Faith

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! 

 

 

Faith and Works: Two Sides of the Same Coin

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?”– James 2:14

A family is on a road trip to the Grand Canyon. Shortly before they arrive, a young man comes out from nowhere and tells them to pull over quickly. “Don’t go any further,” he exclaims. “At the end of this road there is a cliff!”

What evidence will indicate the family really believes the young man? If they say, “we believe you,” but continues to go down the treacherous road, do they sincerely believe? Wouldn’t it make sense for the family to turn their vehicle around if they had faith in this man? Of course. Their action demonstrates their faith.

This is what James is arguing in his letter. If one truly has faith, their works will demonstrate it. Faith and works are inseparable. You can’t have one without the other. James makes it explicit in verses 19-23:

But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! 20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?22 Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? 23 And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. 24 You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.

The book of Hebrews also makes it clear that faith and works are two sides of the same coin. Every time faith is mentioned, a reason is given. For instance, by faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain. By faith Noah prepared an ark for the saving of his household. By faith Sarah received strength to conceive and she bore a child when she was past the age (Heb. 11:1-11).

Does this mean our works save us? Not at all. Our works only demonstrate saving faith. Romans 5:1 makes this clear: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through out Lord Jesus Christ.”

But don’t fall into the trap of thinking faith is alone. There is no such thing as saying you believe in Jesus, but not doing what he commands. John 14:15 states, “If you love me, keep my commands. Furthermore, Jesus said to his disciples, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”

There is a false teaching going around that says faith doesn’t require obedience. I want to make it clear that our justification is a free gift and nothing we earn, but why would a believer want to continue in sin? Yes, we struggle with sin, but it’s not a pattern of the Christian life. Paul says to those in Rome: “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? God forbid.”

1 Corinthians 6 warns us to flee from sin: “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived:Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor homosexuals nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

This is a serious verse. If sin is a constant pattern in your life, then don’t keep telling yourself: “I am saved by faith.” I am saved because God loves me.” While these are true statements, if they are used as an excuse to sin, then you are perverting them. I remember when I first became a Christian I would use God’s grace card all the time to comfort myself in sin.

But 1 John tells us, “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seem remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God.” Shouldn’t this bring holy fear to us? Let’s be real. I am a human too. I know what it’s like to lie to myself in order to satiate my sinful desires. Let’s just be frank. Don’t do it. Flee from it. Ask God to give you the strength to overcome. He will always provide a way of escape.

Remember the analogy at the beginning of this article? I told you about a family traveling to the Grand Canyon. If they don’t believe the young man, they may smile, act friendly, but tell him, “It’s okay. Don’t worry about us.”

If that’s you, then let me be the young man in the story, warning you to repent and trust in Jesus. Don’t be tempted to feel comfortable in your sin just because salvation is a free gift.

I was shocked to hear one preacher tell an entire audience. “Once you have eternal life, not even God can take it from you. Once he promises it, there is no way back. No matter what you do.” Really? You think that’s true?

God destroyed the entire world through a flood because of his hatred towards sin. God rained down fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah, annihilating everyone except Lot and his daughters. Even his own wife was turned into a pillar of salt.

God makes it clear in Romans 9:15 that He is sovereign over the fate of all of us: For he said to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”

You can’t manipulate God. You can’t even use God’s own grace card to get you out for fire insurance. It has to be genuine. Is eternal life a free gift? Absolutely. Will it ever be earned? Of course not. Jesus paid it all. But just because he paid it all doesn’t mean your covered in his blood. If you are, then his holy spirit will convict you of sin and lead you to a life of holiness.

Whoever is reading this, I care for you. It may sound harsh, but I don’t want to be a nice doctor that makes you feel better. I want to be a doctor who may say, “You have cancer and if you don’t treat it now, you will die.” That’s true, right? But the cure is trusting in Jesus.

Are you willing to do that today? May God give you the strength to persevere until the end.

Trusting in God’s Strength through Trials

Credit: The Leading Edge Blog

Credit: The Leading Edge Blog

We depend on many things to get us through our daily lives. A couple of months ago, I was driving to the college campus and I hit a huge pot hole. I didn’t realize it at the time, but air was slowly leaking and I continued to drive on it back home. The next day I got in my car to drive to work and I thought there was a box underneath my front right tire. Nope, it was completely flat. Good news I had a second car, but it reminded me of my dependence on material objects, especially when one of them fails. Can you think of any other material objects we depend on daily?

Though we may rely on material objects, they can let us down. The one we should ultimately depend on is God Himself. We can trust in his salvation and rest because of the strength and guidance He gives us. In this Psalm, David flees from Absalom to Jerusalem. No matter the trial David was experiencing, God was his shelter and protector. Let’s Read Psalm 27:1-2

“The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom should I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom should I be afraid? This Scripture Identifies God in three ways:

  1. Light – God’s guidance directed David’s steps.
  2. Salvation – Physically, God could rescue David from any temptation.
  3. Stronghold of his life – God could be trusted. He provided security to David numerous times.

God’s presence in David’s life in those ways meant something else was removed. What was that? Fear: In what kind of situations do you feel afraid? I know for me, it’s when I am uncertain what the future holds. The thought of driving can be fearful for me because you don’t know what to expect. Someone might run a red light and crash right into you.

Fear can come in the form of finances, relationship problems, or spiritual separation. The light that God provides is His salvation, and it eliminates the fear of eternal separation. The reason that we can trust in this light is because it is a person and not just a thing. He keeps His promises and we know that He loves us. Let’s read the next two verses.

V.2-3: “When evildoers came against me to devour my flesh, my foes and my enemies stumbled and fell. Though an army deploys against me, my heart is not afraid; though a war breaks out against me, still I am confidence.”

In these two verses, David highlighted that evildoers who were against him did not cause him to be afraid; he was still confident in God. Because he knew the Lord’s power was so much greater, David trusted in his God. How does the confidence in your salvation affect how you face the dangers of life? For me, I don’t have to worry about death because God has defeated it. What are some positive and negative ways to face our dangers in life? Positive: pro-active, negative: worry, anger. Recognizing God’s provision and protection led David to worship. Let’s now read verses 4-6.

“I have asked one thing from the Lord; it is what I desire: to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, gazing on the beauty of the Lord and seeking Him in His temple. For He will conceal me in His shelter in the day of adversity; He will hide me under the cover of His tent; He will set me high on a rock. Then my head will be high above my enemies around me; I will offer sacrifices in His tent with shouts of joy. I will sing and make music to the Lord.”

We all want something: to fulfill a childhood dream, to work in a certain career, to have a spouse and/or children some day. However, David recognized that he could only find security through the presence of God. No human achievement, level of self-righteousness and morality, or power influence can deliver security to us. So David decided to ask for the one thing from God that would give him security. What was it that he asked for? Dwell in God’s presence. What does it mean to seek God’s presence?

I pray you seek His presence today through the Bible, prayer, and fellowship with a local, bible-believing church. God bless.

God the Encourager

encouragement

Photo Credit by Kevin Martineau

We can often feel overwhelmed by our circumstances. For many people, the pressure of finals, school, traveling, and holiday seasons can get us down. For me, I can get overwhelmed with traveling. Last year, my wife, son, and I flew to Ukraine and had a wonderful time. It was great, believe me! But on the way home, I had to fly by myself.

The good news was I didn’t have to run around and chase my two year old son up and down the aisles on the airplane; that was a relief. However, I was nervous for many reasons. What if my flight was canceled and I got stuck in Kiev, Ukraine, only a couple hours away from where the fighting was going on in Donetsk? After making it through the checkpoint, my next worry was: I hope the next flight isn’t delayed so that when I get to Detroit, I can make it on time through customs. Of course, my flight was delayed in Amsterdam.

Then, as we start lift off, the captain says: “We are delayed due to bad weather.” Hang on for just a few minutes. We finally get up in the air and get struck by lightning! Then when I get to Detroit, I have 20 minutes to maneuver through US customs, check my baggage in, go through security, and believe it or not, my next flight was on the opposite end of the terminal.

I was running faster than the family on Home Alone to make it to my flight. I barely made it. Everyone was laughing at me because I was sweating profusely and completely out of breath. Oh, and guess what, since it was only a 20 minute flight, they didn’t provide any beverages! I was so upset!

We let our circumstances get us down. In the Bible, we read the words of a psalmist who also experienced a down time, but his words also give us encouragement by pointing to the God who is above our circumstances. He repeatedly reminds himself to put his hope in God and to praise God as the remedy for his depression.

42:1-3 As a deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, God. I thirst for God, the living God. When can I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while all day long people say to me, “Where is your God?”

How would you describe in your own words what the psalmist experienced? When we feel at a loss for God’s presence, it causes these feelings. It’s like the moment, when you were a child and got separated from your parents in a big store. We all know how it feels to look everywhere frantically for Mom and Dad and not see them (It’s even worse when you become a Father). Suddenly, we have the horrible thought that we might be lost. In the next verses, we find out how the psalmist handled his grief. Let’s read out loud 42:6-8.

42:6-8 I am deeply depressed; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your billows have swept over me. The Lord will send His faithful love by day; His song will be with me in the night—a prayer to the God of my life.

The phrase I am deeply depressed reflects the psalmist’s despair. It is a phrase that paints an image for us. To you, how would you describe depression? It is where a great force or weight has pushed hard against the normal plane of something: when the weight of life overwhelms us. Remember, distressing times are opportunities to remember the goodness of God. The Psalmist sang about the promised land God gave to his people. The land was a sign of God’s blessing to His chosen people. Always remember that God can encourage us no matter what circumstances we are in. He is our shelter in the midst of storms. Ask yourself the following questions and then put it into practice today.

  1. Which life circumstance, if any, has ever left you feeling seriously overwhelmed?
  2. What does God provide physically, spiritually, and emotionally to help us handle these difficult situations?
  3. Where do you need encouragement today?

What does the Bible say about Suicide?

Unknown

photo credit Eric Davis

Did you know that every year over 40,000 people commit suicide? On average, about 8 out of 10 individuals who take their life are males, and the majority of them are ethnically white–followed by American Indians, Asians, Blacks, and Hispanics.

Moreover, suicide is the second leading cause of death among young adults–killing more people than cancer, heart disease, and stroke combined. This doesn’t include the 650,000 suicidal attempts that end in non-fatal injuries. What a shocking and sad statistic.

In 2012, my wife and I went to Winter jam, the largest Christian based musical tour in the United States. The year we went the theme was “Let your light shine.” I remember the speaker that year was Nick Hall. He began his message by shining a flashlight around the whole arena, illustrating the importance of being a good friend, neighbor, and “light” to those in darkness. Then he began to mention life issues that people struggled with: Peer pressure, drugs, fear, anxiety and depression, and how our light as Christians are to positively affect those around us.

He told a story about a young woman who came to the concert a few weeks back. She told Nick her struggles with depression. She felt like there was no reason to live, was a burden to others, felt trapped, and wanted to end her life. This woman always wore a necklace with a heart emblem.

Inside the emblem was a razor. Whenever she felt sad, she would take out the razor and cut her wrist to alleviate the anxiety and turmoil she experienced from within. The night she went to the concert, she was contemplating suicide, but instead, gave her life to the Lord. Afterwards, she handed the necklace over to Nick and insisted he share her story with the rest of the world on tour about the hope she found in Christ. What an amazing story.

Have you ever contemplated thoughts of suicide? You are not alone. There are godly people today and those in the Bible who struggled with sinful thoughts to end their lives. Solomon said he hated life (Eccl. 2:17) and yet advised the world to fear God and keep His commandments. After Elijah’s great victory over the 450 prophets of Baal, he became very depressed and yearned for death (1 Kgs. 19:4) but God spoke to Elijah and sent an angel to comfort him during this trial. Even the Apostle Paul struggled with depressing thoughts. He said in 2 Corinthians 1:8 that he was under great pressure, far beyond his ability to endure, so that he despaired of life itself. Nevertheless, Paul trusted that His great God could bear his burdens. 

We know that suicide is wrong because it’s murder. By taking our own life, we are rejecting God’s gift of life and marring his character. God is the giver of life–only He has the divine right to determine the day and hour of our death. Job 1:21 says, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” It’s up to God whether to give life or end it. We must be willing to live for his glory, no matter how hard and depressing moments can be. I know it’s difficult, but all things are possible through the power of God. 

When in doubt, remember these lyrics from Robert Keen’s hymn “How Firm a Foundation.” Never give up.  

  1. When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
    My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply.
    The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
    Thy dross to consume, thy dross to consume,
    Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.
  2. When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
    The rivers of sorrow shall not thee o’erflow,
    For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
    And sanctify to thee, and sanctify to thee,
    And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

3 Areas of Systematic Theology that will Increase your Bible Knowledge

o-BIBLE-facebook

Introduction

I remember my first seminary class. I had no idea what the professor was blathering about. Every theological term he used was a foreign concept; I thought I was abducted by an alien and sent to another universe.

By the end of the semester, I started to grasp half of what the theologian was communicating. Finally, by the third year of seminary, I was fluent in this esoteric language. My goal now is to help other average Joe Christians to comprehend the study of Systematic Theology by breaking down each term and simplifying it’s meaning. With that said, here are 3 general areas of doctrine that are important to discover from the Bible.

General Areas of Systematic Theology

1. Prolegomena – This word literally means pro-before + legein-to say–to say beforehand. In theology, it involves the study of how God reveals himself. For example, in the New Testament, Jesus claimed to be the Son of God.

This phrase doesn’t literally mean that Jesus is God’s biological son, but that He is co-equal in power as the Anointed Messiah. The Old Testament example of this phrase was a messianic title given to the one with all authority, glory, and sovereign power. Therefore, when you read the OT in light of the NT, your prolegomena interprets Son of God differently than your previous supposition.

2. Christology – This theological term means the study of Jesus. It raises many questions, such as: Who is Jesus? Is Jesus God? Did Jesus ever claim to be God? How can Jesus be both God and man at the same time? Was Jesus peccable (able to sin) or impeccable (not able to sin)?

A biblical understanding of Jesus Christ is crucial to our salvation because it helps us quantify grace and justification. For example, since Jesus was God in the flesh, He laid down his life for the human race. This is grace because we deserve to be punished for our sins, but Jesus took the bullet for us out of love.

Moreover, He lived a perfect life, obeying the 10 commandments and the whole law of God. You and I broke every single commandment. Let’s be honest. Have you ever lied? Stolen? Coveted your neighbors possessions? We are guilty by the law, but Christ imputes or gives us His righteousness when He died on the cross. Remember that justification by grace alone in Christ alone is an important doctrine–it influences our perception of how and why we are saved.

3. Pneumatology – This theological term comes from two Greek words, pneuma meaning “wind” and logos meaning “word.” It’s the study of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the name of the third person in the Trinity and Jesus promised the Apostles that he would send Him on the day of Pentecost, 50 days after the resurrection.

John 14:26 promises us that all Christians will receive Him: “But the helper, the Holy spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

Some view God’s spirit as a mystical or impersonal force, but this is not what the Bible teaches. The Holy Spirit teaches, convicts, empowers, and leads us to transform more into the image of Christ. He is a personal trainer and co-equal with God the Father and Jesus the Son.

Conclusion

If Systematic theology is studied with the right motive, then it can be a helpful conduit to plug into the majestic complexity of God. However, it is never intended to replace God’s Word. It is only a supplementary guide as you read through the Bible. For more information on other theological disciplines: Soteriology, Anthropology, Demonology, Angelology, Ecclesiology, Eschatology, Hamartiology, please visit here.

 

 

 

 

 

The Importance of Being Baptized in Jesus’ Name

“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” – Acts 2:38

Everyone has a name. My last name represents my forefathers, heritage, and personal identity. When I go to the bank, I need to have my driver’s license with me to prove my last name matches the banking account. When I travel overseas, I need my passport to get through customs. It’s apparent that my last name is integral to everything I do, representing what is true about who I am as a person.

Jesus Christ is no ordinary name. It mean’s the “Anointed Messiah,” and represents the Creator of the universe. To be baptized in His name is a sign of identifying with God, imitating His character, and living your life for His glory. When a Christian get’s baptized, they are informing the world that they have died to their self, going under the water, and being raised again in new life through the power of the Holy Spirit. Galatians 3:27 states, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Therefore, a Christian’s life is identified with the blood of Christ, and that’s when we are united into his death, burial, and resurrection.

There are two extremes concerning baptism. One view holds that water baptism automatically saves you (Baptismal Regeneration). The other view minimalizes baptism out of a false eagerness to promote grace rather than works. The problem with this is that baptism is not a work that we do. As Christians, we aren’t baptized in our own name or power, but in the power of Christ. It’s not our work, it’s all about the glory, honor, and performance of God.

With that being said, does baptism save you? Yes and no. No in that there is nothing in the physical water that has a magical formula to save you. People have gone under the water in baptism and continued living a rebellious, sinful life without God. They are not saved. Yes in that if you are trusting in Jesus to save you from your sins, it is the “timing” in which God applies regeneration to the individual. As Peter makes clear, “Baptism now saves you, not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a clean conscience (1 Pet. 3:28).”

For more information about what the Scripture teaches concerning Baptism (Matthew 21:25; Luke 12:50; Romans 6:4; Ephesians 4:5; Colossians 2:12; 1 Peter 3:21; Acts 2:38; Acts 10:47) please go here.