Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Q&A: real faith

This is a post designed to answer deeper theological questions. I've asked Facebook friends to post questions for discussion. I'll make a humble attempt to explore these questions from a biblical perspective.

Q: Is it possible to believe that Christ died for my sins and was the Son of God, but still not be saved? --Rick Lawson.

Q: I'm always uneasy when I read Matthew 7:22-23: "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!’" How can they have His power if they don't know Him? --Lewis Crow

Rick and Lewis, your questions are related and foundational for understanding the nature of authentic salvation. Both questions are connected because both deal with profession vs. practice. There were many in Jesus' day who were "card-carrying" religious folk. But, their lives failed to correspond with their lips; They didn't practice what they preached.

In Matthew 7:22-23, Jesus noted that there would be some who would stand before His judgment seat and be surprised. They will argue that they preached and perform miracles "in the name of Jesus," but Jesus won't give any claim to them. He will call them "evildoers" and sentence them to eternal separation. To Lewis' point, these condemned will feel as if there religious work was substantive [even believing that they had experienced the power of God in their ministry], but they will in fact still be enemies of Christ.

The Apostle James offers the strongest warning in James 2:14-17:

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 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? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

Verbal faith without corresponding action is useless. James calls it "dead" faith. It's not that action saves a person. We are saved by grace alone [Ephesians 2:8-9]. Rather, action, produced by authentic faith, is the evidence of faith. So, those who claim to have faith in Christ have no other evidence of the genuineness of their faith except their changed lives. To say it another way, "Talk is cheap" and "Put up or shut up."

To support his point, James writes, "You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder" [v. 19]. His point is sobering: Demons are good theologians. They have the right answers and can conclude correct answers. What separates them from the rest of creation is their failure to act on what they believe. Thus, the person who claims to be a Christian, but whose life is void of evidence, is no better than demons and is in danger of missing out on Christ's best when they stand before Him.

I hope this helps. I look forward to your comments.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Q&A: holding the line

This is a post designed to answer deeper theological questions. I've asked Facebook friends to post questions for discussion. I'll make a humble attempt to explore these questions from a biblical perspective.

Q: It seems like what is "acceptable" in the "Christian" community keeps changing. The line keeps moving in the sand about what is OK. The Bible hasn't changed yet what is OK seems to be. i.e., movies that are acceptable, language, etc. Seems like the line keeps getting pushed further and further.--Kristin Keilstrup Kimmell

A: Kristin, you highlight the ever-constant challenge of the Christian: living in the world but not letting the world live in them [Romans 12:2]. In the Old Testament, God's people were commanded to keep themselves "holy" [literally "set apart"] and not co-mingle their values and practices with those of the surrounding culture. When they entered into Canaan [Book of Joshua], they were to tear altars to Ball and Ashterah poles, reject intermarriage with foreigners and stay true to the Law of God. In fact, the reason for widespread annihilation of pagan people was to protect God's people from the ungodly influences of their culture.

The same charge is given to God's people today. In 2 Corinthians 6, Paul cautions the church about co-mingling with culture. He writes,

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said:

“I will live with them
and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they will be my people."

“Come out from them
and be separate,
says the Lord.
Touch no unclean thing,
and I will receive you.”
[2 Corinthians 6:14-17]

Unfortunately, today, too many Christians throw their hands up and concede, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." Rather than draw sharp lines, they allow the world to "squeeze them into its mold" [Romans 12:2, JB Philips translation].

How do we stand firm and stay pure? Let me offer 4 suggestions:

CONSIDER what God has said. Many Christians don't know where the lines are because they've never seen where they're drawn. God's Word is remarkably clear in so many areas of life. My one-year Bible reading has been a great refresher for me, reminding me of God's high standard and right reward for holy living.

CONVICTION ahead of time. Daniel "resolved" that he would not eat the kings food [Daniel 1:8]. That is, he formed a conviction based on what he knew from God's commands. For example, my son has an immovable conviction not to entertain female friends at our house if we're not at home. His conviction is a reflection of his commitment to holiness.

COURAGE in the crowd. People with convictions stand up to stand apart. Eventually, they will end up standing out. People will ask questions. Someone will roll their eyes. Your kids might be the "odd man out." To be sure, there are many things not worth "dying for." But, when the time arrives for you to make a decision based on conviction, you will need godly courage to endure. Just before the Israelites entered Canaan, God assured them, "Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go...Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go" [Joshua 1:7,9].

CULTIVATE a heart of humility. The danger of holiness is that it can breed a kind of haughtiness. Pride is ever on the heels of principled living. The more separated I am from the world, the more sensitive I must become to my world around me. God wants to use me to change my world. And, if I ascend the the peak of the mountain, I become distantly useless to my neighbors in the valley. Monks make terrible evangelists. So, ask God to help you remain humble as you pursue holy living.