thing as He does, about you and your sin.

However, none of this has anything to do with what I’m talking about here.

We are told all the time that salvation comes by faith alone. Yet the Bible never says this, and, if you read the Bible, you will see several other things we’re supposed to do.

When I say justification by faith and confession, here is the passage I have in mind:

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

So, again, if you just read the words and go with what they say, Paul says if we believe in our heart and confess with our mouth we will be saved.

If that’s the case, and Paul is an inspired author of Scripture, why do we insist salvation is by faith alone?

Why do we insist upon making Martin Luther right and Paul wrong? It’s truly a bizarre thing to me. I honestly don’t get it.

I suppose the argument is that if we have to believe and confess, confess would be a work, and then our works save us.

I find this ridiculous. If the Bible says we’re not saved by works, but we are saved by believing and confessing, then believing and confessing must not be works he’s referring to!

I mean, it can’t be more complicated than that.

The Bible means what it says. I suggest we start listening to it and not defending dead guys’ theological scruples. Just an idea.

Justification By Faith And Works

Most of my life I believed I was justified by faith alone. It wasn’t until I started reading the Bible regularly that I noticed that the Bible doesn’t say this.

James 2 is the classic go-to passage. James specifically says we are not justified by faith only. Works play a part.

One of the best ways to determine whether what you are hearing is true, is to poke at it and listen to the defenses people offer for their stance.

Here are the treatments of James I have heard that try to skirt the issue and keep us saying we are justified by faith only, which is the opposite of what James says.

1) James was a Jew, what do you expect? This is sort of the take of Martin Luther (see his quote in yesterday’s post). Many believe Jews were justified by deeds of the law and doing sacrifices. But Paul clearly and repeatedly tells us no one was ever justified by deeds of the law. If you could be, then Christ died in vain. Saying that James was a Jew, whether anti-semitically like Luther, or in an attempt at pontificating on OT salvation doctrine, is a non-winning strategy. Whatever James is saying, he’s not erroneously caught up in Jewishness.

2) James is not part of the Bible. This is a challenge about inspiration. People are currently comfortable chucking other passages of the Bible they deem they know better than, why not add James 2 to the list? The problem is that James has always been viewed as being Scripture, until Luther. James says stuff that is consistent with Scripture. Unless you are comfortable being the Bible’s editor, I would not play this card.

3) James is talking about something different than Paul. Paul says in Romans that we are justified by faith. James says we see a man is not justified by faith only but by works. “See, Paul and James disagree! Therefore, whatever James is talking about, it must be something different than Paul. They can’t both be talking about justification for salvation, James must be talking about proving faith.” There is a partial point here, James is talking about proving his faith. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t talking about true, saving justification, because, he is. The way to reconcile the both is to see that Paul never said we were justified by faith alone. Saying we’re justified by faith, does not mean nothing else is a part of what faith is. (I’ll bring up some of these things in the days to come.)

4) The Bible is full of contradictions, who can make sense of it? I’ll just go with what my guys say. This strategy satisfies many. They chalk it up to mystery, stuff only people smarter than me can figure out. I’ll just go with whatever and hope God is gracious in the end. This sort of fatalistic whateverness will not go over well on Judgment Day. Remember the servant who buried his talent? Yeah, this is that guy. However you want to deal with James, don’t deal with him this way! Do something with this. Think about it. Figure it out.

The bottom line is this: we are not justified by faith alone. James clearly says so. Faith is a huge word and involves several things. If you go ahead and admit this, other passages will open up to you and you won’t have to feel confused as much. Just go ahead and admit that Martin Luther is not the Bible and you’ll start understanding some stuff!

Hebrews 11, the great chapter of faith, talks about faithful people. By faith so-and-so did whatever it was that God told them. Every single person listed as having faith did what God told them. That’s what faith is.

If God told Abraham to sacrifice his son and Abraham said “OK, I believe you want me to sacrifice my son” and yet never took his son out to sacrifice him, then Abraham, although professing faith, would not have had faith.

Faith does what God says. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. You know you heard the word of God when you do it. Faith works. Paul calls it “the obedience of faith” several times.

You are justified by faith and faith works. Justifying faith will show itself in your life. The old will pass away and a new life will take over. There is a process and we have a faithful High Priest when we mess up. Faith will show itself in works. Even the demons believe, but they have no works, therefore, their faith is no justifying faith.

It’s really quite simple once you eliminate all your doctrinal baggage you’ve lugged around all these years. The simplicity is freeing. Embrace it!

Justification and Faith

Justification means to make something righteous.

The Bible will use words like “declare,” “count,” “accounted,” and “reckoned” to convey the idea.

This does not mean that Christ’s righteous deeds were added to your account, nor that Christ kept the law for you. Nor does it merely mean that God thinks you are righteous even though you continue to live the same life you lived before your supposed justification.

To make something righteous is to do just that: to make something righteous. Even the word “declare” means to show forth. It doesn’t simply mean God said you were righteous. He makes you righteous and you show forth that righteousness by doing righteous things.

People don’t like this idea of justification. We’d rather believe that God sees me as righteous while I continue to live in sin. We like the idea of eating our cake and having it too. Enjoying our sin, but going to heaven when we die.

If that’s your view of justification, I’ve got some bad news for you! Justification will make you do righteous things and will kill off sin in your life.

In fact, if this killing off of sin and growth in righteousness do not take place, you are not getting into heaven.

This is not saying that you get to heaven by works. It’s saying that in the flesh dwells no good thing. You must be born again, so you can walk in the Spirit and fulfill the righteousness of the law (Romans 7 and 8). You have to be made righteous in order to do righteous things. God can do that through the justifying power of the Gospel.

Unfortunately, the Gospel commonly preached today is not The Gospel. Many Gospel presentations skip sin, or at least only mention it in passing.

But the Gospel is for people who  want to be delivered from sin. If you don’t want to be delivered from doing sin, then you don’t want the Gospel.

Most proclaimers of the Gospel know you don’t want to leave sin behind. You want to continue to sin and be selfish and live narcissistic lives and continue the  narcissism on thru eternity in heaven.

“You don’t want to go to hell when you die, do you?” Is the basic gist of most Gospel presentations.

The true appeal of the Gospel is “You don’t want to sin your whole life, do you? Aren’t you tired of doing unrighteous stuff? What fruit do you have in those sinful things you are ashamed of?”

But, if you want your salvation quota, you won’t get far with that message. People don’t want to stop sin.

So, in an effort to meet our salvation quotas, we change our Gospel. We tell people the Gospel is about the life to come, not this one. We then tell people that all they have to do to be saved is believe.

Thus the invention of “we are justified by faith alone.” Because if there were anything else besides faith, then people would, like, have to do stuff, and remember, not doing stuff and yet being rewarded as if you did, is the entire basis of modern thought.

Yes, we are justified by faith, the Bible clearly says so.

The Bible never says we are justified by “faith alone.” Primarily because we are not. Faith needs friends: obedience, works, love, and confession, to name a few.

The reason people believe we are justified by faith alone is because Martin Luther said so. When Luther translated Romans, he made Romans 3:28 say, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith alone without the deeds of the law.”

Look up Romans 3:28 in any other translation and you will not find the word “alone.” That’s because the word “alone” is not in the Greek. Luther added to Scripture to make his point, never a good idea.

In fact, the only time the Bible puts “faith only” together is when James says, “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.

This is the main reason why Luther said:

“Therefore St James’ epistle is really an epistle of straw, compared to these others, for it has nothing of the nature of the Gospel about it . . . The epistle of James gives us much trouble, for the Papists embrace it alone and leave out all the rest…Accordingly, if they will not admit my interpretations, then I shall make rubble also of it. I almost feel like throwing Jimmy into the stove . . . I maintain that some Jew wrote it who probably heard about Christian people but never encountered any. Since he heard that Christians place great weight on faith in Christ, he thought, ‘Wait a moment! I’ll oppose them and urge works alone.’ This he did.”

Luther, acting like every other Christian, throws out the part of the Bible that disagrees with his opinion. When push comes to shove, Luther is going with Luther, not some burdensome chunk of the Bible that dares disagree with him.

So, for 500 years we’ve been telling ourselves salvation is simply by nodding our head yes that Jesus died and rose again. We carry on in our sin, telling ourselves heaven awaits. No fuss, no muss, just easy street for eternity!

It sound so easy and nice. But what will you do in the end? How’s that going to work on Judgment Day?

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.