Salvation: Who Is Inviting Whom?

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Salvation: Who Is Inviting Whom?

James R. Aist

On the last and greatest day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.” (John 7:37)

Different Christian “traditions” have developed their own “catch phrases” to represent biblical truths with simplicity, and, as such, they can be useful tools of communication in the Christian “world.” But some catch phrases do not accurately convey sound doctrine or theology, however well-intended. This article addresses an important example of a popular, yet misleading, catch phrase.

The catch phrase I have in mind occurs at the end of a “salvation message”, when the evangelist encourages the congregation to “ask Jesus into your life”, or something equivalent in different words.  As I was meditating briefly on this particular invitation – which I have heard on several occasions – a red flag went up. So, I paused to meditate further to try and identify the reason for the red flag.

Then it dawned on me: Do we really want to ask Jesus to join us in our sinful, worldly lives? Is that what it means to be born again? Of course not! When salvation comes, it is not us inviting Jesus to join our lives; rather, it is Jesus who is inviting us to join Him in His life, that is, eternal life.

And, these two kinds of life are of a fundamentally different nature. The life we are born into is a temporary, physical, biological life in which we are separated from God. The life that Jesus invites us to enter into is a spiritual life in which we are connected to God forever, just as He originally intended when He created mankind. Being “born again” produces a truly “new life” in our experience, and it can be ours only when we stop resisting God and let Him save us.

That said, there are surely very important ways in which Jesus does want to bless and change us during the remainder of our biological life. For example, He insists that we let Him become our Lord by being obedient to His teachings and to all of the other moral laws contained in the written word of God, the Bible. This means that the true born-again experience will result in a life that is characterized by the forsaking of evil works and the practice of good works. If these signs of a true believer are absent, then we have not yet received the gift of “saving faith”, but instead, we have received “dead faith” (James 2:14-17). Such faith is worse than worthless, because it leaves us believing that our sin problem has been taken care of, when it has not!

Revelation 22:7 says, “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” Let him who hears say, “Come.” Let him who is thirsty come. Let him who desires take the water of life freely.” This is an invitation from God for you to become connected to Him, sharing His life forever. The “Spirit” is God’s Holy Spirit, the “bride” and “him who hears” is the company of born-again, true believers in Jesus Christ. All of these are inviting you to enter into God’s eternal life. Those who desire to accept this invitation may take the water of life freely. So, if this is you, I strongly urge you to say “yes” to this invitation now, because everlasting life with God in heaven depends on it! There is no other way (John 14:6).

(To read more of my articles with a biblical theme, click HERE)

Why Do Christians Do Good Works?

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Why Do Christians Do Good Works?

James R. Aist

Why do we do good works after we are saved? There is a correct answer to this question, and there is an answer that is unequivocally incorrect. It is important for us to know the incorrect answer, so that we can avoid falling into a dangerous heresy.

Let’s consider the correct answer. God created us to reflect and magnify His own glory (Isaiah 43:7 and 21; Ephesians 1:12). All of our good works – e.g., acts of praise, worship, obedience, generosity, compassion, mercy, sharing the Gospel of Christ, making disciples – have one thing in common: they all ultimately reflect and magnify God’s glory. The Bible says that God has prepared – in advance – work for each one of us to do, and that, in doing these things, we are fulfilling the purpose for which God created us (Ephesians 2:10).

But, it is all too easy for us to fall into the mindset that, in doing good works, we are repaying Jesus for what he did for us. After all, shouldn’t our gratitude for Jesus saving us motivate us to do good works in response? That seems logical, doesn’t it? But, that cannot be the reason we do good works, and here’s why: we are saved by grace… it is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8). And, if it is a gift of God, then there is nothing for us to repay; gifts are free. In the same way that we cannot do good works to earn salvation (Ephesians 2:9; 2 Timothy 1:9), so also we cannot do good works to repay Jesus for the gift of salvation after we receive it; both would be a form of the “salvation by works” heresy. When Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins, our debt was canceled, not mortgaged! No, we do good works because that is what God saved us to do: the work that he prepared in advance for us (Ephesians 2:10).

If there is a debt, it is only a debt of gratitude, not of good works.

(To read more of my articles on Biblical Teachings, click HERE.)

The Righteousness that God Requires

The Righteousness that God Requires

James R. Aist

“…not having my own righteousness which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ…” – Philippians 3:9

Atheists and other non-Christians often accuse Christians of being “self righteousness” hypocrites, meaning that they claim to be without sin, yet are not, or that God sees them as righteous because of their many “good works.” Unfortunately, there is often some truth to this accusation, as many Christians do not know and understand the true source of their righteousness, and do appear to be self-righteous hypocrites, guilty as charged. Let’s take a moment to see if we can sort this all out by consulting the Word of God on this matter.

In Romans 3:23, Paul writes that “…all have sinned and come short of the glory of God…” Another way of saying this is that we all lack the pure righteousness (glory) that God requires of us in order for us to quality for heaven, because we have all sinned. Isaiah put it this way, “But we all are as an unclean thing, and all our righteousness is as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6), where “our righteousness” refers to our so-called “good” works. So, since we have all have sinned, and our good works aren’t really righteousness in God’s eyes, how in the world, then, can anyone meet God’s requirement for pure righteousness and, thus, qualify for heaven? Is it even possible?

The answer to these questions is both simple and profound. Jesus said, “I am the way…” (John 14:6). Paul, referring to Jesus, declared that “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). And, in Philippians 3:9, Paul summed it all up nicely for us, “…not having my own righteousness which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is of God on the basis of faith.” Now we can see clearly that, if we are a born-again believer, then God has imparted to us the pure righteousness that is Christ’s. That is where our righteousness comes from, not from our “good” works; it is a gift of God through faith in Jesus Christ. It’s that simple. And it is profound, because it is this (pure) righteousness that qualifies us to spend our eternity with God in heaven! This is the essence of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. How awesome is that?!

So, the next time someone accuses you of being “self righteous”, you can explain to them that your righteousness is not of yourself, but it is the righteousness of God imparted to you by God, because of your faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. And don’t forget to mention that they, too, can have this genuine, pure righteousness in the same way you received it. Jesus truly is “the Way!”

(To read more of my biblical teachings, click HERE) 

Faith, or Works, or Faith and Works?

Faith, or Works, or Faith and Works?

James R. Aist

“…while Paul emphasizes the importance of good works in the life of the believer, he sees them as something that we were saved to do, not something we are saved by doing. And that’s a very important distinction!”

Introduction

Perhaps the single most important doctrine of the Christian church is the doctrine of salvation, for it is what you believe (or, more precisely, in whom you believe!) about salvation that will ultimately determine your eternal destiny, whether it be heaven or hell. There are a number of Bible passages that speak about the relationship of both faith and works to salvation.  Prominent among these are the teachings of Jesus, Paul and James. A cursory reading of them can give the impression that the Bible contradicts itself in this regard. One can find passages that say that salvation comes through faith alone, while other passages seem to suggest that it may be a combination of faith and works that get it done. But, since all Scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit of God — i.e., literally “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16) – the Bible cannot contradict itself; God is not a liar and He doesn’t make mistakes (Numbers 23:19). So let’s take a closer look and see if we can make sense out of what may appear, at first glance, to be confusion.

Two Kinds of Faith

There are actually two different kinds of faith at work in the world. There is a “natural faith” that everyone is born with. It is part of our human nature, and it helps us to deal with the realities and necessities of the natural world.  We use this kind of faith in our everyday lives. By our natural faith, we believe that if we turn the ignition key, the car will start, and so we do it “on faith.” By our natural faith, we believe that the chair we are about to sit on will be strong enough to support our weight, and so, by faith, we “take a seat.” By our natural faith, we believe that if we put a dollar bill into a change machine, it will return four quarters, and in it goes. We are all very familiar with this natural faith. While natural faith is a necessary part of successful and productive living in this world, it is not perfect, as witnessed by the fact that the car doesn’t always start, the chair doesn’t always hold and the change machine doesn’t always return four quarters.

But there is another kind of faith. This is  “supernatural faith.” No one is born with it, so not everyone has it; it is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8-9). Supernatural faith enables the “born again” believer to understand spiritual things, qualify for heaven and do good works out of a pure motivation of love and compassion. Contrary to natural faith, supernatural faith, when properly understood and applied, never fails. For a more complete treatment of the meaning of “born again”, click HERE.

If we keep these two different kinds of faith in mind as we examine the relevant Bible passages about faith and works, we will see that the teachings of Jesus, James and Paul are really not contradictory at all, but are, instead, complementary. So, here we go…

Paul’s Teaching

Here are some of Paul’s teachings about faith and works:

  • “…know that a person is not justified by the works of 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 the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.” (Galatians 2:16)
  • “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God —  not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
  • And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace. (Romans 11:6)
  • For we maintain that a person is justified by faith, apart from the works of the law.” (Romans 3:28)
  • You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.” (Galatians 5:4)
  • For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless…” (Romans 4:13-15)
  • “Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.” (Romans 4:4-5).

Based on the above passages, I believe that Paul’s teaching can be summarized accurately as follows: (supernatural) faith (in Jesus Christ and in His finished work on the cross) is what accomplishes salvation; our good works do not add anything to what (supernatural) faith does in this regard. Since we are saved by grace (i.e., the free gift of God), if we try to save ourselves by doing good works, we cancel God’s grace and have no hope of salvation. Paul emphasizes the exclusion of good works from the process of salvation.

But wait, didn’t Paul have something else to say about “good works” in relation to salvation? Indeed he did! Here are just a few examples:

  • “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)
  • “And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:8)
  • “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” (1 Timothy 6:18).

So we see that, while Paul emphasizes the importance of good works in the life of the believer, he sees them as something that we were saved to do, not something we are saved by doing. And that’s a very important distinction!

James’ Teaching

The teaching of James on faith and works is summarized in James 2:14-26 as follows:

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?Was not our father 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.You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. 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?As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”

Based on the above passage, I believe that James’ teaching can be summarized in this way: Mere mental agreement (natural faith) that Jesus is the Savior of the world will not save anyone; even the demons believe that. That kind of faith (natural faith) is dead faith. On the other hand, faith that saves (supernatural faith) is accompanied by good works. In fact, the good works are evidence that your faith is supernatural faith, not natural faith. In this way, your supernatural faith and your works are acting together to confirm that your faith is supernatural, genuine and effective. James brings good works into the picture, but not as a means unto salvation. Rather our good works are produced by (supernatural) saving faith and are evidence that our faith is the supernatural kind of faith, not dead and ineffective (natural) faith.

Jesus’ Teaching

Here are a couple of key Bible passages that represent the teachings of Jesus about faith and works:

  • “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:27-29)
  • “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:21-23)

You may be surprised that there are elements of both Paul’s and James’ teaching to be found here. In the first passage, Jesus states quite simply that the work of God that results in eternal life is to believe in (have supernatural faith in) the one he has sent (i.e., Jesus). This leaves no room for good works, in the usual sense of “works”, in meeting God’s requirement for salvation. That sounds a lot like what Paul was saying. On the other hand, in the second passage, Jesus says that only the one who does the will of my Father will enter the kingdom of heaven. So, here we have supernatural faith that saves and is authenticated by obedience (good works). Isn’t that essentially what James was saying? So, in effect, the teachings of both Paul and James about faith and works echo the teachings of Jesus.

Summary

I would summarize the teachings of Jesus, Paul and James on faith and works as they relate to salvation like this: A special kind of faith, supernatural faith, is required for salvation. It is a faith that is a gift of God and leads to good works. The good works are evidence that one has supernatural “saving faith”, but they do not help one to “earn” eternal life. God requires only that we have (supernatural) saving faith in Jesus Christ to qualify for heaven; the good works will follow naturally after one is saved. In short, both (supernatural) saving faith and good works are necessarily present and manifested in the lives of true believers, but it is the (supernatural) saving faith alone that qualifies them for heaven.

(For more articles on BIBLICAL TEACHINGS, click HERE)