Point of Reference
by Fred Price
“…but immediately goes to work in the life of the believer.” With this statement John MacArthur sums up information presented in The Gospel According To Jesus and its sequel, The Gospel According To The Apostles.1In them he investigates the two supposedly contradictory schools of thought within Christendom essentially expressed as works vs. grace.
Paul emphatically states,...”it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” ( Ephesians 2:8,9) But James declares that, “... faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” In fact, he goes so far as to say, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” ( James 2:17 & 26) Can both of these men be right? It would serve us well to define a few terms here to heighten our understanding of what is actually being said and called for. Grace is the unmerited (unearned) love and favor of God to man and the divine influence acting in man to make him pure and good. Graciousness is one aspect of grace, which entails showing kindness, being courteous, having charm, being merciful, having compassion and being polite. Do you see the connection?
We must understand that the same man who said in Romans 3:28 that, “...we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.”, also declared “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, (Which motivates us to respond to people’s needs.) I am nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:2 Prior to this Jesus had warned, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but only he who does the will of my father in Heaven.” Matthew 7:21-23Indicating that a genuine appreciation of grace and mercy is what should motivate us to obedience and service. Again James cautioning us, “Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” James 1:22 And even Paul – the Apostle of Grace – in defending his ministry before King Agrippa noted, “…I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds .” Acts 26:20
Much has been made of the Law’s expectations and man’s inability to fully obey it. For the Law had evolved beyond the core teachings of God into a burdensome bulk of innumerable commentaries, rules and regulations that bogged down the life of its adherents and numbed men’s minds. There was a rule for everything in an attempt to be good enough to earn God’s favor; a hope that on balance, life would have more good days than bad and as a result acceptance by God would follow. What it ended up being was an exclusive club of self-righteous over-achievers who might make it compared to everybody else who surely wouldn’t. The attitude became – To hell with them, they deserve it; as long as I do enough to make it – all is well. Like a child jumping up and down, tugging at God’s pant-leg for attention, they never-the-less ignored the rule of thumb set by God and reiterated by Jesus; a life lived in love. Loving the Lord your God with your whole being, loving your neighbor as yourself, loving even your enemies. ( Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 5:43-44, Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37-40) Otherwise known as The Golden Rule ( Matthew 7:12), a new command ( John 13:34), the entire law ( Galatians 5:14), and royal law ( James 2:8). Jesus assuring us that when he returns, “…he will reward each person according to what he has done.” Matthew 16:27 (See also Romans 2:16; 2 Corinthians 5:10 & Revelation 20:12,13) James then cautioning us to, “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law of freedom.” James 2:12 But is that the freedom to do nothing (or only those things that please us) or the freedom to meet your genuine potential in Christ; free to respond to needs not because you fear a reprimand and punishment but because you genuinely care.
To question and devise a better, cheaper or different approach to difficult situations has at times been a great asset, but just as often it is the drive behind counterfeit goods, a fake lifestyle and ruined lives. Mankind has been at it from the very beginning, starting with Adam and Eve’s questioning of God’s way and devising their own means to be like Him. The Law’s purpose is to demonstrate man’s inability compared to God’s super-ability ( Deuteronomy 27:26, James 2:10), as well as unequivocally identifying sin. ( Romans 3:20) It is not meant to embarrass, belittle, or hold us in subjection, but to emphasize how wise, strong, and good God really is ( Romans 3:21-24) and thereby help us understand what, or rather who, we have available to us.
We are saved by God’s grace, justified by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, sanctified and empowered by the fact of his resurrection and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. All of which should produce a life lived in thankfulness, love being expressed to God and through him to others as a natural consequence of our state of grace. The “... gift of God is eternal life.” Romans 6:23 We didn’t earn it – because we can’t – but once we have it we are expected to dutifully live a life of service, to share our good fortune; rather than greedily hoarding it, protecting it from outsiders, concealing it from onlookers. No less an authority than Paul asserting that his salvation and authority to preach came to him by God’s grace, his purpose then being to call people, “…to the obedience that comes from faith.” Romans 1:5 Good deeds – or works – are the evidence of our salvation, not the means of securing it. Jesus assuring us that, “... everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is a... wise man...But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is...a foolish man...” Matthew 7:24 & 26.
Check back next week for a further look at this contentious yet critical issue.
1By John MacArthur, Published by Zondervan and Nelson Publishers
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Fred Price - married (49 years), father of two grown children, grandfather of six.
Fred retired earlier this year after 42 years as a factory worker. He has always had a heart for young people and the challenges they face today. Over the years Fred has taught Discipleship Groups for High School and college students.
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