Grace

Is Faith Alone in Christ Alone Biblical?

bible-896220__340Last week, I had an interesting conversation with a friend on Facebook. Both of us noticed many churches use the identifiable slogan, “faith alone in Christ alone.” But what exactly does that mean?  And is it biblical?

My friend argued that simply because some groups summarize their position with a recognizable slogan does not mean they hold to the details of that doctrine. In fact, he said churches could perhaps have ineffective doctrine and misconstrue the meaning behind “faith alone in Christ alone.”

I partially agreed. However, I said to him the slogan, “faith alone in Christ alone” is exclusive enough in the statement itself to raise suspicion. The reason I say this is because James 2:24, a verse in the Bible, reads: “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” 

Aren’t these opposite statements? Isn’t it contradictory to hold to both “faith alone in Christ alone” and “justified by works and not by faith alone?”  

Ephesians indeed says we are saved “by grace through faith.” But the important word missing is “alone.” I haven’t come across any passages in the Bible that denotes faith alone. The closest passage that hints at this idea is Romans 3:28, “For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the Law.” This simply means no one can perfectly obey the Law. Our reliance or faith is upon the finished work of Jesus, who indeed fulfilled the requirements of the Law.

Interestingly, Martin Luther attempted to add the word “alone” when he translated it into his native language, German. His rationale for doing so was that the inclusion of the word alone was more grammatically correct than its exclusion. It is true that Greek can use an exclusive particle like μονον to express “alone.” However, if we’re being true to the original Greek passage, Romans 3:28 is saying “of the set [faith, works of the law] man is reconciled by faith,” not “faith alone.”

So why is this a big deal? I think there are two reasons. First, “faith alone” can conjure up this false notion that obedience is unnecessary; it’s all about grace. While it is true that by the works of the law, no man will be justified (Romans 3:20), and that we are saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:7-9), this doesn’t imply that faith is alone.

In fact, faith and works are two sides of the same coin. James makes it clear here when he states, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says He has faith but no works. Can that faith save him (James 2:14)?” This rhetorical question is to be answered with a resounding no! James expresses that even the demons have faith, they believe in the Son of God, but they are not saved. They do not obey the Lord or even desire to do so. Therefore, if one doesn’t properly define faith, it may be used as a license to sin. 

The second reason “faith alone” needs to be properly defined is to avoid the other extreme, legalism. As John MacArthur eloquently states: 

“Works is not a means to salvation. Rather, salvation is a means to good works.” 

When one is saved, they will produce good fruit. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22). Faith is indeed the conduit–the starting material, and works naturally flow from it.

If you reverse this and say works is a means to salvation, you have lost the gospel. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. There is no one righteous. No one who does good. For the wages of sin is death. And all of us are under condemnation since we have failed to keep the righteous requirements of the Law. Only Yeshua the Messiah did. That’s why we must put our faith in Him!

So where do we go from here? I think it’s safe to say we are saved by grace through faith in Christ. It is right to say no one will be justified by the works of the law; for all of us have sinned and fall short. However, it’s also right to agree with James that we are not saved by “faith alone.”

This is not a contradiction. Faith is never alone. It is conjoined with works. The proper definition of faith is “obedience to God,” while knowing full well that your obedience doesn’t merit salvation. Instead, your obedience is a natural overflow of your thankfulness that God has saved you.

1 Corinthians 6:11 says it best: “And that is what some of you were [practicing lawlessness]. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

It is my prayer for faith to be defined correctly. This subject should be taken seriously because Revelation 22:19 warns us: “And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.

I hope this teaching was edifying for you. Please leave comments below if you want to discuss this subject in further detail. Blessings! 

 

 

Why Does a Good God Allow Human Suffering?

“Good and upright is the Lord.” – Psalm 25:8

Why does a loving God allow human suffering and evil? If God is all-powerful, doesn’t he have the ability to prevent it? If the Creator truly cares, wouldn’t he bring peace upon this earth? What is the purpose of suffering, if any at all? These are all common questions that people ask, especially when they are experiencing tragedy.

When my wife was a child, she had a younger sister named Natalia. At the age of 1, it was evident something physically was wrong. Her parents went from doctor to doctor to get a diagnosis. Finally, the worst news possible: Natalia had terminal cancer.

Her parents were determined to save Natalia’s life. They tried chemotherapy, surgery, traveled to clinics around the country, but there was no remedy for this cancer. It started in the tailbone and spread to her lungs.

When Natalia began to walk, she would complain about her leg pain. She just wanted relief. My wife vividly remembers a time when Natalia said to her Mom, “I just want an injection. Can you give me an injection to relieve this pain?” Most children loathe shots, but Natalia needed it because her pain was unbearable. That same year Natalia passed away and began the journey to her heavenly home.

Stories like these are hard to hear. My wife and her family were devastated. Heartbroken. Questioning the goodness of God was a natural conversation considering their circumstances. Despite the pain, this tragedy had started a positive direction for their family.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28

After the funeral, my Father-in-Law, who was an agnostic, started attending church. He had nowhere else to go. In his brokenness, the only relief was to be part of a community of believers who would pray and comfort him and his family during this ravenous storm.

My wife started going to church with her grandpa. My Mother-in-Law also began attending church. Although Natalie had passed into eternity, her influence was prevalent. This tragedy brought the entire family into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Today, my wife loves the Lord. She has helped missionaries translate the gospel from English to Ukrainian. She has counseled several women in the church. Everyday,  she teaches my two boys the importance of God’s love. For instance, our eldest son Evan is already sharing Jesus with kids he meets at the park. She has been a tremendous helper for me and a vital asset to the strength of our family.

My Father-in-Law owns a successful business. He gives employees the option of staying after work to do in-depth Bible studies with him. And yes, they get paid for being present. He has contributed greatly to their city, revamping dilapidated buildings, creating programs for youth, and teaching Bible studies at his house. He knows the Bible better than any seminary trained professor I have ever met.

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” – James 1:2-4

All of us will experience tragedy at some point. It’s inevitable. When these tragedies do arise, what will your attitude be? If you become bitter and angry towards God, I can promise you, life will become a dark tunnel filled with disappointment. Bitterness always leads to the grave.

My wife’s sister Natalia was a heartbroken event. Both her laughter and tears will never be forgotten. And yes, grieving is the right attitude, but it’s not the final outcome. Natalia had a positive impact on my wife and her entire family. Her death brought brokenness, but that brokenness led the Livinyuk family to seek refuge in Christ. Praise be to God.

God’s Law and Grace Are Harmonious

“To separate God’s law from grace is to misapply both law and grace.”

Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4). For all have sinned and stand condemned before God (Rom. 3:23). The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). Thus, all deserve God’s wrath for breaking His law.

Thankfully, Jesus took our punishment on the cross in order to satisfy God’s righteous anger toward sin. Because God upholds His law, He must punish all sin, including yours and mine. To absolve us from the curse of the law, God made Jesus, who knew no sin, to become sin for us, so that we could be made right with God through Christ (Isaiah 53; 2 Cor. 5:21).

Not only did Jesus die for our sins, but he lived in complete obedience to the law. That’s why there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ. Why? Because what the law was powerless to do since it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us (Rom. 8:4).

Therefore, the only way to understand grace is in light of the law. The law says, “You are guilty.” But God says, “even though your sins are as scarlet, I will make them white as snow (Isaiah 1:18). Essentially, the law magnifies grace.

Jesus also makes it clear the law is everlasting. “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose (Matt. 5:17). And He did. He perfectly obeyed the law and that’s the only reason we are made righteous before a holy God.

Dear Church, Love Always Triumphs Over Hate.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” – Matthew 5:43-45

Last week, I watched a video uploaded by a pastor on YouTube. He told his opposing viewers to get over the presidential election and stop crying like a “bunch of babies.” Do you think his attitude was constructive? Was it in the Christian Spirit to sharply condemn in this manner? What does his response reveal to outsiders about the leaders in the Christian religion?

I don’t think calling people a bunch of crybabies is what Jesus would do. Jesus not only taught to love those who disagreed politically (Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and God what belongs to God), but also to radically love your persecutors. And Jesus isn’t just talking about cyber bullying. He is referring to enemies of God who killed followers of Christ.

For instance, when Stephen  publicly praised Jesus in front of the Pharisees, they stoned him to death. What was Stephen’s response? “Lord, don’t blame them for what they have done.” Isn’t this the exact response Jesus had when he was crucified? He cried out, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Compare the attitude of Jesus and Stephen to the pastor on YouTube. Isn’t there a stark difference? Why is it, then, that leaders in the church are not imitating what Jesus said? God told us to beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. I don’t know if this pastor is a false prophet, but I do know, based on his temperament, he shows no signs of the Fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23).”

While I understand this political election has caused division, anger, and resentment, the Christian church needs to arise out of the ashes. The Church has a great opportunity to be the new role model. Can you imagine how many people would be attracted to a religion that tells them to “love those who persecute you?” A worldview that teaches all of us are “created in the image of God?” A belief system where God took on human flesh to die for the sins of rebels?

This worldview is the only hope for humanity. So what are you waiting for? Go, stand, and speak this great truth to a world in desperate need of acceptance, love, grace, and forgiveness found at the cross!

Lent Reminds us of the Real Revolutionary

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Substitutionary atonement is the sacrifice Christ made for the sins of the whole world (Jn.3:16). Those who repent and put their faith in Christ alone for salvation (Eph. 2:8-9) will receive the righteousness of Christ. The righteousness of Christ is imputed or given to believers. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of Christ (2 Cor. 5:21).” The reason Christ could be our substitute and impute his righteousness was because he perfectly obeyed the will of God the Father. He is the perfect standard of the love and justice of God that was required for humankind to be reconciled to God.

Furthermore, substitutionary atonement not only comprises Christ imputing his righteousness to us. It’s important to understand that God was also sent to be the “propitiation” for believers (Rom. 3:25). Propitiation is a sacrifice that bears all God’s wrath on sin. Since God is just and can’t ignore the sins committed by humankind, He chose to sacrifice His only begotten Son. We must remember that Christ voluntarily chose to take the wrath of God, and that this wrath was what satisfied the demands of his own righteousness and justice. Thus, atonement is both God giving us His righteousness and appeasing the wrath of God.[1]

The implications of this doctrine for human guilt over sin is crucial. Because Jesus bore our penalty—penal substitution, He became our representative. By becoming our representative, God penalized his only Son instead of us. When we come into a relationship with Jesus, the Bible says “there is therefore now no condemnation (Rom. 8:1).” Since there is no condemnation, Christians who struggle with false guilt should remind Satan, who is the accuser of the brethren, that the sins of mankind were paid in full by Jesus of Nazareth.

Even though we deserve to die for the penalty of our sins and warrant the wrath of God for eternity, Christ, because of his love and mercy, reconciled us through His substitutionary atonement. He brought us back into fellowship with God. The Bible says that “in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor. 5:18-19).” This is the greatest news for the world. Heaven is a free gift given to us by God, but we should never forget that God bought it in full for us when he suffered on the cross for our sins. Praise Jesus for His grace.

[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p.569.

Martin Luther’s Conversion Experience

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There’s a story about Martin Luther, a German monk, priest, and important figure to the birth of the Protestant Reformation in 1517. When he was traveling through a terrible thunderstorm, a lightning strike nearly killed him. He cried out a vow to God that if he survived he would live as a monk. And so he did.

He entered the Augustinian order at Erfurt. He prayed eight times a day, slept little, and performed painful self-infliction for his sins. He was attempting to love God with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength. Yet he was miserably bound by the law.

Luther was known for confessing his sins so often that he would stay up all night and the priests would grow weary. Whenever Luther showed up, they would exclaim: “Oh no, Luther is here. We are going to stay up all night now.”

It wasn’t until Luther meditated on Romans 3:20 that he finally understood what God desired from him. “By the works of the law no flesh will be justified in his sight; for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.” Finally, Luther came to the brink of his own self-righteousness. He gave up in his works-based religion and asked for justification by faith alone in Christ alone!

As Christians, we can be tempted to view our salvation along with our commitment to attending church, reading the Bible, praying, and evangelizing. Yes, we are called to produce fruit. Faith without works is dead, as the Apostle James said. However, when it comes to our salvation and justification, it’s all the work of Christ. Let’s never forget that!

Bless And Love Your Enemies Like Jesus Did

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“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing (1 Peter 3:9-10).”

Warren Wiersbe, an American Pastor, once said: “As Christians we can live on one of three levels. We can return evil for good, which is the satanic level. We can return good for good and evil for evil, which is the human level. Or, we can return good for evil, which is the divine level. Jesus is the perfect example of this latter approach.”

How true! Jesus called us to radically love our enemies, not to take revenge. We should return positive good deeds for evil ones. Jesus said in Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will inherit the Kingdom of God.” Moreover, the Apostle Paul tells the Corinthian believers to bless those who curse you and answer kindly to those who slander you (1 Cor. 4:12-13). This type of radical love is foreign to the world today.

In the Grace of Giving, the author, Stephen Olford, tells of a Baptist Pastor, Peter Miller, who lived in Pennsylvania during the American Revolution (1765-1783). He was good friends with George Washington and often visited him. In Miller’s place of residence lived a man named Michael Wittman. He was a bully and wicked minded man who would oppose and slander Pastor Miller daily.

One day, Mr. Wittman was accused of treason by the American government and sentenced to die. Pastor Miller heard about this and traveled seventy miles on foot to Philadelphia to defend this traitor in front of General George Washington. “No, Pastor Miller, I can’t grant you the life of your friend.” “My friend!” exclaimed the preacher. “He’s the bitterest enemy I have.” “What?” cried Washington. “You’ve walked seventy miles to save the life of an enemy? That puts the matter in a different light. I will grant your pardon.” And he did. Peter Miller took Michael Wittman back home–no longer an enemy but a friend.

When we bless those who curse us, we are demonstrating the love of God to the world. We are also admitting that grace was once given to us. There was a time when we were cut off and separated from God. Despite our former, rebellious hearts, Jesus decided to forgive us, so we should forgive others.

As Christians, never forget where you came from, lost and without any hope. Instead, be eager to share this hope with others. Ask yourself: Do you have any enemies at this moment? Are you storing up bitterness inside? Have you attempted to reconcile yourself to this person? As Christians, it’s our duty to seek reconciliation and peace. Please do this today before it’s too late.