FAITH OR WORKS
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Theme: Maturity in Christ, Transformation of Character, Virtue and Spiritual Discipline
The background to the debate
Oct. 31, 1517 95 theses. The sale of indulgences. Martin Luther was reacting to an empty system of righteousness that had been turned into a commercial transaction.
Luther was particularly fascinated with the Book of Romans.
Martin Luther was never sure about the book of James.
- Luther lived in a time when the church taught that grace could be merited through works of righteousness. Salvation could be bought. Sins were forgiven only if proper penance were performed. This system of merit and penance made the rulers of the powerful they held the keys to heaven.
- Luthers great discovery was the doctrine of grace as it was laid out in Romans. That teaching on grace shook the power of the corrupt church hierarchy.
- But the Epistle of James was a problem. Faith without works is dead was difficult for the leader of the Reformation. He called the epistle strawy and wondered if it should even be taken out of the NT.
Soren Kierkegaard later recognized the problems of his day when Luthers teaching on salvation by grace was misunderstood.
- He warned of worldliness and cheap grace. That Christ died so that we may indulge ourselves.
- We are free from all works. Long live Luther! Who loves not women, wine and song remains a fool his whole life long! This is the significance of the life of Luther, this man of God who, suited to the times, reformed Christianity.
- Kierkegaards comments still apply. We are so conditioned to react against faith by works and legalism that we can talk about holiness and spiritual discipline only with difficulty.
- Self-righteousness is repulsive. But how can we be righteous without being holier-than-thou? Can we celebrate spiritual maturity or must we be content to say Im just human?
Bonhoeffer Cheap grace vs. Costly Grace
James and Paul:
- James message is about the nature of faith. Faith, real faith, will take action. Thats just its nature. .
- Luther understood this: It is impossible to separate works from faith yea, just as impossible as to separate burning and shining from fire.
- Paul makes it clear that no work or deed can earn the love and grace of God. Gods salvation is a gift.
- It is unmerited, but to say it is unconditional is not entirely accurate for it changes our condition. Once we were sinners, now we are the saved. Once we were controlled by the sinful nature, now we are led by the Spirit of Christ.
- Gods love and grace are transforming. Paul believed that the Holy Spirit working in people could be seen in real action: the fruit of the spirit!
Mature in Christ:
- Paul believed that the goal of his ministry was to create mature believers. This I have taken as my vision statement for my ministry (Colossians 1:28)
- Christians arent perfect, just forgiven. Admirable for its humility, but not for its vision of holiness and maturity.
- We are called to work out our salvation. Not work for or work toward, but work out. That means our salvation must show in the flesh. Jesus was God in the flesh and our salvation (like our Lord) must come in the flesh. Our inward faith and our outward deeds must be consistent.
- This means we become intentional, deliberate and disciplined with the life we live. Why? Because not only have we heard the truth of the gospel, we desire to live it!
What Would Jesus Do (WWJD)?
- Why cant we just play golf like Tiger Woods? Why cant we simply play football like Eli Manning or Tom Brady after watching the Super Bowl?
- We know that they can do what they do because of years of training and a dedication to their sport. To be like them means much more than copying their moves after watching them once.
- WWJD on a deeper level means more than just thinking about Christ at a moment of decision or temptation. It means practicing his manner of life. It means being Christ every minute. Following him. How can we know what Jesus would do if we dont follow him totally?
- Look at what he did when he was alone he was in prayer, he fasted, he was in the temple at age 12. For Jesus, faith and works were the same thing. And it can be for us too if we will get serious about becoming disciples of the Lord Jesus.
The Great Commission:
- What is our plan for teaching our people to do everything Christ commanded? (Willard, p. 16) Does this seem like too much to ask? Its not my idea, its part of the great commission a part we have neglected.
- We have a sort of defeatist attitude too often. We admit that were going to sin no matter how hard we try, so we might as well just accept it. I think there is a way for us to be more confident without boasting. It will mean relying on the spirit of Christ. It will mean submitting our works to Gods will so that he can accomplish his purposes through us.
- Christianity can only be a guide if ... [see Willard p. ix]
- Our works and deeds do matter for salvation. But not so we will be saved. No, that misses the point its not for our sake, but for the sake of the world!
- The greatest obstacle for nonbelievers today is that they recognize no difference between Christians and non-Christians. How can we be salt if we have lost our saltiness?
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 3 February 2008
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