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.
I have a friend who is also an elder at our church. In the past couple of years I’ve watched him grow into a spiritual leader who inspires and challenges me every time we talk. God has done many things in his life to effect this season of growth but much of it started with his participation in a Life Transformation Group or LTG. Read his testimonial below –
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” James 5:16a NIV
For many years I struggled with a particular sin that was very stubborn. Try as I might, I could not get mastery over this shortcoming. I pleaded with God to take it from me but I was unable to get any lasting relief. Last summer I started an LTG with another guy. To my amazement the sin I had struggled with became a footnote. It is not to say that there has been no struggle whatsoever, but knowing that I am going to be asked about it every week is a strong deterrent. I have been able to move on and work on other areas where God is prodding me.
An LTG is formally called a Life Transformation Group, but it could also be called a laughing together group or a learning together group because those things happen as well. An LTG has three parts to it: scripture reading, accountability questions and praying for the lost. The scripture reading is done at home. You come together once a week and ask each other the scripted accountability questions, discuss the scripture reading and pray for three people you know who are lost.
It is interesting that James says to confess your sins and pray for each other and you will be healed. Sin does a powerful amount of damage to ones soul. Spiritual progress cannot happen until the wound of sin is healed. An LTG with another committed believer can be a vehicle of healing that allows your relationship with God to go to a much deeper level. Won’t you consider joining one?
For more information, click the picture below:
“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.
photo credit: imdb.com
Daniel LaRusso’s first three days of “karate training” are filled with menial chores around Miyagi’s oasis in the junkyard. Each chore must be carried out according specific instructions, “Wax on, right hand; wax off, left hand. Make big da circles. Breathe in the nose, out through the mouth.” The next day, “Paint the fence.” The one after, “Sand the floor.” Each time, the method is specific. Posture, style, breathing- they all matter. The master’s unorthodox style confuses Daniel but he has agreed to do whatever he is told without question. That agreement comes to an end when by the afternoon of the third day, Miyagi checks on Daniel on his way to go fishing. Daniel unleashes a string of expletives in Miyagi’s direction and impugns his master’s motives. Miyagi interrupts Daniel with the stern command, “Daniel san, show me ‘sand the floor’.” The master begins to throw a series of punches and kicks at Daniel who watches himself block each one. Daniel stands stunned as Miyagi bows. Through unquestioning obedience to his master, Daniel has unknowingly received his imprint.
The figure I discovered in the pages of Matthew’s gospel compelled me to emulation. I fantasized about wearing a white robe and teaching under a tree somewhere. But that’s not what the Master told me to do. He put the sponge of forgiveness in my hand. The next day he gave me the brush of mercy. On day three I found myself stooping to sand off the sun-scorched outer layer of my greedy heart.
After training this way for years, I made the startling discovery that I had actually begun to care about other people like I care about myself. How did he do it? It could not have come through standing over people preaching to them even though that is the activity I saw my Lord engaging in. I, selfish and immature as I am, had to take the route of unquestioning obedience.
Here are the Master’s words about his method of training:
39 He also told them this parable: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit? 40 The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.
41 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 42 How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
46 “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? 47 As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. 48 They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built.- Luke 6:39-42; 46-48 NIV
The question for Daniel and for all of us is not what am I accomplishing here but who am I becoming. When we receive the imprint of our Master, we will be ready for whatever gets thrown at us.