Tuesday, April 13, 2010

By Faith Alone - Part III

One of my hobbies used to be going to the tops of the world's tallest buildings. I've been to the tops of the World Trade Center in New York City, the CN Tower in Toronto, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and other high buildings. But each time I went up, I had to trust the elevator to do what it was intended to do. If I didn't trust it, I would never go up in the first place.

Faith in God is a bit like that. Faith is not simply giving mental assent to something. It's not simply agreeing theoretically with an idea or concept. It is the kind of confidence you have when you take an elevator to the top of a 100-story building. You absolutely trust the elevator to do what it is supposed to do. You step out and take action to demonstrate your trust in the object of your faith.

Sola fide is a Latin phrase, meaning "by faith alone". The early reformers used it to describe the fact that our salvation is by faith alone. Some people disagree with that notion and say that a person is saved by his good works or by a combination of good works and faith. In this study, we’ll look at this controversial topic to see what the Bible says about it.

In this third part of my series on "By Faith Alone", we'll see the difference between faith and works. Then we’ll look at living by faith. We'll also see what the test should be to determine if you are in the faith, and we’ll discover how you receive the Spirit.

Difference Between Faith & Works
When it comes to being righteous, Christ has fulfilled the Law in perfect righteousness, so once you put your trust in Jesus, look no further. Paul said, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”(Rom 10:4). Once we have faith in Christ, we no longer need to try and fulfill the Law.

“However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, ‘HE WHO PRACTICES THEM SHALL LIVE BY THEM.’” (Gal 3:12). You see, if you want to work for your salvation, then you need to live according to everything written in the Law. That’s quite a heavy load to carry. Then it’s no longer about trusting Jesus to save you, but it’s about working to attain righteousness. This is quite the opposite of faith.

Paul was a trained Jewish rabbi, who studied under one of the best rabbis. But when he came to know Jesus Christ, he knew that faith expressing itself through loving acts was all that mattered now. He said, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.” (Gal 5:6). It no longer makes any difference whether a person has obeyed certain aspects of the Law or not, such as circumcision.

So does this mean we no longer need to do any works at all? No, it doesn’t. As Paul wrote, faith will express itself through love, and love is not a feeling but an action. So when you have true, saving faith in Christ, you’ll be serving Him out of love. James the brother of Jesus Christ, eventually came to know the Lord himself and became His bond servant. He wrote: “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?” (Jam 2:14)

James emphasized the need for works, but did not teach that we need to work to earn God’s righteousness. The works James spoke of were works that one does when he already has true saving faith. As James saw it, any faith that doesn’t produce works is a dead faith. He said, “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.” (Jam 2:17) “But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?” (Jam 2:20). “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” (Jam 2:26)

His main concern was that there be evidence in our lives of the saving faith in Jesus. He tried to show that it is not possible to say you have faith, yet not have any works. He said, “show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works." (Jam 2:18)

James even went so far as to say, “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” (Jam 2:24) This message of James about works is not emphasized elsewhere in the New Testament. For this reason, church leaders were at one time unsure whether to include it in the canon of Scripture. On the surface, it seemed to contradict Paul’s message of faith alone. But it has nevertheless been included, because it is inspired, it is true, and it’s not inconsistent with the rest of Scripture.

If you just read this last verse in James 2:24, it may appear to contradict the apostle Paul’s gospel of salvation by faith alone. But when you read the entire epistle and read the entire New Testament, you come to see that it is merely emphasizing the fact that true believers need to be doers of the Word, not hearers only. As James said, “Do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (James 1:22).

This is consistent with Jesus’ teaching. He said, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. "Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you evildoers.'” (Mat 7:21-23). Jesus taught that we must do the will of His Father in heaven.

Jesus also taught about the person who builds his house on the rock by acting upon His Word. "Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. "And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. "Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. "The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell--and great was its fall." (Mat 7:24-27).

So we are justified by faith alone, not by our works. But once we have been made righteous by faith in Jesus Christ, there must be evidence of that faith through our actions. We will desire to act upon Jesus’ words. This is really a continuation in the faith we began to have the moment we were justified.

Living By Faith in Jesus
It’s by faith in Jesus that we live our lives. Paul said it like this: "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. (Gal 2:20).

And in the book of Hebrews, we learn that the righteous shall live by faith. “BUT MY RIGHTEOUS ONE SHALL LIVE BY FAITH; AND IF HE SHRINKS BACK, MY SOUL HAS NO PLEASURE IN HIM. But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.” (Heb 10:38-39)

It’s impossible to please God without faith. “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” (Heb 11:6)

All the righteous people throughout history lived by faith:

By faith Noah prepared an ark for the salvation of his household. (Heb 11:7)
By faith Abraham obeyed by going out to a place that he was to receive for an inheritance. (Heb 11:8)
By faith Sarah received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life. (Heb 11:11)
By faith Abraham offered up Isaac, his only begotten son. (Heb 11:17)
By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau. (Heb 11:20)
By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph. (Heb 11:21)
By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the future exodus. (Heb 11:22)
By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents. (Heb 11:23)
By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter. (Heb 11:24)
By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen. (Heb 11:27)
By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of the blood. (Heb 11:28)
By faith they passed through the Red Sea as though through dry land. (Heb 11:29)
By faith the walls of Jericho fell down. (Heb 11:30)
By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace. (Heb 11:31)
Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. (Heb 11:32-34)

So it’s very clear from Scripture that it is by faith we live victorious lives that are pleasing to the Lord.

Test to See if You Are in the Faith
In all of the preceding Scriptures, it’s abundantly clear that we are saved by faith alone. Since that is so crucial, how do you know if you are in the faith? There is a test you can give yourself.

“Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you--unless indeed you fail the test?” (2Co 13:5). The test is this: Ask yourself if you recognize that Jesus Christ in you. If you do not, then you fail the test. Does He live in your heart? He wants to.

Paul said, ‘So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love.” (Eph 3:17) You see, He dwells in our hearts by faith. You must believe.

Receive the Spirit by Faith

As believers in Jesus, we have a promise from Jesus that He would send the Holy Spirit. Even this is received by faith. “This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?” (Gal 3:2)

“So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?” (Gal 3:5)

You see, the Gentiles receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. “In order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” (Gal 3:14)

Putting it All Together
There's a clear distinction in Scripture between faith and works. We know that we are saved by faith alone through grace. As Paul said, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast." (Eph 2:8-9).

You see, it's not by works, so that no one can boast. It's the gift of God. It's based on His unmerited favor toward you. We need to really get that into our spirit. It's not something we can work for or try to earn.

When someone gives you a gift, you simply receive it. If you don't receive it, then it will remain in the hands of the one giving it. God's righteousness is a gift. He wants to give it to you. But you have to receive it by faith. Everything is by faith. But it's not mere mental assent to the truth. It's the kind of confidence you have in an elevator when you ride it to the top of a tall building. Elevators may fail, but Jesus Christ never fails! You can completely trust Him to save you.

All the righteous people recorded in Scripture lived by faith and pleased God that way. That's how you receive the Spirit of God. It's by faith, not by works.

And there's a test you can give yourself to see if you're in the faith. Ask yourself whether Jesus Christ lives in your heart by faith. If you answered yes to this, then you pass the test. If not, then you need to know Him.

Attribution notice: Most Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.

Author's note: Don't miss the final part of this series at By Faith Alone - Part IV.  You may also access my complete blog directory at "Writing for the Master."  

Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus personally, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Jesus.  Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?

“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15).  He preached that we must repent and believe.

Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"
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Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International.  He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission. www.dmiworld.org.

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