May 18, 2013

Faith and Works

After the last sermon I preached, someone that visited our church thought I was preaching a works-based salvation. Now, honestly, I don't believe in a works-based salvation.  But, after I thought about it, I have been accused of that before.  I'm telling you though, I believe that salvation comes by God's grace alone, and it is worked through God-gifted faith. (Eph. 2:8-9) I am not upset at all about the question, I am a school teacher... I love being questioned!  But I do want to mention this because there seems to be some confusion among many Christians that I know when it comes to the relationship between faith and works.

Another example of this happened a few weeks ago.  There was a prominent Pastor in the area that did some teaching on the topic of eternal security. He taught that you cannot lose your salvation, so to speak, but that you can walk away from the faith. Now, I don't want to put words in the mouth of this Pastor, and I believe him to be a godly man, who loves Jesus, but I would disagree with him.  At the same time, I would also disagree with many of the baptists in my town who believe in an eternal security that has no evidence except a person's declaration of belief.

Normally I would say that I fall somewhere between those two camps of thought, the eternal security camp and the no eternal security camp... In this case I won't say that I am between them, instead I am more off to one side, and I would classify both of those camps as basically the same error.

They have a weak view of God's salvation.



On the one hand, I would agree with the statement, "...once saved, always saved."  When someone is saved, God gives them His Spirit as a seal to guarantee their inheritance.  (Ephesians 1:13-14, Ephesians 4:30) These words can't be taken lightly.  They are powerful words.  Sealed... Guarantee... God's Spirit.

On the other hand, I would agree with the fact that someone can "walk away from the faith."  At least from our perspective this can happen.  There are those who are in the church, serving God, have seen the things God does, have had a taste of the Spirit, and then *poof* they are gone. (Hebrews 6:4-6) I guess they don't actually go *poof* but it feels that way.  They were with us, then they weren't.

We can't let our perspective do the teaching though. I think that we must ask this Biblically pertinent question:  How does a person who we (and they) thought was sealed by the Spirit of God, eventually walk away from the faith?  We've all seen this happen! The short answer is that they don't walk away from God-given faith, it just looks that way.  What is really happening?

I believe that John puts it best in I John 2:19,
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. (1 John 2:19, ESV)
John is primarily referring to false teachers here, but it just as well applies to false followers.  Jesus has a similar statement in the Sermon on the Mount when he says, "Thus you will recognize them by their fruits." (Matthew 7:15-20) Right after that statement Jesus then tells us that,
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven."
(Matthew 7:21, ESV)
Is Jesus preaching a works-based salvation?  No, He is preaching a genuine salvation, a real salvation, God's Salvation!

You see, God saves people, He really saves them.  I mean really!  This salvation is not just a change in future destination, but a change in our very natures.  We were dead!  We were in sin!  Christ has made us alive! We are truly His workmanship! (Ephesians 2:1-10)  And what God starts, He doesn't just finish it, He carries it all the way through, we can be confident of this truth. (Philippians 1:6)

Here is where the problem comes in.  Faith is, well, invisible.  You can't see it.  I can't open up my chest or my brain and say, "See, here is my faith. It is the real deal."  They can't even do some magnetic resonance imaging and see it inside of me. It doesn't give off an aura and there are no meters that detect it.  Faith is invisible, but what it produces is not.  Jesus' earthly brother James speaks on this reality,
But someone will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
(James 2:18, ESV)
An ever so slight bit of sarcasm there:  How can you show faith apart from works?  You can't! Faith's only evidence is the works it produces... and keeps producing: "...some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty." (Matthew 13:1-23)

Whether you believe in an eternal security that can go unevidenced by works, or you believe that a person can walk away from genuine, God-given faith, you have really placed some portion, some small fraction of salvation in man's hands... and that is something I just can't agree with.

If you have any questions about this, please contact me... I love questions.