A Saving Faith
James gave an example. "Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, `Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?"2 He concluded: "In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead."3
What comprises a saving faith was argued even in apostolic days. Some tried to separate faith and deeds: "You have faith; I have deeds."4
James retorted, "Show me your faith without deeds."5 He knew it is impossible to "show" faith except by what we do by our actions. "I will show you my faith by what I do."6
Faith is visible only through behavior. James mocked those who claimed they could have an invisible faith with an analogy: "You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that and shudder."7 His readers knew that the demons were condemned. Though the demons believe there is one God, they have no saving faith. Simply believing something about God that is true does not constitute a saving faith.
James also asked, "You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, `Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,' and he was called God's friend."8
He used another example: "In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?"9 Even today we can know Rahab's faith because of what she did.
James concluded: "As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead."10 To have a saving faith, that faith must be visible through actions through behavior.11 Just as in Abraham's and Rahab's cases, an observer should be able to deduce what our faith is by observing our actions.
James warned about two kinds of people. The first claim to have faith but their actions display no faith. Of those, James said their claimed faith was useless. The second group may be those who once had faith whose actions once showed their faith, but no longer do. James said their faith was dead.
The Apostle John knew that many people would "talk" the faith; they would "say" they loved one another. John exhorted us not to love with words or tongue but with actions.12
We learned from James that saving faith is visible, a faith observable in the actions of the person who has a saving faith.
Abraham believed God had faith in God and it was credited to him as righteousness.13 Those with a saving faith are called children of Abraham.14 Because of this, let's look more carefully at Abraham's faith.
When he arrived in Canaan, God told him that he would give the land to his offspring. What was Abram's response? He built an altar there to the Lord.17
But when famine came, Abram didn't trust God to provide for him, but instead went to Egypt where there was food. There he didn't trust God to protect him. He told the Egyptians that Sarai was his sister and not his wife. Because of his lie, he was expelled from Egypt and returned to Canaan where he built an altar and called upon the name of the Lord.
The Lord appeared to Abram again and promised that the land to the east and west and north and south, as far as he could see, was given to him and to his offspring. The Lord told him to walk through it. Abram's response? He walked throughout the land; he built an altar to the Lord.18
After a great victory in which Abram rescued his nephew Lot and his family, Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of God Most High, brought out bread and wine and blessed Abram, saying, "Blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand." What was Abram's response? He gave Melchizedek a tenth of everything.19
God came to Abram and promised him a son when both Abram and Sarai, his wife, were old.20 Much time passed without Sarai conceiving. They decided God didn't mean Sarai to be the mother of the promised child. Sarai gave her maidservant Hagar to Abram as a wife to have the child God had promised.21
Thirteen years after her son Ishmael was born, God again appeared to Abram whom he renamed Abraham. He told him that the covenant with him was everlasting and would be with Isaac, a son he would have with Sarai (thereafter Sarah). The sign of the covenant would be circumcision. What was Abraham's response? On that very day Abraham circumcised all the males as the Lord had instructed him.22
The Lord appeared to Abraham with two angels. As they were leaving the Lord told Abraham about his plan to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. What was Abraham's response? He pleaded with God not to destroy Sodom because his nephew Lot23 lived there.
Abraham traveled to another country in which he again feared for his life because of his wife's beauty. Did Abraham trust God for his protection? No. As he did before in Egypt, he misrepresented Sarah as his sister.
When Sarah demanded Hagar be sent away, God assured Abraham that his descendants would be reckoned through Isaac and that he should do as Sarah wanted. What was his response? Though he loved Ishmael, Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael away.24
Did Abraham deny that God asked him to do that? Did he contend that if God wanted Isaac sacrificed, he would surely tell him again so there was no mistake? Did he reason that if God wished him to do such a thing, the sacrifice of Isaac could surely be delayed a long time, even years, so he could enjoy more years with his son? Did he complain to God that to sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering was too awful?
Early the next morning Abraham saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about.26 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw it in the distance.
Abraham knew that God had promised him, with an everlasting covenant, that Isaac would be the source of offspring as numerous as the stars of the sky. Consider what Abraham said to his servants, "Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you."27 How could the boy come back if Abraham had killed him? What did Abraham's speech show about his faith in God?
Abraham took the wood and placed it on his son Isaac, and himself carried the fire and the knife. As they went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, "Father?"
"Yes, my son?"
"The fire and wood are here," Isaac said, "but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?"
Abraham answered: "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." And the two of them went on together.28
When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood on it. He bound Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.29 The moment of truth arrived. What would Abraham do now? He had told the servants that they would both return. God had commanded that he kill his son.
Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, "Abraham! Abraham!"
"Here I am," he replied.
"Do not lay a hand on the boy," he said. "Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son."30
How did Abraham respond to that great news? Abraham looked up and in a thicket saw a ram caught by its horns. He took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.31
What was God's response to Abraham's faithfulness? The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time,
"I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me."32
Abraham's faith was visible when he tithed to Melchizedek as the priest of the Most High God. But when God promised a son, Abram and Sarai both lacked faith; Sarai gave Hagar to be the mother of the promised child.
When God established a covenant with Abraham and commanded that he and all the males of his household be circumcised, Abraham's faith was visible when all were circumcised that very day.
In his greatest test, when commanded to sacrifice Isaac, his visible faith must have been most pleasing to God. Abraham left the next morning. It was three days travel to the mountain but he didn't delay going up the mountain. He told his servants the impossible, that he and Isaac would return, a response which showed faith in God's promise that Isaac would be the line through which Abraham's descendants would be reckoned. Abraham raised the knife to kill his son. His visible faith showed that he had faith God would resurrect Isaac from the dead if he sacrificed him.
The Apostle John made the same point about action to show faith. He said,
Note that John writes entirely about actions; the man who talks but does not do is a liar."We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, `I know him,' but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God's love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did."34
Suppose we got this backwards, that we begin to think we must secure God's salvation by our actions, by being good, by living up to a standard God set for us. Paul reminded us that when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation.36 If we could work for our salvation, God would be obligated to give it to us if we did the work. But there is no required work. Salvation is a gift, something we cannot earn by works.37 It is available to us through faith. Paul reminds us, "To the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness."38
Paul uses Abraham as our example to further illustrate this point: "Therefore, the promise (of eternal life) comes by faith, so that it may be by grace39 and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all."40
If Abraham is our father in the faith, then should our faith be as his was shown through actions that come from faith?
If we believe with a saving faith, we will live our lives in a way that the world can see that we believe our God is faithful, that he will provide for us and protect us.
Will true believers always display their faith in God? Sadly, no. Even Abraham failed on important occasions, choosing to rely on conventional wisdom rather than on the wisdom and power of God. But Abraham rapidly moved away from those areas of worldliness and back into a trusting relationship with God. So must we.
It's always easy to move our mouth and say we have faith in God. But when the rubber meets the road, when we are asked to leave our Haran or to slay our Isaac, are we doers or are we talkers?
Was it necessary for Abraham to make his faith visible before God? It seems it was, in order for the promise to be given. The angel said, "Because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you."41 Then the promise of the Messiah was given. Surely God could have looked within the mind and heart of Abraham to know if his faith was sincere without putting him to the test.
God thought it necessary to test Abraham so that his faith would be visible to himself, to God, and to us. The same must be true for each of us. God wants your faith and mine to be visible to you, to him, and to others. With James we must say, "I will show you my faith by what I do."42
A saving faith is not a secret faith. Jesus said we must let our faith be seen by men. He didn't say others would know because we claim to have faith. He said they would see our good deeds. What are the good deeds of which Jesus spoke?
I notice how parents treat little children. Though I cannot hear what they say, parents broadcast their relationships with their children. Some are so loving I smile when watching them. The children respond confidently, without fear. Other parents seem full of pent-up anger. They yank on their children and sometimes swat at them. The children cringe at sudden movements of the parent's hand, as though expecting a blow.
Our speech is also a foremost indicator of what we are. When people with similar haircuts stand together and are dressed alike, we can deduce little about them. As soon as they speak, we often can detect the region of the country from which they came, their education, their breeding, and their faith.
Jesus expressed it this way: "For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him."44 If we have a saving faith, it will be visible from our speech. If our speech does not show our faith, do we have a dead or useless faith?
"`I will not,' he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
"Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, `I will, sir,' but he did not go."45
Then Jesus asked the elders of the Jews, "Which of the two did what his father wanted?"
"The first," they answered.
Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you."46
Jesus was not trying to teach a lesson about working in a vineyard. What was he saying? Let's find out by relating it to what we've seen Scripture teach, that a saving faith must be visible and must be shown by action. Let's restate the situation in that setting.
Someone comes to me and says, "Have faith in Jesus Christ and receive him as your Lord."
I say, "No thanks. I'm doing well by myself. Who needs Jesus? I'm not giving up control over my life." But after I think about it, I realize I'm wrong; I confess my sin and ask Jesus to be the Lord of my life. Then I begin to do what God's word says. I obey the Lord Jesus.
The other scenario begins the same way. Someone comes to me and says, "Have faith in Jesus Christ and receive him as your Lord."
I say, "Of course! That's a good idea. I need Jesus as my Lord." Then I promptly go my own way, not submitting to the lordship of Jesus.
For which alternative is God looking? It's obvious, isn't it? It doesn't matter how much we move our mouths, it's what we do that counts.
Remember, we're not doing God's will because we will earn salvation from it; we're doing because we are following Jesus as our Lord.47
Some teach that the parable refers to a life blessed by God when Christ's teachings are put into practice versus a life which has great difficulties if his teachings are not followed. They contend that the person has salvation nevertheless. Is that an interpretation which simply tickles men's ears, telling them what they want to hear?"Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash."49
Isn't it more likely that Jesus is talking about having or losing salvation? Isn't it the wise man who receives him as his Lord whereas the foolish man rejects him? Those who puts his teachings into practice are obedient to him as their Lord. If we don't follow his teachings and commands, have we received him as our Lord?
John said, "No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him."50 I believe each of those statements refers to a different situation. The first is the situation of a believer. No believer continues to keeps on sinning. The second refers to a new "believer." If the new believer continues in a pattern of sin, his conversion is not real. He has neither seen the Lord or known him.
John then used contrasting examples to make his point again. He said, "Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work."51
Then John reviewed his former tests for believers and converts. As to believers he said, "No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God."52
As to new "converts," John said, "This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother."53
All of us should apply these tests to ourselves. If we continue in a pattern of sin, if we don't do what is right, if we don't love our brothers, we don't have a saving faith. We've not been born again.
What does it mean to "continue in sin"? Are we saying that a true believer never sins? Of course not. John also spoke to that: "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.54 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives."55
Knowing that we will sin, John encouraged us: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."56
John did not attempt to gloss over sin as seems to be the custom in much of the church today. Instead, he said: "My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world."57
The surest test for new believers to determine if they truly have a saving faith is whether the Holy Spirit has convicted them to give up existing patterns of sin. True believers will not continue in sin.
John gave us a positive test for a saving faith:
If anyone obeys his word, God's love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.59
The converse test is also true. John told us: "Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.63 If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth."64
Many preachers and teachers today distort such clear teachings of Scripture by saying that Jesus isn't saying our "remaining" will affect our salvation, but instead that our earthly existence will be less pleasant. They say we will miss some of the joy and peace we would otherwise have. They sometimes say we will only miss the abundant life God intends for us here. Is such teaching false?
Must we be a complete and obvious apostate to fail to remain in Jesus? If we begin to love the world, Scripture says the love of God is not in us.67 If we continuously disobey God and the teachings and commands of Jesus, we no longer remain in Jesus. I am not suggesting that occasional disobedience will destroy our relationship with God and the Lord Jesus any more than the disobedience of our child will cause us to disinherit our child. We know the patience of God is greater than our patience.
If we continue in disobedience, we are following our own ways and have set ourselves up as lord and god of our lives. Will God tolerate that? The first of the ten commandments is "Thou shalt have no other gods before me."
The frightening thing is that we may continue to think we are Christians and to appear Christian, regularly attend church, prayer meetings, and fellowships within our church, but all the while no longer remaining in Jesus. Though we can appear to live the Christian life, there will no longer be the bona fide fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We will know this because joy will no longer be present in our lives. Our peace will be gone. We will once again experience the frustrations and anxieties of the world.
I believe millions of people continue to believe they are Christians because they wrongly believe that all they have to do is believe Jesus died for their sins on the cross or that he is their personal Savior in order to have salvation. If they correctly understood that their relationship with Jesus must be with him as their Lord,68 they would know that their rebellion against his teachings and commands severs them from the vine. They are in danger of being picked up, thrown into the fire, and burned.
No, I believe it's not possible for those with a firm attachment to the Lord Jesus. First of all, it's not possible because he is Lord, ruler of all, having all power and all authority in heaven and on earth. What can come against us that such a Lord cannot overcome? If we don't believe that our Lord Jesus is above all, then we don't confess Jesus as Lord.69
Is it possible that we can be tempted in a way that we cannot resist? After all, we have a sinful human nature and are not free from sin.
We need not succumb to temptation. Scripture promises that God is faithful; he will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear. But when we are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that we can stand up under it.70
The powers of darkness are powerful. Satan was created as the most powerful and beautiful of the angels. His power is awesome. How can we resist?
Satan is but an angel, and a fallen one at that. Though we shouldn't underestimate his power, at the same time we should all the more appreciate the supreme power of our Lord. What can Satan do?
Paul asked: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?"71
Paul answered his own questions:
We who are believers, who have a saving faith that clings to our Lord Jesus Christ, are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.73No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.72
Finally, there is a precious promise that I repeated hundreds of times until it became part of the fiber of my belief. It especially indicates to me the power of my Lord, as it shows his power to alter circumstances. He promises in all things to work for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.74
God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ promise to prevent any temptation that is more than we can bear from coming against us, to shield us by God's power, and to work everything for our good.
Yes, we can persevere. Believers are given all needed power and protection to be able to persevere.
Consider a teaching of Jesus.75 "Suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he's not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace."76
Why would the king ask for terms of peace? Because he knows that he almost surely will not prevail and risks his life and that of his army. Knowing that, what terms of peace would he offer? Could it be that the king would say, "Take everything we have, but let us live"?
After telling the parable to the people, Jesus gave the application: "In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple."77
Does our salvation cost us nothing? Is it absolutely free? It's costly to qualify for God's gift of salvation. It costs us everything.78
He told another story: "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field."79 There was no doubt about the subject matter of the parable. Jesus said we must recognize the great value of his kingdom. When we do, in great joy we will give up everything we have in order to gain it.
Another parable had the same teaching: "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it."80 This parable differs only in that the person who found the pearl of great value was a knowledgeable, discriminating merchant who recognized at once the value of the pearl.
Taken together, the parables include all of us. Some of us stumble upon the claims of Christ and gladly give up all we have once we understand the inestimable, eternal value of the kingdom of God. Others have searched for meaning to life and have studied in an effort to discern spiritual truths. When they come to understand the claims of Christ and that eternal life is possible by reconciliation to God through the sacrifice of Jesus, they gladly submit all they have to the lordship of Jesus Christ.81
Some misunderstand Jesus' statement that we must give up everything we have to become his disciple. Some believe the statement is only symbolic. Others believe he's referring only to our material possessions.
We know that Jesus did not teach us to hate our loved ones.83 He used that language to contrast for us the supreme love we must have for him compared with the love we feel for those closest to us.
He showed us that our relationships may have to be reviewed and that our new relationships in the kingdom of God are to supersede even those of family. This happened when Jesus was told his mother and brothers were outside waiting to see him. His response was surprising: "My mother and brothers are those who hear God's word and put it into practice."84
Lest we think his response was intended differently, later a woman called out from the crowd, "Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you."
Jesus replied, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it."85
Jesus showed us that those who are his brothers and sisters those who hear God's word and put it into practice supersede those who are brothers, sisters and even his mother by blood.
Jesus said to another man, "Follow me."
The man replied, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father."
Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God."
Still another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family."
Jesus replied, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God."86
Doubtless the first man's father hadn't yet died, but perhaps was old. The man was saying that when his other responsibilities ceased, he'd be happy to follow Jesus. That didn't satisfy Jesus at all. In the next instance, the man said he wanted to say goodbye to his family. Likely he also wanted their blessing for his new activity, leaving other responsibilities to follow Jesus. That also didn't satisfy Jesus. His reply was almost caustic. Our decision to follow him is not a family decision; it is an individual one. We are not to engage in service for him and then think about what we could have done or would rather have done. We are to go for the Kingdom with whole-hearted devotion, not looking back, not regretting, but focused solely on him.87
Jesus used an ugly example:
The Jews knew about crosses. The Romans had devised the cross as a means of torture and execution. Likely most Jews cringed at the sight of a cross. Incredibly, Jesus said they must take up their crosses daily and follow him."If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me."88
Recently I heard the song, "The Pearl," by Tom Reed. Let me quote the lyrics for you, because it perfectly illustrates the cost of the kingdom, of following Jesus.
Troubadour of the Lord
Much of the confirmation for that understanding is found in the writings of the Apostles. Paul said to the Roman believers,
Our old self is sometimes referred to as our sinful nature. Paul said, "If you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live."93 Paul said we must count ourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.94"For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with.92
Peter understood the same message from Jesus. He told his readers, "Jesus bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness."95
The cost is everything we have, even our very self!96
You may remember the story of the rich young ruler who came to Jesus asking what he must do to inherit eternal life. He got a straight message: "Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."97 Note that the message was for that man. Jesus didn't tell everyone he met to sell everything they had and give it to the poor.
Why do you suppose Jesus told this rich young man to sell everything? Luke tells us the man's response: When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth.98
Jesus looked at him and said, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."99
The disciples were shocked at these comments. Likely they believed, as many do today, that riches are desirable. Paul warned that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.100
Jesus didn't sugarcoat the costs of entering his Kingdom. He insisted that we consider carefully whether we are willing to pay the price before we begin the journey. To illustrate his point, he told this parable:
Many begin the Christian walk because they are told it's easy or perhaps they respond to an emotional appeal. When they find out what it really costs to follow Jesus, they become discouraged and drop out.102"Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, `This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'"101
Jesus used two homely examples to illustrate that point. Both were easily understood by the people of that day but less so by us because of our cultural differences. He said, "No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse."104 And, "Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved."105"You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness."103
What has Jesus said? If we try to sew Christianity onto our old life-style, it will never work. The two are incompatible. The new life must be put into a new self. Likewise, to put new wine into an old wineskin is like putting the new life of Christ into the old sinful nature. A new self must be the vessel for the new life in Christ. The old self is already stretched; it's not capable of accepting the new life which will expand and change us.
When we believe in Jesus Christ as Lord, God places within us the Holy Spirit.110 God then becomes our Father;111 then we have been born of the Spirit.112 That's why Jesus said to the believers, "Do not call anyone on earth `father,' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven."113 The new relationship with God is to supersede our earthly relationships, even those with family. Our earthly father is no longer to be as important as our heavenly Father.
Those who are born again of God by his Spirit live differently.114 Paul emphasized the difference between the old life and the new: "If you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live,115 because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.116 Yes, as incredible as it may seem, when we have been born of the Spirit, God is our Father and we become sons and daughters of God.117 Even our citizenship changes; we become strangers and aliens here; heaven is our new home.118
Sometimes Nicodemus is ridiculed for his response, but I think he asked a legitimate question. He didn't expect to have to enter his mother's womb again, but he wanted to know what Jesus meant. How can a man be born again?
Just as being born again would be starting over, that is also the Christian experience. If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!120 As Christians we live a new life.121
Jesus gave us still another example. He said the kingdom of God is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough."123 Yeast permeates all the dough. So it is to be with our life in Christ. It is to encompass every area of life. The yeast does not remain encapsulated in one small area of our life our religious life. If we have been born again, if we are new creations in Christ Jesus, that new life permeates everything about us. That includes our life from the moment we awake until we close our eyes in sleep. It actually affects our dreams as we sleep.
If I claim to be born again and a new creation in Christ, but continue to live and act as I did before, am I just a new seed that's not yet sprouted or has the seed really been planted? Or did the new growth quickly die when it came up? If so, pray that Christ Jesus will plant his seed again in your heart, that you will till the soil and fertilize it with the Word of God so that it may grow strong and engulf your entire life.125
How do we live as new creations in Christ? John told us, "Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did."127 God intends that all his children be conformed to the likeness of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.128 All who are baptized into Christ have clothed themselves with Christ.129
All those scriptures say we're to be like Jesus. He's our model, our master130 and our teacher.131 Jesus said, "A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master."132 A student who is fully trained will be like his teacher.133 As his students, we're to be like him. As his servants, we're to be like him.
"Yes, Lord," they replied.
Then he touched their eyes and said, "According to your faith will it be done to you."135
On one special occasion a woman with a sordid history of sexual immorality came to him, kissed his feet, washed his feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, and poured perfume on them. Jesus said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." Jesus explained to those who heard why she had been forgiven: "I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven for she loved much."136
Then he spoke again to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."137
His disciples were amazed. They asked, "How did it wither so quickly?"
Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, `Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done."138
That story contains a qualification. We must not doubt. James warned that those who ask of God must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.139
In Nazareth, Jesus' home town, the people there knew him as a carpenter. Doubtless they thought highly of him because he was an exceptional child, without fault. They knew him so well they couldn't believe in him as the Christ, the Son of God. They surely couldn't accept him as their Lord. Scripture records that Jesus did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.140
A parallel seems true in America. Jesus is so familiar to us that he is treated almost with contempt. Oh, yes, he is our Savior (we say) and we're saved (we believe). But no longer do we receive him as our Lord. As a result, there is little of God's power shown in this country. a great work of the Spirit is manifesting itself in third-world nations just coming to know Jesus. Pity the nation, our nation, which treats the Lord Jesus Christ with contempt.
A useless faith143 or a dead faith144 is one which isn't visible a professed faith without evidence of its existence. James asked, "Can such faith save?"145 We know the answer is no.
A saving faith is rooted and grounded in the Lord Jesus Christ.
If Jesus is truly in us, then we will confess him before men. If he's not,
we won't. We'll act as we believe.
1. James 2:14.
2. James 2: 15-16.
3. James 2:17.
4. James 2:18.
5. James 2:18.
6. James 2:18.
7. James 2:19.
8. James 2:20-23.
9. James 2:25
10. James 2:26.
11. James 2:24: You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
12. 1 John 3:18.
13. Galatians 3:6.
14. Galatians 3:7. See also Galatians 3:29: If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.
15. Genesis 12:1.
16. Genesis 12:4.
17. Genesis 12:7.
18. Genesis 13:14-18.
19. Genesis 14:18-20.
20. Genesis 15:4,18:10.
21. Genesis 16:1-4.
22. Genesis 17.
23. Genesis 18: 16-33.
24. Genesis 21:1 1-14.
25. Genesis 22:2.
26. Genesis 22:3.
27. Genesis 22:4-5.
28. Genesis 22:6-8. Unwittingly, Abraham had prophesied that Jesus would be the Lamb provided by God as the sacrifice for our sins.
29. Genesis 22:9.
30. Genesis 22:10-12.
31. Genesis 22:13.
32. Genesis 22: 15-18. The promise of the Messiah was given to Abraham by the angel after Abraham had obeyed God. It was through the Messiah that all the nations of the earth would be blessed.
33. James 2:23, quoting Genesis 15:6. Paul quoted the same passage twice at Romans 4:3 and Galatians 3:6.
34. 1 John 2:3-6.
35. Paul first explained to the Romans, "We received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith" (Romans 1:5). Later, in very strong terms, Paul told the Galatians, "The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love" (Galatians 5:6).
36. Romans 4:4.
37. Ephesians 2:8-9.
38. Romans 4:5. Similarly, Paul told us that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified (Galatians 2:16).
Quoting the Old Testament prophet, Paul said, "Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, The righteous will live by faith"' (Galatians 3:1 1).
39. Salvation is by grace -- unmerited favor. If salvation could be had by works, then it would be merited, an obligation, rather than a gift of God. Paul said, "I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!" (Galatians 2:21).
40. Romans 4: 16.
41. Genesis 22:16-17.
42. James 2: 18.
43. Matthew 5: 14-16.
44. Matthew 12:34-35.
45. Matthew 21:28-30.
46. Matthew 21:31. Jesus continued, "For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him" (Matthew 21 :32).
What had John taught that these elders rejected? John said, "Repent, for the kingdom of God is near" (Matthew 3:2). The prostitutes and tax collectors confessed their sins and were baptized. But the Pharisees and Sadducees refused. John said to them, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?" (John 3:7). See also Luke 7:30: The Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God's purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.
47. In that instance, we have the obedience that comes from faith. See Romans 1:5.
48. John 14:15,21,23.
49. Matthew 7:24-27.
50. 1 John 3:6.
51. 1 John 3:7-8.
52. 1 John 3:9. Also John 5:18: We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin.
53. 1 John 3:10.
54. 1 John 1:8.
55. 1 John 1:10.
56. 1 John 1:9.
57. 1 John 2: 1-2.
58. 1 John 2:3-4.
59. 1 John 2:5-6.
60. John 13:34.
61. 1 John2:10.
62. 1 John 1:7.
63. I John 2 9. See also 1 John 2:11: But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.
64. 1 John 1:6.
65. John 15:4-5.
66. John 15:6.
67. I John 2:15. See also James 4:4: You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.
68. Among the dozens of examples showing how we are to remain in the Lord, Paul told the Ephesians how to resist the devil, "Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power" (Ephesians 6: 10). Paul's admonition emphasizes the power and authority of Jesus as Lord. When people accept Jesus as their Savior, they are looking back at the cross. When people receive Jesus as their Lord, they are living in the present in the mighty power of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is what we're called to do.
When Peter warned about the devil, he said, "Resist him, standing firm in the faith" (I Peter 5:9). We must have a present faith in the Lord Jesus, in his great power and might in order to have the confidence to stand firm.
It is that continuing confidence in the power of our Lord that Paul taught: "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39). We can only believe in those verses and rejoice in them because the Lord Jesus has all power and all authority in heaven and on earth.
69. A necessary condition for salvation is that we confess that Jesus is Lord. See Romans 10:9-10.
70. 1 Corinthians 10:13.
71. Romans 8:35.
72. Romans 8:37-39.
73. 1 Peter 1:5.
74. Romans 8:28.
75. To understand this parable, we must remember the kind of wars that took place in Jesus' time and that were described in the Old Testament. It is often related that the army of Israel would kill everyone in an opposing army. The wars then were not a Desert Storm operation that stopped as soon as the main military objective was obtained. The winning army often continued the slaughter until no opposing force remained.
76. Luke 14:31-32
77. Luke 14:33.
78. In one sense, the gift of salvation is absolutely free. We cannot work and obtain salvation, we cannot be good enough to receive it, and we do not deserve it. Further, God (through the sacrifice of Jesus) provided the way before we even knew we had the disease of sin. "Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life" (Revelation 22: 17).
79. Matthew 13:44.
80. Matthew 13 :45-46.
81. Paul gave us his personal testimony regarding exactly that. In a passage I find exceptionally beautiful, he said: "I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. l consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ" (Philippians 3 8).
82. Luke 14:26.
83. Jesus' teachings consistently taught to love one another; we are to be known by that love.
84. Luke 8:21.
85. Luke 11:27-28. Mary, Jesus' mother, is never elevated in Scripture. Consider how different Jesus' teaching is compared to the increasing elevation of Mary in the Roman Catholic church. Jesus would say, "No, not blessed Mary, but blessed are those who hear and do the will of my Father who is in heaven."
86. Luke 9:57-62.
87. See Hebrews 3:1, 12:2: Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
88. Luke 9:23. See also Matthew 10:38: "Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me" and Luke 14:27: "And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple."
89. Quoted with permission. I find Tom Reed's music excellent; he performs in concert; his Iyrics are original and closely follow Scripture. He is a speaker, teacher, and singer, wherever called. His address is: Tom Reed, 23139 Sunset Ridge, Auburn, CA 95603; (916) 268-3067.
90. Galatians 6:14: May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucif ed to me, and I [have been crucif ed] to the world.
91. Galatians 5:24: Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucif ed the sinful nature with its passions and desires.
92. Romans 6:6.
93. Romans 8:13.
94. Romans 6:11.
95. 1 Peter 2:24.
96. My former pastor, Mike MacIntosh (Horizon Christian Fellowship, San Diego, California) pointed out the differences in God's character and Satan's character by comparing how God and Satan used the words "I will." Satan (then called Lucifer) said, "I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops ofthe clouds; I will make myself like the Most High" (Isaiah 14:13-14). All Satan's statements glorified his self; elevating himself, drawing attention to himself. These are exactly the characteristics of the human self: From this we get the words selfish, self-centered, self-absorbed, self-aggrandizement, self-assertion, etc.
God's character is displayed by his promise to Abraham, "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you" (Genesis 12:2-3). All of God's "I wills" are to bless and protect those who are his through faith; none are to elevate or exalt God's self.
When we die to self (Satan's character) and live according to God's Spirit, we begin to have the traits of God's character within us. Instead of thinking primarily of self, we begin to think primarily of others, and plan how to benefit and bless others. All we do begins to be motivated by love which is the essence of God's character; God is love ( I John 4:16).
97. Luke 18:22.
98. Luke 18:23.
99. Luke 18:24-25.
100. 1 Timothy 6:10. The verse continues, "Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs."
101. Luke 14:2X-30.
102. That is the message of the parable of the sower: "A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown" (Luke 8:5-8).
Then Jesus explained it: "This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life's worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop" (Luke 8:11-15).
Notice how many dropped out. The first three categories in the parable did not mature into a saving faith that persevered to the end. Some barely hear and the message is taken away; others enthusiastically begin but fall away in times of testing; but likely most are choked by life - its worries, riches, and pleasures.
103. Ephesians 4:22-24.
104. Matthew 9: 16, see also Mark 2:21 and Luke 5:36.
105. Matthew 9:17, see also Mark 2:22 and Luke 5:37-38.
106. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade (I Peter 1:3-4).
107. Nicodemus was a Pharisee who was a member of the Jewish ruling council.
108. John 3:3.
109. John 3:5-6.
110. Jesus told his disciples, "If you love me, you will obey what I command" (John 14: 15). This is because we have received Jesus as our Lord. He continued, "I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever - the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you" (John 14:16-17). On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, end you are in me, andlam in you (John 14:20). If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him" (John 14:23). Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God (l John 5:1). The Christ is the Lord; those who believe have the obedience that comes from faith (Romans 1:5).
111. John 1 :12-13: Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God - children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.
112. 1 Peter 1:23: For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable (seed), through the living and enduring word of God.
113. Matthew 23:9. Just as God is a jealous God and will allow us to have no other gods, he wants no other "father" in our life and alone wants to be called our Father. We are not to disregard our physical father and mother, but we are no longer to call our physical father, "father." I suspect that is why other familiar names, such as dad, or papa, were developed for our human fathers.
114. Paul reminded his readers of God's promise, "I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty" (2 Corinthians 6: 18). Then he told us why we must live differently: "Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God" (2 Corinthians 7:1).
115. Paul told us: "Live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature (Galatians 5:16). The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life" (Galatians 6:8).
116. Romans 8: 13-14. The Apostle John told of behavior and beliefs which are true of those who are truly born again: If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him (I John 2:29).
No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God (l John 3:9). We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him (I John 5: 18).
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God (I John 4:7). Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well (I John 5:1).
This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith (1 John 5:3-4)
117. You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26). Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out. "Abbe. Father" (Galatians 4:6). God predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:5). Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons (Hebrews 12:7).
118. Peter emphasized our change of citizenship. Beginning his first letters, he called believers strangers in the world (I Peter 1 :1). Because we are strangers and aliens in the world, we are to live as strangers here in reverent fear ( I Peter 1 :17) abstaining from those activities associated with our prior citizenship (I Peter 2:11). The writer to the Hebrews wrote about many who displayed great faith. Of them he said, "They admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth" (Hebrews 1 1: 13). Believers do not have an enduring home here on earth, but are looking for one that is to come (Hebrews 13:14).
Abraham, our father in the faith, was said to be an alien and stranger, looking forward to a different home: By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God (Hebrews 11:8-10).
Citizenship is automatic when born in a country. If parents are Americans but the child born in Germany, he has dual citizenship; by birth of Germany and by parentage of the United States. When a citizen of one country wishes to become a citizen of another, he often is required to renounce his former citizenship.
Many professing Christians try to maintain dual citizenship, of this world and also of God's kingdom. God doesn't permit this. He requires them to renounce their former citizenship. Just as he prohibits us from calling any person on earth father, once he has become our Father, so he insists we be citizens only of his kingdom. Jesus taught, "No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight" (Luke 16: 13,15). Paul contrasted the two kingdoms by saying we all are slaves, either to sin (the world system) or to God (Romans 6: 16-22).
John said we can't be dual citizens: "If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (I John 2:15).
James agreed, but stated it more strongly: "You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God" (James 4:4). James called the people adulterous because they were unfaithful to God and his kingdom, seeking the world as well. James commanded: "Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded" (James 4:8). James said the double-minded man is unstable in all he does, he should not think he will receive anything from the Lord (James 1:7-8).
119. John 3:4.
120. 2 Corinthians 5:17. Paul said, "Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation" (Galatians 6: 15).
121. Paul said exactly that: "We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life" (Romans 6:4).
122. Luke 13:19. See also Mark 4:30-31 and Matthew 13:31-32.
123. Luke 13:20-21. See also Mark 4:32 and Matthew 13:33.
124. Luke 8:13.
125. You may be asking, how did we change from talking about a saving faith to the kingdom of God? To understand that, we must know about the kingdom. Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, "The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:20-21).
The kingdom is within each of us through the Holy Spirit through whom we are born again, made a new creation, and through whom we are conformed to the image of Jesus. It is through a persevering saving faith that we become conformed to Jesus and have the mind of Christ.
126. Galatians 2:20. We see the recurrent theme that we no longer live (in our old sin nature), that we are new creatures in Christ Jesus.
127. 1 John 2:6.
128. Romans 8:29.
129. Galatians 3:27.
130. Matthew 23:8.
131. Matthew 23: 10.
132. Matthew 10:24-25.
133. Luke 6:40.
134. Matthew 9:22. See also Mark 5:34, 10:52, Luke 7:50, 8:48, 17:19, and 18:42.
135. Matthew 9:28-29
136. Luke 7:47.
137. Luke 7:50. Paul told we are saved through faith: For 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)
138. Matthew 21 :20-21.
139. James I :6-8.
140. Matthew 13:58.
141. Matthew 10:32.
142. Matthew 10:33.
143. James 2:20.
144. James 2:17.
145. James 2:14.