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.

Excuse My Insult

“I’m only human.”  That’s what people say to excuse repeated bad behavior.  Can Christians use this excuse?  They shouldn’t.  Paul used a very similar phrase to rebuke the Corinthian church over divisions among them.  Here’s the section.

You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?   For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings? (1 Corinthians 3:3-4 NIV)

Do you get the implication here?  Implicit to an identification with Christ is the transcendence of cultural norms.  We are no longer mere humans.  We’re something more.  What are we?

Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:4 NIV)

We’re hybrids, implanted with divine DNA.  We’re aliens.  We’re morally supercharged creatures of God.  Our nature has become intertwined with his.  How could we ever claim to be ONLY human?

How could we use what to Paul would have been an insult as an excuse?  Imagine a man who threw a tantrum excusing his behavior on the grounds that he is childish.  Not only would he be rejecting personal responsibility for his behavior he would also be implicitly pledging to retain his faults.  With Christians who hide behind their humanity, the error is even more serious because it is God who has declared us to be more, based on the work of Jesus Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  When we assert that we are only human we insult not only ourselves but God.  Christians often behave like people of the world but when we appeal to our humanity to cover our culpability it’s not just a fallacy; it’s heresy.

Out of the way and into The Way

God seems to talk to me while I’m in the shower.  That’s probably too much information but it’s true and the detail is important to my story.  Today, he reminded me that living for him is something which he does.  Walking in The Way means getting out of the way and letting the Son of God walk the earth in our shoes.  The watershed moment in my life occurred when Colossians 1:27 dawned on my consciousness.  Here is the NIV rendition of that verse: “To them (beings on the spiritual plane) God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”  The message resident in that verse forever shifted my perspective and expectations.  This morning, God reminded me of it.

When I got to the office today, I realized that I had not changed over my superfluous desktop calendar.  After ripping off last week at the perforation and placing it back on my desk, I looked and read the verse at the bottom: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

Be blessed today.  God through his grace has not only taken your past in hand, he also will handle your present and your future.  Praise him!