Monthly Archives: June 2009

James 2;14-26 We are justified by faith alone, but the faith that justifies is never alone.

Ah, the book of James.  Arguably one of the most difficult books in the New Testament.  So much so that Martin Luther at times wished it had never been written, simply because it is so easy to misinterpret, and largely because of this section we are about to venture through.  Luther said the position of a preacher is a precarious one… for on one hand, one must preach justification by faith alone, and yet also one must preach on the necessity of good works.  For if one only preaches faith, he gets a bunch of false converts who do nothing, but if he preaches works he gets a bunch of self righteous legalists.  So my danger is great here, as I try to walk the tightrope of works and faith.  I tell you, it makes me tremble inside, for to not keep the balance is to mislead, and perhaps greivously wound those God has given me to care for, and in my opinion, nowhere is the tension between faith and works more clearly displayed than this section of James.  James has a clear concern that his hearers are not grasping what saving faith is, and I believe it is evident from the text alone that he has written to refute the idea of a saving mental assent; an assent that acknowledges Christ as savior and God, but does not go any deeper to teh heart of the gospel.  James uses strong language to refute this error, and I think we can see a good example of how our hearts should react to what has been coined today as easy believism.  He says things like faith without works is dead.  He compares some of his heaers faith to that of the devils, and makes one of the more confounding statements in the New Testament: “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”  Oh brethren, this is not something to pass over lightly, but it should stop us in our tracks, and make us scratch our head and ask God “What does this mean?”  How does this fit into the rest of the New Testament?  Would Paul be able to sit at the same table as James?  The tension is clear… Paul is clear… by no works of the law shall flesh be justified.  Yet, here is James.  Is he contradicting Paul and thus is the scripture contradicting itself?  Or are Paul and James in agreement?  Can I marry James to Romans?  My answer to you is yes, you can.  And for this reason Paul does not speak of a lifeless faith unaccompanied by works, but of a faith that radically changes our beings and propels us into the very things James says prove justifying faith in our hearts.

To Prove my assertion, we must ask ourselves one great and vital question.  A question if answered wrongly could spell our doom.  “What is faith?  And how does it change me?”   For years I pondered this question.  I longed to understand it, for I knew as I know now that to misunderstand this and teach my misunderstanding was a one way ticket to destruction.  So, let’s take a minute to look at the core of all motivations, good deeds and sin, and see if we can’t come to a deeper understanding. Knowing that God gives understanding, let us ask Him for it knowing as James says that He gives liberally without reproach.  It is my firm belief that all men always do what they believe will make them most contented, and ultimately happy.  From the zen buddhist to the suicide bomber.  From the hardcore criminal to the man who hangs himself.  We all chase after the things that we believe will make us most contented and ultimately happy.  I hold this truth to be self evident, but just in case it isn’t, let me ask you this:  Why do you do what you do?  When you sin, is it not because you believe there is something in it that will please you?  Something in it that will fulfill you?  Of course you do.  You wouldn’t do it otherwise.  Even all the way down to the man who kills himself.  What man would attempt suicide when he is happy and in great circumstances?  No, it is the ones who believe that in killing themselveas they will have release from their sufferings.  Death would be better than life, oblivion better than pain.  Some are even duped into believing that Hell is better than what they suffer here.  So, what of good deeds?  Is the motivation not the same?   Is it not done because one believes it will bring something of value to not only the recipient, but also the doer?  Even Kant can’t escape this truth when he speaks of dispassionate virtue.  He neglects to realize that the reason he seeks to be dispassionate in duty is because he believes deep down that this is the best, most contented way for a man to live.  Now did anyone notice how many times I used the word “believe?” (7 times) It is important, because you will chase after, worship, and fight for whatever you believe will give you satisfaction.  We are hard wired this way.  Our problem is not that we seek after fullfillment, but that we seek it in all the wrong places.  Places that we have been told by God Himself won’t pay out anything but misery and death.  The problem is, we just don’t believe Him.  See, the issue is not that man is faithless, it is that we put our faith in all the wrong places, and usually never in the one place that will truly pay off.  Yes, even in the world, faith produces works.  That’s how you know where your faith really is.  The man that believes he will have fulfillment in sex has no choice but to seek sex like water, and in that he does the work of fornication and adultery.  The man that believes being violent will fix his problems and bring him peace is a violent man.  Likewise, the man that believes that knowing Christ and God in him will follow after Him and spare no expense in doing so.  And by nature of chasing what he believes will satisfy him, will disdain and walk away from every other competing source of satisfaction.  He will cut out eyes and limbs to have what he desires.  In this, all men are alike.  We will sacrifice whatever it takes to have what we believe will be of most benefit to us, without exception.  And this belief, this faith always produces action… this is the crux of what James is saying!  If a man says he has the faith that saves him from sin and the world, but continues to find his life in sin and the world, then that man is deceived at best, and a fraud at worst.  His faith is not faith at all, it is a dead thing.  It’s not breathing.  Oh, he will still have works indeed, but his works will manifest where hs faith truly is.  This is why James says what he says in 2:18.  The devils know who God is, they know who Christ is, and I would venture that they know what He has done better than most, and yet it makes them shudder.  They hate Him and who knows where their faith lies?  But I tell you this, they would not have fallen if they had not believed it possible to ascend to the throne of the Most High.  And neither would we for that matter.  No, indeed by an act of belief man fell, and by an act of belief, man is restored.  This begs the question again.  What is saving faith?

I’m glad you asked.  Saving faith is believing in the person of Christ.  It is believing first that He is who He says He is.  It is believing that He paid the penalty for your sins on the tree and that apart from His payment, you are damned because you cannot earn God’s pardon, you are too bent.  No amount of good deeds can make you love God.  No amount of good deeds can take away the stain of sin.  Saving faith is a belief that in dying for us, Christ has purchased out forgiveness and the way to God is clear, God is reconciled to us.  Saving faith says I will be reconciled to HIm.  Saving faith believes that true satisfaction is found in knowing who God is and in knowing Him in our lives as God.  Saving faith believes that because we are reconciled to God and He is all we need we have no need for the lies we used to chase after.  His commands are ways for us to see him and know Him more in our lives, and in that respect His commands are not a burden, for they will cause us to have more of the one we must have!  Saving faith loves Jesus, because He is ever increasingly everything we need.  It holds on to Him because it realizes without Him no satisfaction forever.  It must have Him and is miserable without Him.  This faith produces action.  Actions of good will toward men because we have no need of men or their things, or their opinions of us.  We have God’s good pleasure in Christ.  It produces compassion in our hearts because we become what we behold, and He is compassionate, and it is our joy to behold Him, and be like Him.  For saving faith also realizes that we are made and saved so that we might bear His image and that in doing so we will be satisfied.  It is after all, the best way to be.  This faith produces the fruit of the Spirit:  Love, joy, peace, ect, for we know the promises of God are yes and true in Jesus.  Does it change the way one lives?  You had better believe it.  AAs the sun of faith rises in our hearts, it ever more increasingly changes our lives.  This faith that justifies also sanctifies.  And if a man is not being sanctified, he has no reason to believe that he is justified.  Now the question is, do you have the faith of which I speak?

Amen

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Come into the light.

I was once told by a wiser man then I to “preach what I most smartingly feel,” so I would like to share with you some of my particular struggles in the faith, mainly how I handle my heart after I fall down.  See, all too often I am like Adam.  When I sin the first thing I want to do is cover up my shame.  Ahh, we live in a civilized world so no fig leaves for me.  No, I reach out to sow myself an apron out of justifications for my behavior, and I might feel pretty good about my new clothes for a New York minute, but then I hear the voice of my Father calling.  So what is my next move?  Well, I am tempted to run and hide.  For me, this is a miserable state of affairs, because I usually am tempted to hide deeper in my sin or in the trees of the garden of the world (we call these trees distractions), but inevitably, I too come out of the woods and tell my Father why I have been hiding out.  It is at this point that I am sorey tempted to pass the buck and make excuses; anything to keep me from wearing the blame.  Truth be known, I don’t like seeing my sin, anymore then then ext guy.  This is a painful process, and it’s all too common to mankind.  The problem is, we make it worse when we don’t bleed and say there is no cure for our disease.  So, I would like to share with you a better way.  Now, what I’m about to assert is scary; it ain’t no kids game.  It takes courage.  It takes fortitude.  And most importantly, it takes 2 weapons that have a tendency to elude us in crisis (faith and humility).  What am I suggesting we do?  Why, simply come out naked, and throw ourselves at his feet crying for mercy.  No hiding, no excuses, no masks, just you… bare and broken, admitting your sin without excuse.  Sound easy?  Well, it’s not.  See, it’s near impossible, heck, it IS impossible to do without faith.  See, it’s natural to hide and justify, and pass the buck.  It doesn’t take nothin’ but unbelief to do that.  I do it all because at the end of the day, I believe that God is gonna reject me, so I cover, hide, and run.  It takes faith to trust that He will not reject me.  I fear retribution… that’s natural, but it takes Faith to believe that God WANTS AND LIKES to be merciful to His children.  I feel dirty and shameful… it don’t take no faith to feel that way.  But it takes faith to believe that He has made me righteous.  It doesn’t take faith to believe that God is gonna put me out, but it does take faith to believe that He never will.  It takes faith to see how vile and guilty you are, and still know (even though your feelings say otherwise) that He has called you clean, and innocent.  How is this possible?  One word, one name, one exultant cry of relief.  Christ!  Christ has made it possible for us to be what we never could be.  On that cross, Christ paid for our sins, he took our place and bore the wrath of God in our stead.  Do you know what that means!?  That the wrath of God is satisfied concerning you.  Think on it for a moment.  All the punishment and derision you deserve was poured out on another.  Because of Christ the debt we owe to God has been paid in full!

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…” (Romans 5:1 NIV).

His sacrifice is so satisfying to God that we will never see hell or know rejection.  So perfect, that indeed anyone who will come out of the woods naked for forgiveness will only know mercy and grace.  Christ, through his death and Resurrection, has made it possible for all who believe to come before God with a brutal self-abasing honesty about our motives, actions, and sinful desires.  He calls to us “come you sinners, poor and needy, lost and ruined by the fall!”  But if you in pride and unbelief tarry until you become better, you will never come at all.  Unlike Adam, I do not need to hide or fear.  My God has made peace with me in Christ.  I have no need to pass the buck, I can admit like David “I have sinned” and in my heart hear the prophets reply “You shall not die.  God has taken away your sin.”  Ahh, what a Savior!  What grace, that Christ was rejected so that I would not be!  Do you know oh child of God that you are a new creation that the righteousness of Christ rests on you and all who are in the second Adam.

“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned – for before the law was given, sin was in the world.  But sin is not taken into account when there is no law.  Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.  But the gift is not like the trespass.  For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!  Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.  For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.  (Romans 5:12-17)

That just as sin passed from Adam to Moses to all his descendants, that in Christ righteousness flows undeserved to all His children, and the curse of separation is lifted.  We are no longer fallen in Christ.  We have a new nature that will one day swallow up the old one.  We have no need to hide or cover.  He will dress us.  We need only admit that we are naked –  “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’  But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.  I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.” (Revelations 3:17-18)  – and come for dress and healing.  In Christ, the gates of paradise are wide open and God is welcoming all who come in.  It is unbelief in his infinite mercy that makes a man wait outside for fear that God cannot be that good.  It’s unbelief in Christ’s perfect atonement that makes a man approach God with his own clothes on.  Now I have spoken on faith, yet I said we had two weapons.

“But he gives us more grace.  That is why Scripture says:  ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’” (James 4:6)

It is pride that deceives man into thinking his clothes will do just fine before God.  It is pride that says “I will not show my shame before anyone!” as if it were beneath you.  It is pride that tells us “since we are not so forgiving, God cannot be either!”  (Since it is near impossible for us to imagine anyone thinking differently then we do.)  as if our opinions are what hold reality.  It is pride that screams “I will not take the handout of mercy, I will not own my deeds and thoughts, and I will certainly not come out naked for all creation to see.  I will not abdicate the throne of my soul for who is more worthy than I to rule it?  God opposes the proud, for by nature, he must.  Pride cuts men off from receiving mercy and life, pride goads us on towards an independent existence, and by it’s nature keeps us in the dark.

“This is the verdict:  Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.”  (John 3:19)

Pride must be vanquished just as unbelief must be expelled and the only weapon we have is humility.  True humility.  True humility sees that your case is hopeless if left to you, a bent and broken creature.  Humility recognizes that even if you knew what you had stolen you would never have the means to buy it back.  Humility acknowledges that you are guilty and well deserving of rejection and damnation.  It is humility that causes the heart to despair of itself.  It is humility that leads men into desperate pleas for undeserved kindness, hoping in someone outside yourself for help.  Humility can be uncomfortable because the humble are usually the proud remade and that take the work of humility against the pride.  We call it humiliation.  But, if we accept the victory of humiliation, we are in the best place!  We are ready to recieve from God (just like the rest of creation does without complaint).  God gives grace to the humble, because only the humble can truly recieve it.  And oh, how grateful is the needy beggar who is made a prince.  How happy is hte beggar who finds a benevolent giver who is delighted to meet his needs.  Only the humble can truly worship, because only the humbled can admit that God alone is worthy of praise.  Only the humbled can pray for only the humbled can admit that they are in desperate need and are powerless to meet it themselves.  Only the humbled can recieve a free undeserved pardon, because only the humbled know it is undeserved.  Pride will not allow such behavior, humility demands it.  Do you dare face the work of the Spirit of God in the humbling of your sould, or do you give pride the run of the house?  Beware, for pride’s chief work is to cut you off from Christ and bring you back to yourself, while humility is the opposite.  God does not humble us because he likes to hurt us.  It is only painful because we are so proud.  He humbles us to save us, and delights to give us HImself.  What grace that God would contend with the proud, for our own sake!

Amen.

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Rest in peace

On June 1st Mr. Gruen went to be with the Lord. Regardless of where you fall on the issue of the document that Mr. Gruen wrote I ask you to throw one up for his family and friends.

Grace and peace be on you all.

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