saved for good works

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:8-10

This is a classical salvation verse quoted many times, and used to show that our works don’t save us, but faith. Of course the faith that saves us works, as James clearly teaches. James seems to contradict Paul in that he says we are justified by works, whereas Paul says we’re not justified by works, but by faith. I think the point James was making is that our faith is proved genuine by our works. Paul really says the same thing if you read his letters. And this passage points that direction as well. We are actually created in Christ Jesus for good works. The point of the Greek word, peripateō (περιπατήσωμεν), likely means that good works are our way of life in Christ Jesus.

The good works we do are as unique as the new creations, indeed handiwork each one of us are in Christ Jesus. We are all created uniquely different, like different snowflakes. And new creation is the same. Many of us may do the same things, but they have our own signature on them, exactly how we do them. And we also do different things. Some are adept with hammers and nails, others at playing music, still others in solving problems, and the list goes on and on. There are a number of spiritual gifts listed in different places in scripture (1 Corinthians 13; Romans 12; Ephesians 4; 1 Peter 4), all involving good works. Whatever our hand finds to do, we’re to do it wholeheartedly and for the Lord as a blessing to others.

Of course what we do is all because of God’s gift to us. We can and should develop what has been given to us, but in the end we have to recognize that it’s 100% a gift from God. So that God gets all the glory as we give him thanks for what we can do, actually often enjoy doing, and with the wonder that it can be a blessing to others.

What we do proceeds from who we are. And who we are can be a mix of good and bad due to creation and sin, true for us at least much of the time even as Christians. We must be humble, knowing whatever is good comes from God. The desire to do so, and the actual work itself. In and through Jesus.

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we speak, act, and live from Jesus’s authority

They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you authority to do this?”

Jesus replied, “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin? Tell me!”

They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin’ …” (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.)

So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”

Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

Mark 11:27-33

There is no question that Jesus acted, spoke, and lived with a sense of unusual authority. It was in marked contrast to the religious leaders of his day who lived strictly according to the tradition of the elders. Jesus’s authority was from God, specifically from the Father by the Spirit. It seems to have been derived due to his humanity, yet at the same time Jesus seems to have had authority in himself.

Trinitarian authority seems to be in the union the Persons of God have with each other. The Father may be the fountainhead so to speak, but in the Trinity itself, such authority is shared.

But when it comes to the Incarnation, God becoming flesh, Jesus lived in utter dependence on God. He prayed to God, even appealed to him in the Garden of Gethsemane. This all seems to be related to the Incarnation, to the humanity God took on. Jesus said he could have called on the Father, and could have received a legion of angels, but that God’s will had to be fulfilled.

In Christ, we now live with the same sense of authority. This impacts our actions, words, and very lives. We do so in the weakness of this present state. Sometimes we can be quite bold, but often whatever boldness we might have is tempered by our weakness. But make no mistake, we act, speak, and live from the authority of God in and through Jesus.

This certainly doesn’t make us infallible by any means. Strictly speaking only God is right, and only God knows. And it’s not about us individually as much as it is about us together, the church, and what God gives the church. But this does extend out to us in our individual lives. We speak from God insofar as we’re actually doing so, and that speaking is tied to God’s word in Christ, the gospel, and for the purpose of making disciples. Jesus explicitly said that since all authority in heaven and earth had been given to him, that we’re to make disciples (Matthew 28). I take it by extension from the apostles, that we’re included in that, at least the church at large.

And so we live in the authority of God in and through Christ.

the serpent or the dove?

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

James 3:13-18

Sometimes I wonder if it’s the serpent or the dove that’s influencing my thoughts, which can then impact my actions. Actually it’s not that hard to tell. Beginning with just the effect it’s having on me, whether thoughts filled with what’s good, or dark despondent despairing, or something else not good.

It doesn’t matter at all what we say if our lives don’t back up our words. In fact our lives need to be in order first, really, before whatever we might say means anything. This passage in James follows Jame’s stern, relatively drawn out words on the danger of the tongue.

It is the person we’re becoming by God’s grace and the Spirit through Christ that is important. Little else matters besides. That will make the difference needed in our lives, and through our lives into the lives of others. In and through Jesus.

being the light we are in Jesus in the darkness

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:13-16

I think we’re in a dark spot in world history myself. But the darkness is actually palpable or at least present in any era. In fact, when it seems the most light is when it can actually be the most dark.

If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

Matthew 6:23b

Paul tells us essentially the same thing, of course in a different context and with a different pastoral concern:

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.

Ephesians 5:8-10

All of that to say, no matter what era we live, we have to realize that only in the Lord are we light. And the rest is darkness. The darkness may seem light, perhaps as in reminiscing on “the good old days.” But that can especially be dangerous in that the reality is more subtle. When the Antichrist finally comes, won’t it be in the guise of light, like Satan, who masquerades as an angel of light, and his servants, who masquerade as servants of righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:14-15)? We must beware of embracing darkness in any form.

Our light is in Christ, what we’re to let shine before the world. Not that no good can come out of the world in God’s working. But only in Christ are we light, and we’re to let that light shine before others with our good works, just as Jesus told us (first quote above).

In this way we fight against the darkness so prevalent. We speak the truth in love, and above all, seek to live it out in love, the truth of God in Jesus.

This may seem counter what we think or have practiced. We must beware lest we get caught up into the darkness ourselves. Instead, we must simply live out what we already are, in and through Jesus.

scripture’s centrality for life

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

Evangelical Christians emphasize both the centrality of Christ, and the centrality of scripture. Scripture is given an authoritative status to which the church is to submit. I grew up a part of that tradition, remained in it after conversion, and have been in it ever since, even if I have had a closeness to the Great Tradition (specifically the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox their cousin, when we were part of an evangelical Anglican church) at one point. Even when we were a part of a charismatic (Vineyard) church, though I did lighten up on the word at that point, while I was trying to get more attuned to the Spirit, I think I was considered a word person by others in that church, even at that point. But this post, and I hope blog is not about me. I only try to share my own testimony, and experience both to help myself, and hopefully someone who might read this.

My consistent testimony has been that it’s the word we need to be in day and night, that it’s there where we can find the real presence of Christ, and God’s help day to day. Not to minimalize the sacraments, especially in churches where a more traditional view is taught from scripture. I have much respect for that. Special place should be given to water baptism and the Lord’s Table, no doubt. We don’t do well by scripture to treat them as merely helpful add-ons.

But my point in this post is that we need to be those who are in the word, in scripture, meaning the Bible, in every way possible. We shouldn’t be overwhelmed by the prospect. but should take it both in large and small pieces. Listen to scripture being read, and go through the entire Bible again and again. Read portions or paragraphs along the way, and let the words sink in.

For me all of this is helpful, because more often than not, I feel quite uninspired in and of myself. Life has been challenging, and there is no let up for the most part. So I feel the great need to be in the word on a regular basis, and at best most all the time. And with that, in response– prayers.

Notice in the scripture passage above, what the person of God, transliterated anthrōpos, which in the context of this letter is aptly translated “servant of God” by the NIV, but literally is either “person” or “man” of God, but notice what scripture is meant to do for them, and by extension, through their lives and ministry for others, and by secondary application, to all who follow their example. It is meant to teach, rebuke, correct, and train in righteousness, so that the person might be ready to do good in serving others. It is not for mere head knowledge, but all about life, and all of life (Psalm 119:105). In and through Jesus.

 

a good plan and what is not, according to James

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

James 4:13-17

Planning is good, and especially planning with good in mind, as in having others in mind. James’s words here are not at all undermining the value of planning. But as in the wisdom tradition we find in Proverbs, James is simply stating that in the end it is God who will determine not only the outcome, but whether or not it takes place at all. All must be subject to God’s will.

It is often a matter of wanting to be in control, in fact that is the default attitude of so many of us much of the time. I think of entrepreneurs. And of course it’s not wrong to be one. A good one will plan and yet be able to adjust with the flow of things, and figure out what it takes to be successful. And yet behind that can be either an unwillingness, or more likely, not even taking into account any possibility that God might want something entirely different.

James chalks that up to boasting in one’s arrogant schemes. And we can be sure that such plans are not in line with God’s will. There is the lack of humility in acknowledging God and God’s will. And there’s the lack of appreciation for just how uncertain life is, both in terms of what might actually happen, and whether or not one will actually live to see it. It is as if someone is taking the place of God in their own attitude. Certainly not the mind of Christ whose delight it was to do God’s will, and submitted to it even when it was against his will as he did in Gethsemane.

James is warning believers, but he’s also encouraging them to submit their plans to God. That those plans might have value in God’s eyes, so that God may see them through.

who is wise and understanding among you?

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

James 3:13-18

Who is wise and understanding among you? We ought to stop there and meditate on that. What is our own take on just what that means? Does it line up with what’s said here and elsewhere in God’s word? Probably many of us know the truth well enough so that it’s good to stop dead in our tracks and consider our own lives in light of that. We likely through Jesus will see some movement in our hearts and lives toward that ideal, but will also most certainly understand that we fall short of experiencing any of it at times, and need to grow both in depth, and in consistency in practicing such.

Remember that this word of James is in the context of what he was saying about the danger of the tongue (entire context: chapter 3 in our Bibles). We are good at talking, but not so good at walking. And our talk easily gets off track and out of hand. So James counsels slowness to speech and eagerness to listen, not to mention slowness to anger as well.

It’s our lives that will speak volumes, and either validate or invalidate what we profess, or say. Our words can certainly drown out our profession. “I hear what you say, but I see how you live.” On the other hand, our lives can make people want to know just what makes us tick. We show we’re receiving this grace from God through how we live in mostly small and larger ways each and every day.

Gentleness or humility is what should characterize us, demonstrated with good deeds. This is wisdom; this is understanding. It’s not a long or even short discourse that enlightens others. It’s our lives that speak, out of hearts receiving wisdom from God in God’s grace to us in Jesus. And it’s not something we can hardly put our finger on. We certainly can’t take credit ourselves. Perhaps we could say it’s shutting our mouths, and getting out of the way, so that we can finally be in God’s way in Jesus. Growing and living in that way.

A false wisdom, surely looked at as great, but phony is out there. Wrong ideas of greatness, and how to get there. Worldly wisdom which is linked even to the demonic. We can’t separate what scripture calls the world (system), the flesh, and the devil.

Then there’s the real wisdom, that which is from above, from God. Full of love and active for others in accord with what’s given to us, and needed by them. Marked by making peace in a way that promotes or at least doesn’t get in the way of righteousness. And we receive from others that good ourselves. Something always needed, which we need to grow into and begin to live out more and more and never let go of, in and through Jesus.