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.

a passion to write Biblically

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.

the true faith and the offense of the cross

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!”

Matthew 20

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.

please love: let’s grow in God’s love together

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.

Matthew 24

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.

“a mother in Israel”: a tribute to my mother for Mother’s Day

Villagers in Israel would not fight;
    they held back until I, Deborah, arose,
    until I arose, a mother in Israel.

Judges 5

Deborah was a judge during difficult times since God’s people Israel were not faithful to God. The Song of Deborah is a celebration of the deliverance the Lord brought as a result of Deborah’s faithfulness in becoming a spiritual mother in Israel. That song and the entire account (not that long) is worth the read, gruesome as some of Judges is, at certain places, but nevertheless an inspiration for us today (Judges 4-5).

My mother is a spiritual mother, as well as, obviously a physical mother to me. Through her witness and prayers I came to faith, along with the preaching of Billy Graham, and the faithful teaching of scripture at our church. But more than any person I knew, my mother’s witness was key in me coming to faith. So she was and is a spiritual mother to me.

Like Deborah, Mom is willing to take the lead when others don’t. She is especially good and zealous at telling others about Jesus and the good news in him. She is not the least bit shy to do so, even though for us children, at least for me, anyhow, it was embarrassing at times. But it taught me something, actually a lot, in being faithful as a witness of Jesus to others.

And Mom had to put up, along with Dad to a long spell of rebellion during my teenage years. But through her prayers and faithful witness, often in her singing of hymns, I finally came to faith at the beginning of my senior year in high school. And to this day, by God’s grace, Mom’s witness remains the same, constant and faithful because of God’s faithfulness and grace in Christ Jesus.

And so we have witnesses we’ll never forget, whose influence by God’s Spirit rubs off on us to change us forever. Not perfect people, thank goodness, or I would be excluded. But people whose hearts are set on the perfect God. In and through Jesus.

God’s accessment of our work (of our lives)

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

1 Corinthians 3

It isn’t easy to pin down exactly what the Apostle Paul is saying in this passage (see entire passage by clicking 1 Corinthians 3), since this seems to apply directly to the leaders the Corinthian church were idolizing, and perhaps their own misguided assessment of them. Which theoretically could be carried over into their own lives. After all, we become like or somehow emulate the gods we look to, or hopefully the God we look to in and through Christ. But part of our sin is to place idols in our hearts.

Christ is the foundation of the good news and the life we have and live, even live out. So that what we build on Christ in our work and teaching must be appropriate to Christ. We might truly look to Christ, but mix this or that or something else with Christ which is not of him, stuff that eventually won’t stand, in the words of the text here, will not endure the test of the fire.

This makes me wonder about everything I do, about my life. Does that adhere with and to Christ? What about my attitudes along the way? Love and truth must be paramount. We all fail, or don’t completely measure up to the stature of Christ, to be sure. But together we should be growing up into that likenesss to and maturity in him. Not in any human leader, except that we follow them (as Paul wrote) as they follow Christ.

This isn’t easy, to say the least. But in the hardest parts, our character is revealed, and with those hard parts comes opportunity. In the meantime we need to repent where needed, and grow together no less into the image of the Lord through whom we live.

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.