Faith and works (part 2)

Key verses:
“And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn. And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful? And he said unto them, Have ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was an hungred, he, and they that were with him? How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the shewbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him? And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.” – Mark 2:23-28
Our God is amazing. In the beginning of time, He designed this perfect system that, if adhered to, would ensure the happiness and fulfillment of all who chose to follow His precepts. In Psalm 119, David speaks of the Law of God as the ultimate prize that sinners should attain towards. “With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments. Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee. Blessed art thou, O Lord: teach me thy statutes.” David wanted to please God, and to walk in His ways, realizing that God required this of him. As a caring Father, God wants His children to stay within the boundaries He has constructed for us. This isn’t because God is a control freak, but because He actually knows what’s best for us.

Paul, that most misunderstood apostle, wrote that “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” (1 Corinthians 6) Paul understood that God allows His children 100% freedom to do as we wish. God’s hope is that we choose Him over all else. This choice is called faith. To the faithful, God provides His grace, a free gift available for all, but only imparted to those who ask for it. Grace is the means to salvation, to eternal life, without which we would perish and die as the natural body is wont to do. Faith leads to God, grace proceeds from God, and we must walk in the light provided by grace, through the power of unwavering faith.

When this occurs, the will of God becomes the focus point of the man. The man will say “what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” and Jesus will answer and say “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” The saved have a need, a desire, to please God. Nothing seems good enough for Him, because truly nothing is. Yet we pray that God’s will is done in us, and through us. Inevitably, Jesus points us back to the commandments. There are many, many instances of this in the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. All God wants from us is to keep His Law, and to walk with Him in faith while He shows the way.

Where does the Sabbath play into all this? Exodus 20: 8-11 ” Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.” There is nobody in the Christian world who disagrees with 9 of the commandments, yet this one seems to throw the whole kit and caboodle into disarray. “You’re a legalist” they say. “Sunday is the sabbath”, they argue. As in all other things, Jesus shows the way. He died Friday before sundown, rested all Friday night, all Saturday, and arose from the grave early Sunday morning. The period that Jesus spent in the grave is the biblical Sabbath, the only day of rest, the only day of the Lord.

Yet, this day was removed from our memory. In 321AD, Constantine declared that Sunday should be a day of rest instead of the day that God appointed (see here). He did this for many reasons, but they each are irrelevant. What he did was “change times and laws” (Daniel 7:25). When we remove a law from God’s Law, what we are basically saying is that we know better. Someone recently wrote to me saying that “I am not under the Mosaic law but under the Law of Christ.” That’s like saying I don’t observe the laws of the United States, but I regard the constitution and amendments with utmost reverence.” Just as the constitution and amendments of the United States are the law of the land in that country, so the Law of Jesus forms the law in heaven. Moses was given a set of 10 laws to give to Israel, written by Jesus on tablets of stone, which were then placed in the ark of the covenant, God’s seat on Earth. Why would Jesus go through all that trouble if he had another secret law to pass on to us at a later date? That’s the must unjust and unfair thing for someone to do, change the rules mid-way through the game and then claim you’re breaking both the old and the new regulations.

My God is fair, just, and constant. He doesn’t promote confusion by changing His mind at random. If that were the case, the rules could change again in the future. God is the same as He was, and the same as He will ever be. We serve with pleasure, not out of fear. We exercise freedom when we choose to be His. He does not force Himself upon us. He is a loving Father, not a heartless tyrant. He is our hope, our salvation, and our joy. May you find peace in this version of God.

Faith and works

Key verses:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.
And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.
If ye love me, keep my commandments.
He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.
Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.
Obedience to God and His Law is a pre-condition to a positive relationship between mortals and heaven. Yet, it’s grace that calls us to obedience, not the other way around. This is the meaning of the phrase “salvation is by grace not by works”. When we start seeking to understand the will of God, the Holy Spirit opens our minds and encourages us to seek godly wisdom. Inevitably, the guidance of the Holy Spirit leads us to understand that the will of God is to heed the precepts of His Law. Christ calls us to come to the cross as we are, wretched and poor and blind. We allow Him to transform us and to impute his righteousness unto us. At this point, the works of righteousness should start to be apparent in the life of the new man. Salvation leads the believer to unselfish good works.

 

At the same time, it’s very important to understand that we cannot buy our way into heaven. No amount of “Our Fathers”, “Hail Marys”, rosary beads, or burned candles are enough to match the selfless gift of God’s grace. No amount of good works are enough to seal our names in the book of life. The reason for this conundrum is that God has already given us all His gifts. Everything that He has is freely available for us to take, if only we ask for it. We have nothing more to gain from God by doing good works and keeping His Law. We do these things because they are the right things to do. In Matthew 7:7-8, Christ speaks these words: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.”

 

Asking, seeking, and knocking are actions that we must perform in order to receive these free gifts from God. Salvation is free, but it requires a conscious effort to receive it. These acts are a demonstration of our faith and intention to subject our will to the will of God. When we ask for good health from our Lord we do so with the expectation that He will deliver. It was an act of faith when Moses lifted up his rod and stretched his hand over the sea (Exodus 14:16). Faith is not idle; faith begets actions, results, good works, obedience. These truths stem from the fact that God does not force Himself onto anyone. To follow God is to freely give up your self to His will.

 

In our church there has been some confusion regarding these things in the past. We are very much focused on the commandments of God, and sometimes we may be deceived into thinking that obeying these precepts makes us holy. This is a simple case of putting the cart before the horse. We are not holy because we obey God, but we obey God because we are holy. The holiness is not actually our own, or of our own doing, but it is Christ’s holiness, manifest in our lives through the work of the Holy Spirit. We have nothing to bring to the table except a contrite heart, sincere repentance, and the willingness to be led by God into the right way. Our only redeeming feature is repentance, the acknowledgment that something is wrong in our lives, and that only God can fix it.

 

Please remember to give thanks to God for the good He is doing in your lives. Praise His name and thank Him for all the gifts that He has spread upon the table, in particular the promise of eternal life. Let us go forth and pray to be reflections of Christ’s righteousness, lights unto the world, so that all may see and be amazed. The changes God is making in our lives are firstly meant to change us into beacons to those around us, attracting them to the Source of life.

 

In closing, here is a quote from this week’s Sabbath school study guide:

“To live a spirit-filled life means that we live according to the law of God. The law is the unchanging rule of His holiness. The standard that the law sets does not change any more than does God Himself. Jesus affirmed that the law is not abolished, but that every part is to be fulfilled (Matt. 5:17-19). To keep the law is not legalism; it is faithfulness. The law does not save us. It never can. The law is never our way to salvation. Rather, it is the path of the saved. The law, so to speak, are the shoes in which our love walks and expresses itself. This is why Jesus could say in a most remarkable manner that when “ ‘lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold’ ” (Matt. 24:12, ESV). Love diminishes when the law is not appreciated.”