Christian living

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! 

 

 

Did the Jerusalem Council Change God’s Law?

Who are the groups involved in Acts 15? We have the Jerusalem Council (v. 4), the Circumcision Party (v.1), the sect of believing Pharisees (v.5), and the new Gentile converts (V. 17-20). What is the debate about? There are two positions: The Judaizers say: The Law of Moses should be kept as part of salvation, beginning with Circumcision (Acts 15:1). The believing Pharisees who were trusting in Jesus as Messiah argued: “Gentiles should keep the Law out of obedience.” Is there anywhere in this passage that teaches the Law of Moses has been abolished, in whole or in part? I do not believe this is the point of the Jerusalem Council. 

How do we know this? Peter says the law coming from the Circumcision party, the oral tradition with all of its additional precepts, is bearing the yoke on the new believers. We know that God Himself declares His Law to be easy and light (Deut. 30:11-16; 1 Jn. 4:23). Therefore, if we say that God’s Law is what the Jerusalem Council is arguing about, then we can’t have Peter calling it an unreasonable yoke.

The yoke that is unreasonable is a doctrine that teaches we are saved through circumcision and God’s law. First, circumcision was a sign of the old covenant. This is embedded in the sacrificial system and has been fulfilled in Christ. As Scripture teaches in Hebrews 9, the blood of the new covenant is found when Christ entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. It’s vitally important, hermeneutically, to keep the “covenants” separate from the “Law of God” since covenants (Abrahamic, Noahic, Davidic, Mosaic, etc) are often temporary while God’s Law is eternal.

More importantly, Hebrews 11 teaches that salvation has always been by faith from the very beginning. People were never saved by the Law, and God’s Word never teaches that. Abraham was justified by faith when he offered his son Isaac. Noah was saved by faith when he built the ark. Therefore, in this passage, the Judaizers have the wrong theology: The Law of God is not kept for salvation. The Law of God is kept out of obedience to God. As Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey my commands.”

Acts 15:20 demonstrates this since abstaining from the pollution of idols, from fornication, things strangled, and from blood is a directive straight out of the Law of Moses in Leviticus 17:12-16 and Deuteronomy 32:17. I think this makes a strong case that the moral law of God is still binding today.

If one says the Sabbath is not mentioned, well, neither is covetousness, murder, or stealing. The point here is that the council was dealing with the sins of the Gentiles at that very moment. Coming out of paganism, many of them were polluted by idols through temple prostitution and so idolatry was a good place to start: not to have any other gods other than Yahweh. I do find it interesting that the apostles decided to keep God’s command concerning how to eat, such as prohibiting food that has blood or been strangled—which would categorize this (and I believe dietary laws) in the moral system rather than in the ceremonial or sacrificial system. Therefore, what you eat is still morally binding, but that’s for another discussion.

Finally, and this is really the key in this chapter on how to interpret this passage through exegesis and not through eisegesis. Acts 15:21 states: “For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”

The Greek word translated “for” means that it is relating to what has already been stated. In other words, James is saying not only are the previous four commandments to be kept, but the Gentiles are to continually learn every Sabbath just like it was from ancient generations. James is expanding on Acts 15:20 and he is using the present tense to indicate that the Law of Moses is still read every Sabbath in the synagogues. The Jerusalem Council occurred around 50 AD, approximately 20 years after Christ rose again from the dead. This strongly supports the view that the Law has been taught and kept during the early church. I am not referring to the well-known early church Fathers such as Ignatius and Clement of Rome, etc since they were anti-Semitic Greek philosophers who converted to Christianity and carried over their platonic ideas into the Hebrew faith.

Finally, Jeremiah 3:8-10 states the House of Israel that was divorced and scattered into the nations is now fulfilled in the coming of the Gentiles. God’s plan was to graft in the divorced, the House of Israel, back together with the house of Judah to save all of Israel (Ezekiel 37, Ephesians 2, Jeremiah 31, Zechariah 8:13). Therefore, God did not create a new nation. He already has a chosen nation, and we as Gentiles have been grafted in by the blood of Christ (Romans 11:17-19).

For these reasons, I do not believe God’s Law was changed at the Council in Jerusalem. Jesus famously said, “I did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it.” I believe Jesus meant what he said. It is my prayer God opens your eyes to this truth.

Did the Sabbath Change from Saturday to Sunday for Christians?

Did the Sabbath change for Christians? A typical response from an evangelical might be: “Yes, the old covenant Sabbath on Saturday was an ordinance of the old creation. Sunday, which is the Lord’s Day, is the Sabbath of the new creation because Jesus rose from the dead.”

Is this biblical? Are there any passages from Scripture that justify the Sabbath being changed from Saturday to Sunday after Jesus rose from the dead? Let’s take a look at the most common arguments in favor of Sabbath change and whether this theological viewpoint can hold under scrutiny.

Remember, all Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, showing mistakes, for correcting and for training character (2 Tim. 3:16). Whatever view you take, it must pass the litmus test of biblical veracity. Therefore, do not trust in your denominational heritage or preconceived notions about the Sabbath. Instead, follow the Bereans, who received the word of God with great eagerness, searching the Scripture with due diligence (Acts 17:11).

Some argue that 1 Corinthians 16:1-3 defend the position that the Sabbath was changed to Sunday because Paul discusses meeting on the first day of the week, Sunday, to collect an offering for the saints. However, the expression “laying aside” in the Greek comes with the connotation of putting something aside at home. Thus, there was no religious meeting held on the first day of the week and no collection plate passed at church on Sunday. Instead, they were to gather and store up their donations at home on that day.

If there was no religious meeting on Sunday, then why did Paul specifically suggest this work be done on Sunday? Simply put, the letter would have been shared with the church on the Sabbath when they were all gathered for worship, and the first opportunity for them to do the work would be the next day–the first day of the week.

But one might object further, saying, “What do you do with all the other references to “first day of the week?” Let’s examine Acts 20:6-7 and 1 Corinthians 16:2-3 that is often used in support of the Sabbath being changed to Sunday, the first day of the week.

“But we sailed from Philippi after the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and five days later joined the others at Troas, where we stayed seven days. On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight.” – Acts 20:6-7

Look up Acts 20:7 on greekbible.com. This is interesting. The verse actually states: μιᾷ τῶν σαββάτων, or “one of the Sabbaths,” not first day of the week. So what does one of the Sabbaths mean?

In the context, verse 6 mentions the Feast of Unleavened Bread. So what were they doing in verse 7? They were counting the Sabbath weeks. They were at “one” μιᾷ or first sabbath. How do we know that?

Leviticus 23:4-6;15 ‘These are the LORD’s appointed feasts, the sacred assemblies you are to proclaim at their appointed times: The LORD’s Passover begins at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. On the fifteenth day of that month the LORD’s Feast of Unleavened Bread begins; for seven days you must eat bread made without yeast.”

Now verse 15: “From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks. Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the LORD.”

Why did the Lord want His people to count off 7 Sabbaths or weeks? Because the day after the 7th Sabbath is Shauvot, which is “Pentecost.” That’s why the Pentecost is always 50 days after the resurrection of Christ.

The same Greek phrase is used in 1 Corinthians 16:2-3: κατὰ μίαν σαββάτου. The wording here in Greek is similar, but the context makes all the difference. Notice that Paul will be taking the collections and sending their gifts to Jerusalem. This offering was once again alluding to Pentecost.

Deuteronomy 16:16: “Three times a year all your men must appear before the LORD your God at the place he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles. No man should appear before the LORD empty-handed.”

Moreover, other passages that attempt to argue special days and seasons are referring to the Sabbath. For instance, Galatians 4:8-10 states: Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God — or rather are known by God — how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? 10 You are observing special days and months and seasons and years!”

Does this verse represent the Sabbath or feasts of God? No. Paul is speaking with Gentiles who never observed God’s ways. Verse 8 says at one time you did not know God. Moreover, verse 9 says they are turning back. Back to what? Back to their pagan celebrations, not back to observing the Sabbath.

Romans 14:5-6: One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.

The word Sabbath is not mentioned here in this text.

Colossians 2:16: “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.”

First, it’s important to note that Paul isn’t confronting the pharisaic Judaism like he was in Galatians. Instead, Paul is confronting an eastern mysticism known as Gnosticism, which maintained that secret knowledge can enhance one’s religion. That’s why he says to beware of philosophy according to the tradition of men, and not according to Christ (Col. 2:8).

These pagan philosophies were attempting to persuade the Colossians, who were mostly Gentile, that perfection could be achieved through self-denial and abstinence from pleasure (Col. 2:20-23). It was therefore the Gnostics who were condemning the believers for eating meat, drinking wine, and enjoying food and fellowship when observing God’s Sabbath and festivals.

The irony here is that some people would argue Paul is talking to legalistic Judaizers who were trying to enforce the Sabbath, new moons, and festivals upon them. But the opposite is true. The Gnostic ascetics, who thought they could obtain salvation through self-denial and self-mutilation (Col. 2:21-22), were telling the believers to stop enjoying these religious festivals. Therefore, Paul says, “Believers, do not let any one judge you as in regard to food, drink, new moon, and Sabbaths.”

1 John 5:2 says, “This is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.” Observing the Sabbath is an opportunity to rest from your labor and enjoy God. The goal of the Sabbath was never a “yoke or burden.” In fact, it’s a time of refreshment and renewal. Jesus enjoyed life!

Let me comment on an important passage from Mark 2:33. “One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grain-fields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. So the Pharisees said to Him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” Was this unlawful? Deuteronomy 23:25 states, “If you enter your neighbor’s grain-field, you may pick kernels with your hands, but you must not put a sickle to their standing grain.”

The Pharisees were wrong. God never said you couldn’t pick grain and eat, enjoying the beauty of God’s creation on the Sabbath. Enjoying food. Eating when hungry. What the law was against is being covetous that day. Taking all the grain, storing it in your house, and attempting to make a profit.

The question one must ask is this: Did Paul teach that the law was burdensome? Did he teach that it was a yoke of slavery, as some would suggest from Galatians 5:1? Or, is Paul talking about the oral tradition of the law, which has been misapplied by the religious leaders? If you look at the Talmud, the Jewish ceremonial laws, they add many more commandments than what the Bible teaches.

If you believe Paul is talking about the law and the Sabbath as a burden and yoke, then your hermeneutical framework might look at keeping the Sabbath and the new moons and festivals as what Paul was against in Colossians as legalistic and done away with under the dispensation of grace in Christ.

However, Jesus said He did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. This verse is not saying, the law is the shadow and now it’s done away. The shadow is still there. In fact, it says these are a shadow of the things “to come.” This is talking about the future “rest”, not a fulfillment of the law that is now abolished in Christ. Until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished (Matt. 5:18).

Finally, some theologians argue that Jesus changed His Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday because that was the day He rose again from the dead. This is called the Lord’s Day. So whenever the verbiage Lord’s day is used, proponents suggest the apostles were referring to Sunday, the day Jesus rose from the dead.

A few concerns. First, nowhere in the Bible does it explicitly state that the Lord’s day is Sunday. Theologians falsely conclude, from their own presuppositions, that because Christ rose from the dead on Sunday and appeared to His disciples on the same day, this somehow transferred the Old Covenant Sabbath to the New Covenant Sunday. However, Matthew 12:8, Mark 2:28, and Luke 6:5 do say: “Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath.” Wouldn’t that therefore make the Sabbath the Lord’s day, which is Saturday?

This topic is of enormous importance because Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey my commandments.” Jesus didn’t say to obey 9 out of the 10 commandments at Mt. Sinai. He told us to obey them all. And of course, the greatest command is to “love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself.” And when we obey God’s commands, we fulfill the greatest command. Thoughts?

What does the Bible say about leadership roles between a husband and wife?

Christianity elevated the status of women more than any other religious or political system during the first century. Jesus’ disciples included several women (Luke 8:1-3), a practice very rare among the rabbis of his day. Not only that, but Christ’s first recorded disclosure of his own identity as the true Messiah was made to a woman (John 4:25-26). This woman, Mary of Magdalene, was an outcast Samaritan. Not even Jewish women would talk to her.

Moreover, Jewish tradition enforced women not to talk to outsiders or teach them their religion. Rabbi Eliezer wrote in the 1st century: “Rather should the words of the Torah be burned than entrusted to a woman. Whoever teaches his daughter the Torah is like one who teaches her obscenity.” Jesus overthrew centuries of this tradition. He taught that women and men both had equal value, but different roles.

In this paper, I will explain the biblical understanding of manhood and womanhood from both an egalitarian and complementarian perspective. I will argue that the complementarian perspective is the most biblical position.

There are two basic thoughts. The first theological view is called complementarianism. It argues men and women have different but complementary roles and responsibilities in marriage, family life, religious leadership, and other areas of service. For instance, women have been naturally created to nurse and care for their children. The man has been designed to use his strength to work and protect his family. These roles are different, but both are of equal value. The Bible makes it clear that Adam and Eve were created in God’s image, equal before God as persons yet distinct in their manhood and womanhood (Gen. 1:26-27; 2:18).

The second theological view is called egalitarianism. It states that “all humans are equal in fundamental worth and social status,” according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. To defend this argument, proponents quote Galatians 3:28 and Colossians 3:11, which both state “there is no distinction between Jew or Greek, bond or free, and male or female, for all are one in Christ.”

Egalitarian advocates might argue women and men are both capable of governing and teaching roles within the church. If a woman is not allowed to have leadership power over their husband, some feel this is discriminatory and wrong.

I believe the Complementarian position is the most biblical for several reasons. First, God created both male and female anatomically different, which shows a distinction to begin with.

Second, while the Bible demonstrates the high value and dignity for both genders (Gen. 1:26; Gal. 3:28), it does affirm the principle of male headship in the family and church community (Eph. 5:21-33; 1 Tim. 2:11-15).

Third, the Trinity displays the role of headship, with the Son submitting to the Father, even though both persons are co-equal and fully God. God’s nature should be an example for us to follow with the wife submitting to the husband just like Christ submitted to the Father.

Fourth, The Danver’s statement says it succinctly: “In the family, husbands should forsake harsh or selfish leadership and grow in love and core for their wives; wives should forsake resistance to their husbands’ authority and grow in willing, joyful submission to their husband’s leadership (Eph. 5:21-33; Col 3:18-19; Tit 2:3-5; 1 Pet. 3:1-7).”[1]

I believe it’s important to recognize the distinction between male and female roles. Both genders are created with a purpose that can only be fulfilled if they are willing to accept how God created them. It’s indisputable that males and females are equal in their value and worth. And it’s not that men have special privileges over women when they have been commanded by God to take on a leadership role. In fact, men are called to sacrificially love their wives and protect them.

Unfortunately, men either abuse this power or they become passive and cowardly. In my opinion, it works best when the woman allows the man to lead, and when the man leads in a humble, gracious, and loving way that gives the most glory to God.

[1] The Danvers Statement – www.cbmw.org/core-beliefs

 

Limited or Unlimited Confidentiality in Biblical Counseling?

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Confidentiality in biblical counseling is when another person entrusts a counselor with sin issues they are struggling with. The Bible informs us to confess our sins to one other and pray for healing (Jam. 5:16). The purpose of this essay is to talk about the kind of commitment to confidentiality a biblical counselor should make with a counselee, when it’s appropriate to limit privacy rights and report a confession to civil authorities, and how a counselor should cooperate with the authorities about these issues.  The ultimate goal is to restore the counselee to a proper relationship with God.

When an individual entrusts their private sins with a counselor, it’s important to be clear with them the exceptions to confidentiality. There are at least three cases when privacy can be breached: (1) If the individual indicates an intention to harm him or herself or someone else. To protect the community, it’s important for another person or agency to be involved. (2) Has recently committed sexual or physical abuse or been abused by a perpetrator. The counselor is bound by the civil law to report any type of abuse, especially towards minors. (3) Has done something that violates the law.[1] Please use proper wisdom here. There is a difference between using an illegal substance like Marijuana and confessing to a murder. Both are violations of the law, but one is more severe than the other. In my opinion, if a person has been clean from drugs for at least 2 weeks and vows not to return to their addiction, you should not report them. However, if an individual confesses to a murder, even if it was 10 years ago, you are obligated to report this crime to the police.

How should a biblical counselor cooperate with the authorities? The Bible informs us that every person should place themselves under the authority of the government. There isn’t any authority unless it comes from God, and the authorities that are there have been put in place by God (Rom. 13:1). Furthermore, the civil authorities are placed there by God; they are agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer (Rom. 13:4). Thus, Christians should have a strong relationship with the government in order to maximize proper justice. That being said, I think the church has an advantage over the government to properly heal, restore, and rehabilitate sinners to a relationship with the Creator.

Confidentiality has been convoluted in recent years. It takes wisdom, discernment, and a tedious methodology to decipher whether or not a counseling session should remain private or be reported to proper authorities. I think our motive should always imitate the way God treats us according to Romans 8:28: “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.” This is the same attitude biblical counselors should have when healing broken hearts. Thoughts? Please share.

[1] Deepak Reju, “Strict Confidentiality?” Biblical Counseling Coalition Blog (October 20, 2015). Available at: http://biblicalcounselingcoalition.org/blogs/2012/06/12/strict-confidentiality/

What is a Worldview and Why is it Important?

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A worldview is defined as, “a particular philosophy of life or conception of the world. It’s the way one perceives the reality they live in.” A worldview gives an individual a perspective of their reality, which leads to developing values, priorities, decisions, and how one applies it into their lives.

Here are some questions a worldview might try to answer: What is reality? What is the nature of existence? What is a human? What happens at death? What is right and wrong? What is the purpose of life? Feel free to download this powerpoint presentation concerning What is a Worldview.