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“Oh, the unspeakable greatness of that exchange,—the Sinless One is condemned, and he who is guilty goes free; the Blessing bears the curse, and the cursed is brought into blessing; the Life dies, and the dead live; the Glory is whelmed in darkness, and he who knew nothing but confusion of face is clothed with glory.” Trailady

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A person God turned around many times.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Works

What an archaic word! How we have carried forward a relic of the past and kept it for the sole purpose of making theological diatribes. I suppose its usage is a link to the KJV which is still my favorite version of God’s word. But that word, “works,” is the perfect example of why the KJV needed some revamping and updating. Few post-modernists would have a clue if they heard that word in our attempt to witness to them or if they chanced to catch it from a preacher.

“Works” needs some work! It needs some redefinition, some modernizing. “Faith without works is dead.” “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.” Jas. 2:20;Eph. 2:8, 9. Two of the best known verses in the Bible, bar none. And the people who love to argue about everything under the sun just can’t get enough of these two apparently contradictory texts.

But obviously there is something important about “works” and faith. Are they together or opposed to one another? Friends or enemies? Can we produce either of them? How and when do we experience either one? Evidently “salvation,” another mysterious archaic, is heavily dependent on a resolution of the two components. So exactly what does “works” mean?

Well, works can be defined by the following modern terminology: behavior, good deeds, being a good person, human effort, obedience, acts of righteousness, commandment keeping, fruits of the Spirit, religious display, “Doing the right thing,” duty, the law, overcoming sin, a good track record, good reputation, etc. Quite a wide array of concepts, some good, some bad!

Ok. We’ve pretty much nailed down “works” to be what we can see and hear. It is actions, and words, related to morality or religion. Paul says to the Ephesian folk that these are not enough—not enough to be considered a Christian, not enough to really being good, not enough to endure the day of Christ’s coming and the Judgment. Faith is where our assurance lies and faith alone!

But James tells his flock that “works,” or good behavior, or a good life, is essential for faith! So now begins the dog-chasing-tail routine. Which comes first the chicken or the egg? Which holds the highest priority, faith or the fruit of the Spirit? Well, you can’t have His fruit unless you know the Spirit, and that takes faith, right? But James still strongly maintains that faith does not exist unless it is being demonstrated in action. (Jas. 2:18) And he presses further into the working zone by declaring that we are justified by more than faith, by “works;” (vs. 23,24) and that faith alone is dead! (vs.17).

Is this what happens when two theologians get together? Who has more clout? Who trumps who? Or are both great men of God and in agreement? Let’s look at this closely. Let’s look and listen to the Master teacher. If anyone had a handle on this He showed it.

“Thy faith hath made thee whole.” Many times did Jesus repeat this to individuals and to the listening crowd. Jesus was honoring the faith as revealed in the effort. Didn’t faith require work? The suffering one had to get to Jesus, which was rarely an easy task. That’s work, isn’t it? The premeditation and strategizing of the leper on how to get past all the well people and be healed of leprosy like so many other maladies had been, equated to many sleepless nights. Work? The woman with the blood issue had to press through a thick and dense wall of curiosity seekers, straining every muscle in her weakened body to intersect the passing Healer. Zaccheus, forgetting all reputation and social improprieties that come with wealth, must exert himself and climb a tree to see Jesus, who He was. Jacob had to wrestle all night, even with a raging, dislocated hip. Lots of work going on here. Lots of effort, perspiration, brain power, yearning for help, supernatural help.

Yet faith was also present. In every case we see faith, never without acting on that faith. If faith is real, it will act. I love the title of the book, “Faith Works.” In Spanish the whole meaning gets lost in the translation, “Fe in Accion,” interpreted Faith in Action. What the Spanish loses is the earth-shattering news that faith and action are not two separate entities. They must coexist, and faith generates work.

But what is the character of the work, without which faith is dead? Its whole purpose is for getting to Jesus, in order to be healed of sin and its effects so that we can have more faith. It sounds like circular reasoning, but efforts in righteousness for any other reason than ultimately to know God better and to serve Him is the wrong reason for effort. Is Granny down the street in need of help? Then go help her because you love her, knowing that God loves you in a much deeper way, not because you are helping Granny, but because you are His child and you need His all-powerful love. By beholding we become changed, and working out what we know of God only strengthens that image of Him in our minds. Loving like He loved. Doing like He did. Speaking His words of hope and truth—all for the express purpose of uniting with Him and being with Him—faith.

The faith and actions always work hand in hand. Peter exhorts us to add to our faith virtue and a list of other “works” (2Pet. 1:4-9) because if we do, we will fully come to know a deeper faith in Jesus—and if we don’t “grow in grace” (2Pet. 3:18) we will lose our faith and our salvation.

God initiates everything, we only respond. Faith is His gift because He has done so much for us and we see it. Faith responds to God’s initiatives; effort and works of righteousness respond to faith’s response. Thus, both faith and work are that divine nature He promises, both a response to His outworking, both essentially simultaneous, His gifts as we respond to His initiatives.

Let’s not be afraid of righteousness in the life. Let some on the sidelines accuse us of fanaticism or legalism or any other “ism.” Be obedient to the gospel—the everlasting gospel of the Old and New Testaments. Be a friend of God, through faith and works, in their proper perspectives, without which no man shall see the Lord.

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