Saturday, February 04, 2006

Living Faith

Faith in God........what does that mean to you? Salvation through Jesus Christ.......what does that mean to you as a Christian?
I find that there are about as many definitions to these questions as there are denominations that claim to believe in God and claim salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ. Are they all correct in their beliefs? As I have written before, I do not judge anothers claim to salvation in Christ, but I may take issue with their confession of faith and manner of application to that confession of faith. There are too many opposing theologies in the Christian Church universally for them all to be correct, so the logical assumption is that some are wrong, since opposite views of a central truth cannot both be correct.
I do not like negative responses as a rule, however sometimes it may be necessary in order to get to the truth as one has come to understand truth, especially in the realm of faith and religion. I try to go by an axiom I came upon in my reading; it goes like this: "Does your position set your theology, or does your theology set your position." I find that our preconceived positions can interfere with our understanding of God's Word; this is usually because we tend to let other men or women do the explaining of what the Word of God says theologically, but do not take the time to study the Word for ourselves. Many of our preconceptions come from our upbringing; our families beliefs gained from our parents tend to set our thinking from birth, and this is normal. The challenge comes when we reach the age where we are to think for ourselves and enter into dialog with those that view truth differently; we usually take two courses when this happens, either we become defensive of our position, or we have our position shaken apart by the view of others.
Let us face some facts, not all of us can debate the Word of God, nor want to; others tend to seek such debate in order to push their views. There are many that have the skills of debate that can overwhelm the unprepared. There are many obviously intellectual people with this tendency that make it hard for the rest of us to oppose their ability to debate issues of how salvation works or the way one lives their faith in God. My testimony of my journey to faith in God and knowledge of His Son will explain where I stand today.
I came to faith in God through my upbringing; my family taught that there was a God and that Jesus Christ was a part of the whole religious package. Application of faith was in the moral and ethical sense of the ten commandments of the Old Testament and not much deeper theologically. It was in my 20's when I met other believers that expounded a clearer gospel teaching on the person of Jesus Christ that brought me to a completed faith in God through the only portal Biblically available; the person of Christ Himself. These believers were of the Anabaptist faith that are called Mennonite, and they preached to me only Christ as the way of salvation. Their applications of Scripture could be seen, but were not a part of their verbal witness, only the obvious visual indications and lifestyle one could see for themselves.
Once they "won" me to Christ they encouraged me to read God's Word for myself, and recommended the Gospel of John and John's epistles in the New Testament. I was encouraged then to read the other gospels to further understand who Jesus is to a believer before I tackled the other epistles of the New Testament or books of the Old Testament. Never did they push me to become a member of their church, but did encourage me to find a fellowship where I could find support as a believer, and they welcomed me to come to Sunday School and Worship with them in the meantime. It soon became obvious to me that God was leading me to the Mennonite fellowship and I chose to enter instruction for baptism and membership with them.
With this background it is quite obvious that I accepted the teachings of theology and practices of application that these Anabaptists believed. I came to see too that they stood out among the other Christian denominations in the defined way this theology they taught from the Word of God set the applications of living the faith they held in God through the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Though I have had many struggles with the flesh over the years, going on 36 years, I still have not seen any reason to doubt or reject the beliefs and out working of those beliefs I accepted in my beginning walk with Christ. Are we perfect in living for Christ; may be not entirely and on every point as we should, but the failure is in our weakness steming from the flesh, not the theology or applications of the Biblical theology I/we believe.
Faith is to be a living reality in a Christian. How is faith to be expressed in this living way? Well to me it is quite realistic to allow our faith to so flavor our lives that it molds us into the image of the One that our salvation finds reality. Salvation is through the grace of God in providing His Son for the sacrifice needed to purchase our salvation. We are to be conformed to the image of Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit shed abroad in our hearts; this is the renewed mind and transformed heart from sinner to saint in operation. We are God's workmanship created in Christ as a new creation and ordained unto good works that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10; Titus 2:14 & 3:8; Hebrews 10:24; James 2:14-20.
When we read verses like these listed above and compare them to the Biblical truth that works do not save anyone, Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 4 and many other passages, how do we deal with a seeming opposition in the teachings of Scripture?
As I read the Word of God I am told that, "2Ti 3:16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works." And Peter wrote that, "2Pe 1:21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." The Word of God is consistent in its teaching because God is its author. All Scripture is authored by the Holy Spirit as He moved men to write, so we are to, "2Ti 2:15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."
The truth is we do not earn salvation through "works...which we have done." I believe we have to understand that we must come to Christ for salvation standing only on the Grace of God's loving provision of Christ as our atonement; we bring no "works....which we have done" with us that have any saving merit, "Isa 64:6 But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away." And Paul wrote by inspiration, "Tit 3:4 But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, 5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; 6 Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; 7 That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
How do we reconcile these seemingly opposing passages? You must rely on the Holy Spirit for your ultimate understanding; here is mine. I bring no "works of righteousness which I have done" to the cross of Christ; I come as the naked and despised sinner that I am and throw myself on the abundant mercy of God's Grace provided in the shed blood of Christ. It is the application of the cleansing blood of Christ that cleansed me and made me righteous in the sight of Almighty God, and the washing of the water of the Word that enables me to walk in newness of faith. As I step forth a new creature in Christ, behold all things are new, I am free of the sin that beset me as a sinner. Within the "all things are new" is the fact that I am now "God's workmanship created in Christ Jesus, created unto good works, which God hath before ordained that (I) should walk within them." (Eph. 2:10, substituting "I" in place of "we.") These works are the proofs that I am a child of God; my faith is living, not dead, and meets the criteria set forth by James 2:14-20. You may ask, "Do works keep us saved?" and I would say, no, we are kept by and through the Grace of God, but these good works are the evidence of our commitment to that Grace and the will of God. With out faith it is impossible to please God; this is "evangelical faith" and James points out that such faith is supported by the evidence of "evangelical works" which we are able to do by that same Grace of God. I would say that without these "evangelical works" my salvation comes into question and I fall under the judgment of God as a professor and not a true possesser of His Grace.
I see too many professors of Christ that have not of the evidences that the Holy Spirit dwells within them. This is not judgment from me, Christ taught us to "judge righteous judgment" for the standard we use for judgment of others will be used to measure our faith too. Matthew 7. The Word says, "Ga 6:6 Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things. 7 Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. 8 For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.
What are you and I as a Christian sowing towards, the Spirit of God or to our fleshly lusts. Is it not obvious that sin shall not dwell within us as a Christian; we may sin a sin and we do have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ His Son who sits at God's right hand interceeding for us when we sin, but to willfully continue in that sin separates us from God, we must repent and do works meet for repentance; not get "saved" again, but admit that we failed of God's Grace and are truly sorry and turn from that sin that we may be restored. I believe that God's keeping power can preserve us for a time while this process works out, but there are sins of the flesh that God will not forgive if we die in them. Be diligent and work out your salvation with fear and trembling.
Thanks for reading all of this, I know it is long, but it has been on my mind to share this for a long time. May God, by His Holy Spirit and through the Word He gave us, keep and preserve us until we are called into His Magnificent and Holy Presence for all eternity. Even so come Lord Jesus.