Tag Archives: God’s Will

— Useless vs. Fruitful — Two Competing Faiths. Which One Is Yours?

Two millennia ago Jesus’ sacrificial death established faith as the determining factor in whether an individual spends eternal life in heaven. It is a seismic distinction from other religions, which place the burden on man to earn salvation through some combination of good works, obedience, and holy behavior. But with Christ’s ascension from the grave, belief in Him as Lord and Savior was suddenly wholly sufficient to avoid sin’s consequences (that is, eternal darkness and suffering in hell).

In the years that followed, however, most of Christendom reverted back to emphasizing works as an integral part of salvation. That unbiblical view survived for hundreds of years, taught by a church intent on using such heresy to acquire wealth and power. Thankfully, the Reformation arrived in the early 1500’s to counter this false teaching. In time, faith regained its proper place in Church doctrine as the defining element of salvation.

Unfortunately, in recent decades a different but equally dangerous doctrine has emerged inside the Church. This one sits at the opposite end of the theological continuum and teaches that anyone who verbalizes belief in Christ instantaneously secures his or her salvation, irrespective of how they live in the future. A profession of faith in Christ as Savior guarantees eternal life, regardless of whether any evidence exists to support the claim.

Scripture, however, clearly teaches that this version of Christianity is as heretical as ‘salvation by works.’ Its fatal flaw is its failure to recognize that not everyone who expresses a belief in Christ truly believes. Many who claim faith in Jesus continue to place their trust elsewhere. They simply deceive themselves.

The apostle Paul understood this. He notes that some inside the Church are “corrupt and unbelieving” and “such people claim they know God, but they deny Him by the way they live.” (Titus 1:16a, NLT). These people willingly, even enthusiastically, declare Jesus Lord and insist they knew Him personally. So how could anyone argue that such people possess a counterfeit faith?

Paul could, and did, on the basis of their lifestyles, which denied Christ. His insight is critically important to understanding the Christian faith. Those who possess genuine faith in Christ live lives modeled after His example. Their lives profess Him Lord as loudly as their words.

This truth may cause some to cringe. Doesn’t that suggest good works play a role in salvation, they wonder. Does that mean eternally life rests as much on effort as it does on faith, they ask.

The answer to both questions is an emphatic, ‘No!’

Paul explained the proper relationship between faith and works in his powerful letter to the church at Ephesus. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is a gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10, NKJV, emphasis mine).

As in his other epistles, Paul affirms the truth that salvation is by faith alone. We cannot earn God’s mercy and play no role in working our way into heaven.

That said, Paul immediately reminds his readers that God created us to advance His agenda and further His kingdom. We do this by practicing good works and committing ourselves to the lifestyle He prepared for us from the foundation of the world.

Our works and lifestyles have no impact on our salvation. They are not part of the equation. But they do represent essential evidence of our faith. Without them we have no assurance of our salvation. In fact, without good works we can be certain our faith is inauthentic.

James, one of Jesus’ brothers, provides an excellent exposition of the significance of good works in the life of a believer. He begins with a rhetorical question. “What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions?” (James 2:14, NLT). After providing a couple examples that highlight his point (failing to feed and clothe believers who are hungry and naked), he declares, “Faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.” (James 2:17, emphasis mine).

James uses powerful language to communicate his point. He actually states that faith without works is both dead and useless. It is fraudulent and serves no purpose. The person who practices such faith possesses no faith at all. Genuine faith always produces good works.

He continues, “Now someone may argue, ‘some people have faith; others have good deeds.’ But I say, ‘How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” (James 2:18).

James dismantles the argument that faith and good works can operate independent of one another. He shows that good works reveal faith. In their absence faith does not exist.

This leads to a very important question. What constitutes good works? Specifically, what type of good works evidence genuine faith?

James gives us two insightful examples: Abraham and Rahab.

He tells us, “Abraham was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar. You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete… So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone.” (James 2:21-22, 24).

Abraham exhibited good works by surrendering to God the one thing most important to him, his only son Isaac. Abraham loved him dearly. Nothing would cause him as much pain as boy’s death. And yet, this is what God required. And so Abraham obeyed. Though God eventually spared Isaac’s life at the last second, Abraham proved his faith by his act of sacrificial obedience.

And so it is with us. God expects us to live sacrificially for Him. At various times in our lives God will test our faith. He will require us to place on the altar something of great value to us. He will ask us to crucify it to faithfully carry out his will. Maybe He will ask us to leave a lucrative job; or move to an unfamiliar country; or sell our house and donate the proceeds to further His Kingdom; or give up a hobby entirely and invest the time in spreading the Gospel. Maybe He will ask us to do all of these.

Whatever the case, we can be sure the decision will require significant sacrifice. And it will be difficult to obey; impossible, in fact, without the Holy Spirit’s strength. Moreover, we can be sure His call to sacrifice will occur more than once. In fact, it will occur throughout our lives. Each instance will be an opportunity to grow in faith and demonstrate our trust in Christ.

In his second example, James tells us Rahab, “was shown to be right with God by her actions when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different road. Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works.” (James 2:25-26).

You may recall that Rahab was a prostitute who lived near Jericho. She housed the scouts Joshua had sent to investigate the land and hid them when the king’s guards came in search of them. On orders from the king, the guards demanded she bring the men outside. Instead, she informed the guards that the two men already had left the city and told them the route the scouts had taken. After the guards departed, Rahab sent the two men on their way in the opposite direction.

Rahab demonstrated good works by risking her life to do God’s will. Acting in faith, she protected the scouts and sent the guards on a wild goose chase. She not only jeopardized her life and freedom (the king likely would have imprisoned or executed her if he had learned the truth), she jeopardized the life and freedom of her family. Her faith compelled her to trust God – not the circumstances.

And so it is with us. God often calls us to put our faith into practice by setting aside our best interests, our freedom, and perhaps even our life. Once again, our faith matures as a result and we grow closer to Christ. Obeying God in such instances is never easy. Our flesh demands we look out for ourselves. Our friends will likely tell us we are fools to obey God when such an existential risk exists. At times like these, then, we must remind ourselves what James said. “Faith by itself is not enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.”

All of this may sound a little too extreme. Some of us might decide to follow the less radical version of Christianity. Unfortunately, a less extreme form of Christianity does not exist. While the specifics of how God calls us to live in obedience will differ from person to person, there are some commonalities.

  • God will test our faith.
  • He will do so by calling us to take action that substantively demonstrates our trust in Him.
  • He will ask us to surrender those things most important and dear to us.
  • He will send us on assignments that jeopardize our safety, reputation, and/or freedom.
  • He will give us tasks that, to some degree, disrupt our comfortable and organized lives.

As you live this vibrant expression of faith under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, you will draw closer to the Lord and more clearly understand His plans for you.

What an exciting way to spend the rest of your life!!

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Ordinary Believers – Extraordinary Faith.

Throughout Scripture God places His people in situations that require them to put their faith into action. Often these tests lead in a direction society considers irrational and may seem illogical to those around us. But when we trust God in these circumstances and obey His will, our faith matures. With each act of obedience we learn more about God’s faithfulness and understand more clearly His ways.

Most of these Bible stories involve ordinary people like you and me, not spiritual giants with extraordinary spiritual gifts. In fact, the only thing preventing many of us from experiencing God in similarly powerful and dramatic ways is a single step of faith. When we act on our trust in Him, amazing things happen in our lives and in the lives of those around us.

Let’s explore a couple of these ‘faith in action’ stories. Our first story takes place in Zarephath, where God has just sent the prophet Elijah. As he arrives in the city he encounters a widow with whom he has this interesting exchange.

Please bring me a little water in a cup, that I may drink.” And as she was going to get it, he called to her and said, “Please bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” Then she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I do not have bread, only a handful of flour in a bin, and a little oil in a jar; and see, I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.” And Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said, but make me a small cake from it first and bring it to me; and afterward make some for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘The bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry, until the day the Lord sends rain on the earth.’ So she went away and did according to the word of Elijah; and she and he and her household ate for many days. The bin of flour was not used up, nor did the jar of oil run dry, according to the word of the Lord which He spoke by Elijah” (1 Kings 17:10b-16, NKJV).

What a remarkable story. Despite her desperate circumstances, the woman agrees to this radical (some might say ‘ridiculous’) proposal from the prophet. He asks her to prioritize his needs above her and her son’s; that she extend his life (a stranger) at the (potential) expense of their lives. As if their deaths weren’t imminent enough, Elijah’s request would seal their fate more quickly – unless of course his assertion were true that God would prevent the flour and oil from running out.

Using hindsight, we may be tempted to conclude the widow did nothing special. After all, we might argue, what did she have to lose? She was going to die anyway, so why not take a risk and agree to the prophet’s offer? But that ignores several critical facts.

First, the woman was not a Jew and did not share Elijah’s faith in the God of Israel. She knew nothing of the Lord and had no basis to trust Him or His messenger.

Second, as any parent will tell you, the idea of sacrificing your child’s life to save the life of a stranger runs counter to every parental instinct. Good parents do everything they can to protect and care for their children, not put their lives at risk to help others, no matter how noble the cause.

Third, the content of Elijah’s proposal is absolutely preposterous from the world’s perspective. It defies logic. The widow must exchange common sense for an embrace of God’s supernatural power – a God she never believed in until that moment.

In our second story, God sends Gideon to save Israel from the Midianites, a people who were “as numerous as locusts.” Against such an overwhelming force you might imagine the need for Israel to send an army of comparable size. If Israel were unable to muster such a military presence, then you would expect them to have a superior arsenal of weapons. Without one or the other, an Israeli victory would seem impossible.

Yet God ignores military convention and tells Gideon that the thirty-two thousand men he has assembled for battle are too numerous in number, “lest Israel claim glory for itself against Me, saying, ‘my own hand has saved me.’” So God uses several methods to whittle that number down to three hundred men. He then informs Gideon, “By these three hundred men I will save Israel, and deliver the Midianites into your hand.”

You need not have attended West Point to understand the lunacy of this military strategy. Reducing an already inadequate force down to several hundred men is illogical when confronting an indomitable opponent. Yet that is precisely what God calls Gideon and the people of Israel to do. For it is in that act of seeming madness that they will demonstrate their trust and faith in God and He will reveal Himself to them.

As if that insanity weren’t enough, however, God then declares that instead of using weapons of war to win the battle He wants Gideon and his men to blow trumpets instead. In doing so God makes an already impossible victory beyond hopeless. The men must have wondered if their commander had lost his mind since his strategy was void of all rational military science. Surely Gideon was leading them to a massacre, like lambs led to slaughter.

But an astounding thing happens when Gideon and his men reject sound military strategy in favor of obedience to God. They win! The opposition turns on each other and is handily defeated. In perhaps the greatest military victory of all time, God uses a small squadron of men to conquer an overpowering adversary – with trumpets no less. Not because they executed a superior strategy, fought harder, or employed more advanced weaponry, but rather because they trusted and obeyed God.

Once again, hindsight may lead us to conclude that trusting God in that situation was a no-brainer for Gideon and the Israelites. Despite the irrationality of God’s plan, it was obvious He would liberate His people and ensure victory. They could embrace with certainty His promise because God always delivers on His commitments.

And yet, how many of us hesitate to follow God down an equally preposterous path in our own lives? We delay obedience and resist His call on our lives because the direction He is leading makes no sense. From a societal perspective, it is sheer madness. Only a crazy person would follow God down a road as irrational as the one He is calling us to pursue. If you are among those struggling to obey God because His plan seems illogical, recall God’s reasoning to Gideon for using such circumstances. Difficult challenges and overwhelming odds ensure that only He gets the glory.

How is God calling you to boldly demonstrate your faith today? What act has He asked of you that defies common sense and will earn the derision of those around you? Is God leading you down a path that seems irrational from the world’s perspective? If so, find inspiration from the Zarephath widow and Gideon’s army of three hundred.

God often puts us in circumstances that stretch and mature our faith. Resist the temptation to follow the easy path of rational thought and common sense when the Spirit is leading you elsewhere. Maybe it’s time to trust the Lord with that radical decision you’ve been postponing for too long. As you take that step of faith, you will experience God in an amazing and fresh way.