the faith required for salvation

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.

rooting out bitterness

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

Hebrews 12

We have all been hurt, sometimes in life-altering ways. And too often in ways we learn to live with in not such a good way. I think of those molested in childhood, others who have suffered physical or emotional abuse. Words inflict injury as well. James tells us that the tongue is a world of evil. Like a serpent, full of deadly poison (James 3). We carry around with us wounds, which hopefully are largely healed, or in the process of healing. But if not, can perpetuate a cycle of harm. “Hurt people hurt people.”

Oftentimes it seems that this root called bitterness plays out in people finding something wrong, something amiss and off, quick to judge others. And even when such judgments might be either largely or partially true, there is a poison in the air, which inflicts those around them. I think of what should be called gossip, or perhaps better, not putting the best construction on what’s being said or done. And unless we refuse to participate in such, we are taken in, and the problem can grow. It is sad when we can see that is where some people live. And yet we can have more of that in ourselves than we might imagine.

The text above tells us not just to look after ourselves, although that is surely where it must start. But we in Jesus, in the church need to look out for each other, as well. That means we have to guard our tongues to be sure, and work at guarding our hearts. We have to love others, including those who seem on a one track existence due to their bitterness. We all need help along the way, sometimes special help. The goal would be to root out the bitterness, get rid of that poisonous root. Otherwise it is sure to defile others, perhaps many.

Basics like prayer and loving counsel and repentance, and continuing to work against this, seem to be essential. And what is needed in all of this is an emphasis on grace (again, note the text above), no less than an air of grace in which we are careful to consider our actions, words, and what underlies that, our thoughts and attitudes. There is no other way of together following the way of Jesus.

 

avoiding gossip

The words of a gossip are like choice morsels;
    they go down to the inmost parts.

Proverbs 26

Gossiping is one of the themes covered in the book of Proverbs. It carries the idea of talking about others behind their back in disparaging ways, usually in a way that highlights their supposed character defects, or whatever perceived weaknesses they have. It often refers to something that has happened, or is going on. It ends up being a moral sickness for those who practice it, and for others who participate in that practice by merely listening. Listening and taking it in, as the passage quoted above indicates, is just as much to participate in it, as the actual gossiper, at least in how it affects the one who listens. By listening, one is affirming what the gossiper is doing.

It becomes more tricky when one just throws in some kind of slant about someone in the midst of what otherwise is normal talk. That is when one should be on guard in their heart not to be taken in, maybe ask a question, or say something which puts into question what is said, and perhaps exonerates the one who has been belittled.

To be a gossip means to have a moral sickness of heart. It is rampant in our society, it seems. Instead of talking about issues, we impugn the character of those we disagree with. And everyone more or less ends up doing that, so that it becomes a vicious cycle. And this affects those who don’t, so that they have to work at not doing the same, even while under their breath perhaps doing so.

We have to learn to hate this kind of practice, and a large part of that is to love the truth, and honesty. And graciousness of thought and speech is essential for this, as well. We should think the best of others, and when we see them fail, hope for better. We need the same grace ourselves from others.

Honesty and truth telling, and above all, being gracious in both thinking and seeking the best for others is essential. If we have a problem with someone, we should go to that person and talk to them, oftentimes clearing up a misunderstanding in the process. And when an offensive behavior persists, we should be slow to go to anyone else, of course depending on what the issue is, and what kind of help that person might need.

And we need to watch ourselves. Especially our hearts to avoid the damage which can be inflicted on others through our tongues. Instead we need to speak the truth in love and as it is in Jesus, and keep looking to Jesus and God’s good news in him, as we look at everything else. Seeing all through that, with the hope that brings for us all.

identifying with the poor

In my culture here in the United States, there seems to be a belief that has taken hold of many, that people are poor for a reason, meaning the poor are essentially at fault for being so. I’ve heard it put quite starkly that way, as if there are no outside factors which have contributed to their plight. Let’s face it, everyone makes less than best decisions at time, surely all of us have even done foolishly sometime when it comes to finances. But those who have a steady job and especially with a good income, have a nice margin of error, whereas the poor, who may not get much over minimum wage, do not. Yes, there’s all kinds of considerations to be added, like how some (some would say many) want to live off the government, while they smoke their cigarrettes and sit in front of the television. Yet there are others who have given up because they felt marginalized and simply didn’t have the qualifications needed to overcome.

Yes, there are poor people in the United States who barely have enough to eat, at times not enough. But most are helped in some way by the government or private agencies such as charities. The world’s poor in comparison suffer a much greater plight, since they often don’t have the resources that the poor here do. I think of places in Africa in which there is starvation even of children, often war ravaged areas in which governments can’t stop evil militia groups, oftentimes the governments themselves being corrupt.

People removed perhaps on the other side of the globe are sadly easy to dismiss or forget. But people suffering where we live is another matter. And yet we so easily live in bubbles among those of our economic, political, religious status, seldom breaking out of them enough to even begin to get to know the “others.”

To identify with the poor is essentially the way of Jesus, whose entire life, in fact coming was about identifying with the poverty of the human condition by becoming completely human except that he never sinned.

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

2 Corinthians 8

So we must start with our Lord, and it’s good to see it in the context of the above passage just cited (the link goes to 2 Corinthians 8 and 9). Paul was encouraging the Corinthian church to give monetarily, an offering for their poor brothers and sisters in Jesus in Judea. Some in their poverty gave generously for the help of others in spite of their own lack.

In and through Jesus, our hearts are to go out to the poor, and we’re to help them in practical ways in the love of our Lord, those who do not know him, with the good news of the gospel, itself.

We also need to be careful that Money doesn’t replace God in our lives. This is a life changing series, entitled, “God and Money,” which while saying a good number of things we may already know, is revolutionary in challenging us to see all of our resources as not only gifts from God, but also belonging to God, we being stewards of such. That needs to get into our hearts and bones to change our lives.

May the Lord teach us more in this direction, as we endeavor to walk together with him, longing for others to know the true riches we have found in him.

grace strengthens our hearts (but the law doesn’t)

Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so. We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat.

The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

Hebrews 13

The language of grace is different than what we’re accustomed to, in fact I would say it’s largely foreign to us. We tend to fall into one extreme or another: into living an obligatory life in trying to please God (law), or less likely for myself and people I know, simply believing that we can’t not sin in this life, so we might as well get on with it. But if we’re to learn the language of Paul, we’ll have to learn another tune altogether than either one of these.

It’s true that someone other than Paul most likely wrote the letter to the Hebrews. But that person was certainly in sync with Paul and the message of grace found in Paul’s letters. It’s a message that is radically simple, and simply radical. What we could never do ourselves, Christ did for us through his appearing (the Incarnation), his teaching (pointing us to the kingdom come in him, the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel for the world), and his death and resurrection.

Particularly through Christ’s death, as the book of Hebrews makes clear, our sins are forgiven, and we live in a new realm, the realm of grace. This might be a hard one to wrap our heads around, since most all of our lives we’ve been accustomed to living in the default of law, or obligation. Where we’ve lived is tricky. We believe and feel that we’re obliged to do something for the one who gave his all for us.

That’s tricky and even a bit deceptive since in reality we certainly can’t add a thing to what Christ has done for us. Nor can we delete a thing from it, either, by what we do or fail to do. Of course we can sin against that sacrifice, even as Hebrews itself warns us (see Hebrews chapters 6 and 10). We can treat it in a contemptuous or careless way.

The heart is not strengthened when it is under the constraint and obligation of law. See Romans 7 for the clearest indication of that. There Paul is referring to life under the law apart from grace (Romans 6) and the Holy Spirit (Romans 8). Our only hope for beginning to live the new life is the very same grace through which we entered into that life in the first place. Our own effort, or prescribed works (or proscribed as in forbidden, for that matter) will not carry us into that new life, in fact cannot be a part of it. But on the basis of God’s grace to us in Jesus, we indeed are put into a realm in which there is a new life to be lived, but a life never dependent even on our own faithfulness, but only on that of the Son of God, who loved us and gave himself for us (Galatians 2:20; see the CEB and context).

That is what I’m working on now. To better understand so as to begin to more fully live in the grace of God in Jesus. And by that live a life in which the heart is strengthened to carry on well in and through Christ himself from the Father by the Spirit.

the watchword for this time: grace

We live in a tumultuous time when nearly everything seems in flux with radical change coming in epic proportions; in biblical language the heavens being shaken, the sun blotted out, the moon turned to blood, and the stars falling down from the sky.

And we live in a time when friends, family, and yes, even Christians disagree with each other on issues in a way at least in which there can be no compromise, set in our ways of thinking and understanding. However we might assess that, that’s not the point of this post. We must take care not to sin against the one reality which is given to us in Jesus.

What is needed today is grace in the distinctive way of Jesus, the grace we find through the gospel. So that even in our disagreements we in Jesus apply grace to each other, forgiving each other when we misspeak, and holding on to the one truth and reality that unites us: the good news in Jesus. We might define this grace as loving each other no matter what in and through the gospel, that we are family, bonded together in love in and through Jesus. Something we have, and need to grow in.

How that plays out is important. We can seek to persuade on what we must acknowledge are lesser things than the gospel, however important they well may be. Humility should help us, since we all know in part, and are to some extent part of the problem in one way or another, even if it’s in simply ignoring what might come to our attention that is unpleasant.

What we must hold on to for ourselves, for each other, and for our witness to the world is our essential unity in God through Christ by the Spirit. We are fully committed together to the good news of God in Jesus, meant to impact our lives in the hard places, and keep us unified in love, even when other issues would pull us apart and break the communion we have. We must show the world the better way.

What about when we think people, especially those in Christian leadership are off the mark? Are we praying for them? We can strongly, yet respectfully disagree with them. Grace ironically dictates there, and dictates nothing less than that.

And the grace which pours out of the gospel in Jesus, a love no matter what, which holds each other up in encouragement as well as accountability to the gospel because we care, that is the watchword we need to hold on to. For ourselves, for each other, and for our witness to the world in and through Jesus.

when who judge others we condemn themselves

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Matthew 7

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.

Romans 2

It is interesting how often it is apparent that the very thing we see wrong in another is something we practice ourselves. We need insight from God to be able to see that. Jesus doesn’t tell us to quit judging as in having discernment in the Matthew passage quoted above. Rather he tells us to make sure we are scrupulous to take care of the sin in our own lives,  before we think we can help someone else with the sin in their lives. The crux of the matter is that we’re not to condemn others in a kind of final judgment which only God can make.

I think Paul is saying much the same thing in the Romans passage quoted above. He is challenging Jews who think that just because they had the Law/Torah, they were a cut (circumcision) above the rest. But Paul makes it clear in that letter that just like the rest of humankind, they too were under the power of sin. So that again, an emphasis is made on judging one’s self with reference to that Torah, and becoming obedient to the Law’s requirement, which is love for God and for our neighbor from the heart by the Spirit.

James has some good words for us related to this:

Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

James 4

Simply put, we’re not to put ourselves in the place of God. And here:

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

James 2

Finally, in a sense bringing this to full circle, back to our Lord’s words:

Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.

John 7

I am very wary of topical studies such as this one, because they too often don’t do justice to the context of each passage, and are summarily slapped together in a way which ultimately often fails to support the main point, or at least is simplistic, failing to take into account the whole. Of course we should compare scripture with scripture, no doubt, while letting each passage and book within scripture have its own voice to be appreciated within the mix of the whole.

Today the point is that we must beware and at least be wary of judging others, since only God can see and judge, and since we are sinners, too. But as by grace we do judge ourselves, God will give us insight to help others judge themselves by God’s grace on the path of righteousness. And in the end, we should apply mercy, remembering that mercy ultimately triumphs over judgment. In other words, God’s salvation in Jesus overcomes the judgment and brings mercy in and through Jesus. So that we should learn to see both ourselves and others in light of that great reality and hope.