O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
Matthew Bates has a most interesting new book out entitled, Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King. From what I can gather (and I would like to read the book, so far only bits and pieces of it, and this interview), I think Bates is hitting on something which better explains all of scripture and specifically the passages on salvation, than the normal explanations we hear and have grown up with in our evangelical and fundamentalist churches.
At the same time, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t truth in many of our explanations, maybe in all of them, as Bates acknowledges himself. It is more like left to themselves, they’re not enough. As one of my wonderful professors in seminary used to say, Dr. Joe Crawford: Saving faith is always submissive faith. If not submitting to Jesus as Lord, then there’s no salvation, pure and simple. I think that strikes the iron against both easy believism and eternal security as sometimes taught in our churches (see Scot McKnight’s foreword, accessible in the “Look inside,” here).
Faith is not mere intellectual assent, or simply receiving a free gift, although both are part of it. It is more, much more. Even grace, biblically understood, is more than we make it out to be. It involves a free gift to be sure, but also a reciprocation of that gift to the giver, and to others. At least that’s so if what this book argues for it’s original meaning is the case. Such rings true to me.
Of course it is by grace we are saved through faith, not of our works as foundational, so that we certainly can’t boast. But good works not only follow, but seem part and parcel of this gift, nothing less than creation in Christ Jesus (see Ephesians 2:8-10).
Sometimes we need new challenges, some seismic, perhaps even paradigmatic shifts in our thinking. Let it sift us, settle, and shape and change us, if need be. The goal is to be true to the faith as revealed in scripture and the gospel, the good news in and through Jesus.
Once in a while, I wish it were more often, we might become aware of something new, either on the horizon, or which has arrived already, through which we are going to be challenged in a new way, our faith stretched and shaped to be more like Jesus. That is when we need to pray and wait and seek to live into and find what God has for us. Some trial and error almost certainly involved in that, to be sure. This is not found out on paper, but in real life.
Too often we jump to conclusions one way or another. Either dismissing it, because it doesn’t fit into our paradigm of faith we now have, or imagining we know already what we’re getting into, and the full significance of it. In doing so, we limit God, his working, and what we can learn, and most importantly our growth in the process.
We need to be present with all our deficiencies, realizing we’re not ready ourselves, and therefore waiting on God in faith. Not moving on our own, but trusting in God to guide us, to help us know and accomplish what we’re incapable of by ourselves.
In all of this, we continue to trust in God in and through Jesus, hold to the gospel, and keep going back to scripture in the fellowship of the church. Knowing that God is faithful and committed to us and to the salvation of all in and through Jesus.
In a recent post (which I hope to edit later) I referred to something in a way which is never done in scripture, though one might argue from one passage that it’s apt, though not directly so. In the passage I had in mind, there is plenty said, and one does well to stick to the thoughts in the passage instead of adding something extra, which ends up not being helpful at all.
You can see I have a passion to write Biblically, that is according to the words of the Bible, holy scripture, the written word of God, and the basis of our faith. Although the church by the Spirit has an important say in all of this as well, the church itself always has to go back to scripture.
The Bible is utterly amazing. It is a writing over an extended period of time beginning in the Ancient Near East up to and a generation past the time of Jesus. It would be an amazing education for anyone to simply become well versed in the Bible itself; there is so much more there than meets the eye, or what people imagine.
But more than that, much more, the Bible makes claims which God seems to back up in spades, beginning with the teaching that it is God’s word. Just how it’s God’s word is interesting, another education by itself, one involving hermeneutics, the art of interpretation. By faith God seems to back his word, and draws us into the beginning of depths yet to come. There is no end to that, more than a lifetime of delving in and growing, because it is more than a book.
And most important of all, the central point of scripture to which we’re drawn is the Word himself, Jesus, and the gospel, the good news in him. That ends up being the focal point, Jesus and his fulfillment of it all, a dynamic which is very much at the heart of what is going on today in the true witness of the faith worldwide in the church and out from the church through the gospel.
And so I don’t care to share my own thoughts, or thoughts elsewhere at least not as a part of my faith. Such can have value depending, actually fitting within the Biblical classification of general wisdom which arguably (again, according to scripture) God gives to all humankind. Instead I want everything to be framed and written according to the very words of scripture, Biblically no less. In the witness of the church pointing to Jesus and the good news in him.
Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”
This was the third time, and unlike the other times there is no recorded reaction from the disciples. I think Thomas might have spoken up according to John’s gospel account, saying that they should go to Jerusalem and die with him. In a way the disciples were getting used to this idea, even though it really hadn’t sinked in since it made no sense to them.
The cross of Jesus is called an offense (see especially the book of Galatians). It makes no sense to the world, the Jews in Jesus’s time certainly shunning it, since they sought for signs from God, and the fulfillment of the prophecies, which would include ushering Rome out of the promised land. Only wannabe failed messiahs died on crosses. The Gentiles of that time knew that it was power that controlled and ruled, and won the day. At best the idea of the cross and death and resurrection was an enigma; at worst, it was simply an empty tale, not part of the real world in which they lived.
Fastforward to now. Yes, we accept the cross as central to the faith, to our faith. But do we too often fail to see just what kind of application that has for our lives and witness in Jesus? I wonder. Too often Christians are saddled into politics, here in the US, the left and right. We offend for plenty of other reasons other than the cross of Jesus. Yes it’s true that we’re to be persecuted both because of Jesus and for righteousness. But the righteousness referred to is certainly fulfilled only in Jesus, probably underscored in that context in his Sermon on the Mount, though certainly including all of what God would mean from scripture for us today.
So we will encounter at least some flack for our stand for righteousness now. But we need to be careful that we take such stands in love, in the way of Jesus, the way of the cross. Righteousness in the sense of the true fulfillment is important to our message. But it is only in Jesus, and in his death and resurrection, the cross theologically the shorthand term for that, that we find the center from which we live, the new creation from God by the Spirit, and the witness we have to the world. In and through Jesus.
Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.
Loving God and loving others, and being loved. And a love that is practical, meeting people’s needs, especially the poor and afflicted. This is where it’s at, where true religion lies.
But love is vulnerable. You will always be hurt if you love, sometimes just because we don’t love well, as Rich Mullins says in one of his songs. Other times, because we fail to love at all.
Love in the Christian sense is never separate from the gospel, which is the greatest act and reality of love from the God who is love. God’s love in his Son in the love of the cross is indeed central to our faith. And love in the Christian sense is linked to faith and hope, the three things which remain according to 1 Corinthians 13.
Without this, everything is empty and meaningless, insofar as God’s valuation is concerned. This is part and parcel of true humanity which is being restored in Jesus, as we say from the letters in the Final/New Testament, “in Christ.” Everything must be measured by both the quantity and quality of love. And it’s not just any old kind of love, whatever good such loves might have. It is rooted and finds its true meaning and reality in the love of God in Jesus. The Spirit present to help us find, experience, and live in that love.
I am personally tired of Christians who don’t love, or go out of their way to love. And yet I need to remember just how poorly I love, and how empty and cold my own love can be. But that is where we need to light the fire: the love we had at first (Revelation 2). We need to fan the faint flicker of the love that is in us in Jesus, and over time, by God’s grace grow in and be molded by that love. Into the very image of Jesus together, in each of our unique expressions of that as the one body of Christ in and for the world. In and through Jesus.
And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samueland the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.
All of scripture has value for us in some way. Because of Jesus’s teaching and example, I may not participate in physical warfare, but spiritual warfare is most certainly another matter. And just as important as that, if not more so is the reality that life is hard and continuing on in faith is challenging. There’s certainly a piece of spiritual warfare going on in that, as the world, the flesh and the devil are indissolubly linked together. But it’s even in the ordinariness of life when we need to pick up and keep moving, even when the energy and passion are long gone, faith is the victory we have within our reach in and through Jesus.
For some reason, actually for a number of understandable reasons lately, the peace of God in my life has subsided, which probably to some extent is my own fault, definitely surely my own lack of faith. Yesterday, besides the edifying time at my mother’s church in the Bible teaching class, the worship-song time, and the message, I was helped by hearing this message from Charles Stanley. What came across for me was the gentle voice of the Lord encouraging me to trust him (Proverbs 3:5-6).
But still the stress and strain of life can get to us at times, and the feeling of being overwhelmed can be the norm. What we need at that point is both a focus on the Lord, and the wherewithal to accept the hard place and go on by faith. In the Lord’s strength, rather than our own, and in spite of our sense of weakness. Being willing to walk through the hardest places, face the most difficult challenges, and still seek to stand in the Lord in the midst of it all, come what may. Another way of putting it perhaps, is to accept the iron in one’s soul so to speak to enable us, instead of disabling us, in the way and will of the Lord. All by faith. Just as those people of faith did long ago in the midst of their trouble. In and through Jesus.