A Faith that Works – Chapter 2 Excerpt

A Faith That Works is an examination of the gospel as the tangible power of God to save. Many Christians would be hard pressed to articulate exactly in what way the gospel had affected them. The absence of demonstrable change has become so prevalent that we’ve actually found a biblical basis to explain it. This excerpt from what may or may not be chapter 2 of the book dismantles that basis to make way for the legitimate work of God.

I can think of no better evidence to support my case that the gospel of the western church has been rendered inert through mishandling than the prevalence of the belief that Paul meant to describe the normal Christian life in Romans 7. I can’t count the number of times a Christian has told me something like, “Yeah, we’re forgiven by grace but we’re still going to sin every day. I know I’m not as strong as Paul and he had things he couldn’t get over either. Just look at Romans 7.”

Really? Is that the best that the power of God can do? If faith in Christ left Paul “dead” and “wretched,” then what in the “H-E-double-hockey-sticks” did it do for him!?

Far from commiserating with faltering disciples, Paul wrote Romans 7 to depict the state of existence that the gospel saved him from. Through his attempts to conform to an external standard of righteousness, he became as “dead in transgressions and sins” as the pagan recipients of the Ephesian letter had been.

Compare the description from Ephesians 2:1-3 of their pre Christian state with his condition described in Romans 7:

● Paul and the Ephesians had both been dead in sin.
○ “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins,” (Eph. 2:1)
○ “Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death.” (Rom. 7:9-10)

● Paul and the Ephesians had both been in bondage to evil desires.
○ “…in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts.” (Eph. 2:2-3a)
○ “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Romans 7:14-15)

● Paul and the Ephesians both had natures that were hostile to God.
○ “Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.” (Ephesians 2:3b)
○ “For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:18-19)

If we agree that Ephesians 2:1-3 describes the lost state and then say that Romans 7 describes the common Christian experience, then we imply that the gospel produces no significant practical results. If we’ve come to identify a Romans 7 experience as the result of the gospel, then it’s no wonder there’s so little difference between the lives of Christians and nonbelievers. No wonder so few churchgoers evangelize. No wonder so many kids raised in church leave the faith.

Free Dumb

Everyone offers it.  Few understand it.  Many think they have it but know they do not.  They talk of freedom but they are “free dumb.” Simply put, freedom is doing what you most want to do.  Everything else is a degree of slavery.  So, if I ask you, “What do you most want to do?” and you answer with anything other than what you are currently doing, then you are bound in some way.  If you believe yourself to be free, then you are free dumb.

I have found that Jesus Christ alone offers true freedom.  He has liberated me from regret, fear, and insecurity.  He has pulled me into his loving embrace and I want nothing more.  I want him like Paul did in Phil. 3:10-11.  He is my great treasure and my aspiration.  I have found limitless wonder, joy, and power as a willing subject in his perfect law-less reign.  Sadly, those who reject him often do so because they believe he wants to hamper their “freedom.”  They are free dumb.

Perhaps those who reject him think this way because of “believers” who are afraid to declare with Paul, “All things are lawful for me.”  Such adherents speak judgment and rules as they drag the chains of their misguided responsibilities.  All the while they are mute to the truth that sets us free.  They are free dumb.

A Little Peace

Why do Christian leaders tell people that they should tithe?  I don’t have the definitive answer but I do believe that I know something true about tithing.  Tithing is not for the generous but for the stingy.  Generous people need only hear of the need and they will meet it.  They do not need a minimum compulsory amount.  Church leaders feel the need to teach on tithing because they are leading a group of selfish people.  Take the selfishness one step further and tell the “givers” that God will return even more to them if they do tithe.

There was a time for tithing.  God assumed selfishness in the unredeemed people of Israel and made provision for it.  For those who have been implanted with the love of God, tithing has become obsolete.  The saddest aspect of tithing teaching is when we presume selfishness from the redeemed,  they begin to be selfish.

Here’s what Paul said about a general legalistic approach, which would include tithing.

The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.   Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers  of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.   We know that the law is good  if one uses it properly.  We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels,   the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious… (1 Timothy 1:5-9a)

You Can Keep It

In the wake of various rallies which have taken place over the weekend regarding religion and the free exercise thereof, a question springs to my mind: “Who Would Jesus Protest?” Before you throw that question out as irrelevant, remember that Jesus lived and ministered in a highly-charged political environment. Jesus interacted with several political entities especially at the end of his life. Consider the following reading from the Gospel of John:

Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”

“If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.”

Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.”

“But we have no right to execute anyone,” they objected. This took place to fulfill what Jesus had said about the kind of death he was going to die.

Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”  (John 28:28-37 NIV)

This discussion involves three parties.  Two of them believe in Yahweh – the “Jewish leaders” and Jesus.  Two of them struggle over political influence – the “Jewish leaders” and Pilate.  Just one both worshipped Yahweh and bowed out of the political wrangling, even though the outcome had bearing on his very survival.  His reason: “My kingdom is not of this world.  If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders.  But now my kingdom is from another place.”

What if those who today claim to serve Jesus Christ stood up and said, “You can keep it!  We don’t need your support and we don’t fear your opposition.  We will neither compromise our values nor fight over them.  You are free to take away our rights, our dignity, our livelihood, and our very lives.  You can keep it all because our kingdom is not of this world.  In the end we will be vindicated and victorious.  Just wait and see.”