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Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Is This Thing On?

Yesterday I claimed that the point of Christianity is not to make bad people into good people -- not a moral code -- but to make dead people into living people. The point of Christianity is to restore a relationship between God and His creatures. It is not to make good people, but to save us from our own evil and the bad things that result from it.

"So," someone might well say, "why all this morality stuff? If the point is not to make bad people into good people, why do Christians care so much about good and bad?" Good question. The claim of Eph 2:8-9 is "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." See? Not works. So what do works have to do with it? This, I suppose, is where people get easily muddled. "Doesn't Christianity include good works?" Yes. "But didn't you just say that's not the point?" Yes. "So good works are a part of Christianity?" Yes. "Oh, so it is like every other religion!" No.

Martin Luther said that we are saved by faith alone, but not by faith that is alone. The verse that follows the two I quoted above says this: "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Eph 2:10). So there is a fundamental difference in the good works of other religions and the good works of Christianity. In all other religions, you do good to avoid bad consequences. In Christianity you do good as a result of the restored relationship with God. Here, look at what Paul writes in Ephesians 4. First, keep in mind what he has said up to this point. He has said that as believers we have all the heavenly blessings already (Eph 1:3-14). He has said that we were dead in sin but are now made alive in Christ (Eph 2:1-10). He has said that originally only Jews were allowed this connection to God, but now the rest of us have this wonderful opportunity (Eph 2:11-22). He has said that we can actually experience the love of God that exceeds our capability to know (Eph 3:14-21). This is all really, really big stuff. He concludes, from this rational basis,
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph 4:1-3).
Now, there is no doubt that humility, gentleness, patience, love, unity, and peace are all Christian virtues. And, in fact, the rest of the letter goes on to explain all sorts of explicit behaviors that we should practice -- good works. But look at the reason. "Therefore" is the word he uses. "Therefore": for this cause, for this reason. Because of all that he has said about our calling, "walk in a manner worthy." We are not called to earn our calling. We are called to respond to it. We are not called to be good to acquire something. We are called to be good because of what we have been given. Religion operates on a basis of earning God's favor. Christian virtue is based on the premise of thanking God for the favor He has given us that we don't didn't earn.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul puts it this way.
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Phil 2:12-13).
In this scenario, we are to "work out" our salvation. "See? Works!" Well, it isn't achieving salvation, but working it. However, note the reason ("for"). "It is God who works in you." That's a radical difference. We do good works as Christians not because we need to earn God's favor or achieve salvation, but because God is working in us to desire to do good and to have the power to do good. Now that is not the standard religious perspective.

You've heard the standard comedian who tells a joke and it falls flat. He taps the microphone and says, "Is this thing on?" Is it working? Is everything okay? Because, you see, if the microphone is working, he failed to be funny. Works operate in that manner in the Christian life. Is this thing working? Jesus called it "fruit" (John 15:1-2). James referred to works as the proof of living faith (James 2:17). John wrote that the one born of God was incapable of making a practice of sinning (1 John 3:9). Note cause and effect. Cause: Born of God. Effect: An aversion to sinning. Not vice versa. Works are a part of Christianity, functioning as a helpful indication of whether or not a person has actually been restored to a relationship with God. He who is forgiven much loves much. Good works are the natural response of a grateful heart, the unavoidable outworking of the presence of God in a believer's life. So, you might want to test yourself.


Miklós said...

Yes! I agree, that is the key point. As much as I know other religions, they are all about how to live a good life. But Christianity is different. It says, we do not have to become good, we Are good, and all bad is from slavery under an External spiritual entity, which manifests in us as Sin. Well, we are good if we prove it. There is only one proof: the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If we accept it we have a proof, and we can live a new life, and we can do things which follow from that new life. : ))

David said...

I don't know that I'd say "all bad is from slavery under an External spiritual entity" since its been made pretty clear in Scripture that we are plenty bad on our own even without the prodding of demons, who are only merely tempters, not ones that makes us do it. If it were merely a slavery to demons, then once we were saved and made slaves to Christ we would no longer sin. Its my belief that we give Satan too much credit for what we want to do naturally.

Miklós said...

Dear David, Your view seems to state, that creation was not perfect. The Bible states that God created everything good.

"7 Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. 8 He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning." (1Jn 3)

In this life we are blind, we see partially, therefore we are subject to stumbling, and we need focus and devotion to follow the Spirit, it is our hope and goal to be perfect, but we have not reached it yet.

David said...

To me it seemed you were saying that sin comes from Satan, and that Satan is the dictator of sin.

I do agree that Satan plays a role in temptation, but the sin we commit is on us. Yes, we were created good in the beginning, but we have been given up to our sinful desires (by "we" I mean natural Man) by God because we are all born sinners. Every human ever born (aside from Christ) is born innately sinful, which is a product of our dead spirits, which are deemed that way by God. Satan merely nudges us, and probably focuses most of his attention on God's children, not natural Man. Natural Man just doesn't need a whole lot of help to sin.

I agree that the only way to perfection is devotion to following the Spirit, and we won't quite make that goal until our resurrection.

Stan said...

Each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death (James 1:14-15).

Or, in modern vernacular, "Lead me not into temptation, I can find it all by myself."

Miklós said...

I hesitated a lot about this answer. I hate debates, they all contain the hardness of heart. It is one of the deepest horrors of life, to see. As people do and speak the same again and again and again despite of all warnings, in their hardness of heart, the blindness of mind. I hate that. I try to avoid that, in myself and also seeing it in others. We might think the same, the shortness of this commenting technology might bring limits to communication. Understanding the Bible, I believe is based on a very important principle, complementarity. Differences in various parts are not due to contradictions but, due to different perspectives and different levels of detail. James sends a message that temptation is not from God and that is the point. He takes an outsider view. The insider view is by Paul in his letter to Romans. Sin is viewed as an external entity, that rules, binds. How could anyone clean himself from something that is not external? Either we are in God, being free, or we are slaves to sin, the origin of which is Satan. Jesus was fully a man, but he was not under sin. His life is the proof, that being freed from the power of sin, man can live a good life. And so on, but I would stop here, if you see differently, may be we should just let "time" bring the answer.

David said...

I'm just trying to understand how you came to this conclusion (that Christians can live sinless lives). If Christ is proof that a Christian can be sinless, why would Paul, arguably the most righteous man in the New Testament, call himself chief among sinners? We are not only told to denounce Satan, but to also put off the old man. Then there is the James reference Stan gave. We are instructed to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Yes, we are to strive to be sinless, but where does Scripture say we can actually become sinless this side of heaven? Where everything else seems to indicate that sin is a lifelong struggle, how do you conclude that not to be the case?

Miklós said...

This is a huge topic. I try to be systematic, short and complete as much as possible. There are two points here I think. 1. We are free from sin. 2. We can live a holy life. My basic standpoint is never to reject a biblical truth just because it seems to be impossible to implement. It is a journey to reach maturity. Here are some references.
”But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.”(Rom 6:22)
”but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.”” (1Pet 1:15-16.)
”And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”(1Jn 3:3)
”He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.”(1Jn 2:6)

These are statements and commandments, which would not have been given if impossible.

Based on the letter to Romans I do not identify myself with the flesh, I identify myself with the inner man. The flesh can not be released from the bondage of sin, therefore we give it to death in baptism. We then have choices to make, to follow the Spirit or follow the flesh in its lusts. We may make mistakes but it is not because of the corruptness of the nature of the inner man, but it is because of blindness, partial understanding of our lives. Satan has no redemption because his nature is corrupt. If our nature would be corrupt, we could never go to Heaven. Thank God, Jesus took away the charge against us, (Satan accusing us of having a sinful nature) and nailed it to the Cross.
The word from James is good, but does not bring the full picture, the origin of lust:
”But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead.” (Rom 7:8)
The origin of lust is external. The flesh is under the power of sin.

Here comes the second part, living a holy life. There is one thing surely not possible. To live a full life and to live a holy life at the same time. Satan offered full life to Jesus on the mountain, which He rejected, but many Christians think they are much stronger then Jesus, so they want to live both. Whoever wants to live a holy life will be persecuted says Paul. Living a holy life brings friction between you and the world. Loosing friends, wealth, even life...
Living as Jesus lived has prerequisites. It is keeping what Jesus asked us to do. Jesus said „ Why do you say Lord, Lord if you do not do what I say.”
He also said with the parable of the two kings, that we have to count beforehand how is it possible. This one could call as the ”cut off technology”. : )) Cut off your ”eye”, ”leg”, ”arm”, ties to ungodly people, wealth.... I can not say I am an example of living holy life, but I see a progress. Jesus will bring mercy when He comes, but not because holy life is impossible. There are different levels of maturity, and may be some will be required to be fully holy some will get mercy if they are not. We need to hurry to go through the narrow gate... even if we manage not to sin we have to be on alert. You are right it is a lifelong struggle, we are in the middle of a war.
(I think Paul refers to his pre Christian life when saying that.)

If you like this topic and Stan doesn’t mind I would ask two questions:
What is the difference between jewish sacrifice including the sacrifice of Jesus, and the sacrifice of satanic cults (See e.g. Kain and Abel)?
Why the sacrifice of animals can not set free from sin?

Miklós said...

I do not want to overstay Stan's welcome here, I start to talk too much. Just to put my comment more in balance: Remembering Stan's post on "the Lord is my portion" this "cut off" is not a torture, it is like laying down your burdens, focus on seeking the Kingdom of God. Do not carry so many things with you, it is much easier then.