Skip to content

15

division of laboutI was recently asked by a church to speak to the topic "Evangelism: God's work and our work."  They suggested I speak from 2 Corinthians 4.  This combination of title and passage has a great pedigree.  I first encountered it as part of the excellent evangelism training of Christianity Explored.  I think it can trace its roots back through John Chapman to JI Packer - all of these guys are heroes of mine.

I've learnt hugely about evangelism from all these sources.  And I don't know nothing about nothing... but if people are wanting to know foundationally about the evangelistic task, I wouldn't start with "God's work and our work".  And it's not because of the teaching of these men.  Far more it's because of how this idea might be understood and executed in our circles.  Let me explain.

Here's the passage:

Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:1-6)

Here we're told of the spiritual battle involved in gospel preaching.  Satan - the god of this age - has veiled and blinded the world.  That's a fearful fact!  What should we do?  Preach!  How?  It should be persevering, honest, above-board, undistorted, plain, servant-hearted, truth-telling.  All those adjectives are vital and precious.  But I wonder what we think is the "truth" that needs plainly setting forth?

Verse 3 and 4 explicitly name this truth as the gospel.  And verse 5 describes it as preaching "Christ Jesus the LORD" (cf KJV).  It's about proclaiming the good news of the Lord Jesus.  In other words it's doing exactly what Paul says he does in chapter 5, namely: persuade people, proclaim the new creation in Jesus, be Christ's ambassador, make God's appeal, implore unbelievers, minister God's reconciliation.  Paul's whole ministry is to urgently deliver the good news of God's reconciliation.

Paul's idea of truth-telling is to proclaim the good news!  But it seems to me that Paul's words in 2 Corinthians 4 can be taken out of context.  Where Paul urges us to plainly set forth the gospel, an out-of-context look at the passage might leave us with a different take-home message: "Just be plain."

At that point it's easy to imagine that "plain truth-speaking" is about being unpopular yet uncompromising.  This is no-one's fault, it's just the connotations that spring to mind in our day and age.  Truth = cold, hard and uncomfortable.  Those are the associations we bring to the word.  But if we divide the roles of evangelism into 'life-giving' (God's work) and 'non-life-giving' (our work), a preacher might feel justified in not offering "life", mightn't they?  They might see their role as purely laying down bible truths, mightn't they?  Is that a potential danger?  I think it is.

Having taught a division of labour, is it possible that a preacher hears this teaching and then sets about the business of (cold, hard) truth-telling, absolving themselves of the responsibility to offer life?  Is that possible?  I'm not saying that any evangelism trainer wants to give this impression, but might this be what's heard by the trainee?

But Paul is not saying: Preach truth in the abstract.  He's just been writing against that kind of preaching:

God has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant – not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:6)

Paul goes on to attack the ministry of condemnation he sees peddled by the super-apostles (3:7-18).  It's not just that these guys are boasters and getting rich, there's a deeper theological problem with them.  They're basically old covenant preachers, laying down the law.  Paul is very upset about preachers who merely give "truth" in an abstract sense.  The law is truth.  Yet simply preaching law kills your hearers.

So Paul says he's involved in a different kind of ministry: the ministry of justification (v7-18).  And Paul's ministry is life-giving.  He doesn't think he's treading on God's toes, getting into 'the life-giving game'.  No, God has invited him into 'the life-giving game' and so he's devoted to the ministry that God has entrusted to him (5:18).  True apostolic preaching, new covenant preaching, is that by which the Spirit turns people to Christ.  And in Him there is revelation, freedom and life. (3:6-18)

Therefore this is the relentless gospel truth which Paul will preach no matter what (4:1-6).  He's not telling us - "hurl truth at people and God may choose to make it life-giving!"  He's telling us "Preach the gospel of Jesus because that's where the powerful Spirit of God brings life!"  God shines His light (4:6) precisely in and through the preaching of Jesus.  Thus preachers should single-mindedly devote themselves to the plain proclamation of the gospel.

I'm really looking forward to speaking on evangelism at this church.  And I'm really looking forward to doing it from 2 Corinthians.  But I'm not going to use the title "God's work and our work."  Because even if this isn't the intention, I think it teaches an unhelpful division of labour: we do our bit - "be plain".  God does His bit - "shine His light".

This division of labour becomes even more unhelpful when it's thought of in terms of the 'natural' and the 'super-natural' elements of evangelism.  If it's spun like that, we're instantly thinking in Enlightenment categories.  We're down here doing the 'natural' business of speaking truth.  God's up there doing a different job: super-naturally zapping people with life (or not).  The zapping is kind of connected with the 'natural' truth telling: God only zaps when the truth-telling happens.  But apart from that, there's not much connection between 'what we do' and 'what God does.'  Not in our thinking anyway.

Let me be clear: None of the people I've mentioned teach these kinds of implications or want to teach them in a million years.  I'm just wondering aloud about how the concept of a "division of labour" plays out further down stream.  I wonder whether preachers in our tradition thereby feel freed from an obligation to preach gospel truth.  Instead we might feel justified in simply preaching "truth."  Safe in the knowledge that God will zap when and where he chooses, the urgency to preach the gospel fades.  Instead, many might 'lay down the law' and pray that God would save anyway.  That couldn't be further from Paul's intention and yet I wonder whether some look to 2 Corinthians 4 as justification to "be biblical" in some abstract sense. But if we're not careful, 'being biblical' in the abstract becomes "preaching the letter."  At that point we don't just have a division of labour - we're working at cross purposes!  We're killing but praying that God gives life through our death-dealing words.

In Paul's thinking there's a massive connection between our preaching and God's activity.  In fact I don't think Paul teaches a division of labour.  Right here in chapter 4 Paul says that it's the gospel that reveals Christ, the Image of God.  The gospel we preach is doing what God does - ie it reveals Christ.  Even here it would be very hard to draw a line between "God's job" and ours.  And when we turn the page to chapter 5... well our work is simply to be God's workers, and God's work is explicitly entrusted to us.

According to 2 Corinthians 5, God has committed to us His ministry of reconciliation!  We are Christ's ambassadors.  We implore on His behalf!  God actually makes His appeal through us! (The ESV of 2 Cor 5:20 is correct, not the obfuscating NIV translation which inserts "as though").  God is imploring the world through us.  Gospel preaching is the ministry of God's Spirit, spotlighting Christ, bringing life.  To think in Romans 1 terms - the gospel is not sometimes infused with the power of God for salvation. The gospel is the power of God for salvation.  Meditate on that "is" - it will change the way you think about preaching.

We must speak the truth: persistently, honestly, plainly, servant-heartedly, without dilution or distortion.  And this truth is God's radiant, life-giving gospel which reveals His glory in the face of Christ.  To a blinded world, God shines in no other way.  So don't compromise: preach the gospel.

6

The one year edition of the King's English is out now.  All 365 devotions in one volume, from "In the beginning" to "Alleluia".

Now available in three formats...

As a paperback: £13.95

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

As a hardback: £21.99

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

(Get 20% off your order if you quote the code "FELICITAS" before 14 December)

Also available as a Kindle...

From Amazon.com: $3.09

From Amazon.co.uk: £1.93

.

1

Will Mackerras has done a fantastic job with the Banjo Bible: The greatest story ever told, as Australian poet Banjo Paterson might have told it!  He takes you through the whole bible in the manner of a bush balladeer.

Here's a Christmas version of "There was movement at the station" - based on Paterson's original poem here.  Will's video is so authentic, he even trained flies to crawl across the lens on cue!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JElfkKLEPaI&feature=youtu.be]

There was movement in the heavens for the word had passed around,
That overnight the Son of God had got away,
And then had joined the wildest mob that ever ran upon the ground –
A race of creatures fierce and feral, scorned and stray.
For he had taken on a body in a human mother’s frame,
And so the angels gathered, readied for the fight,
For any cherub loves adventure where redemption is the aim,
And all the seraphs snuff the battle with delight.

There was the Father, God Almighty, who it seemed had made a plan
For the manoeuvre many centuries ago,
For he was briefing all his minions that this little Son of Man
Would bring an end to the rebellion down below.
And then the Spirit of the overflow, the Holy number three,
Was there to muster all his power in the lead,
For with the Father and the Son he was the Lord – the Trinity,
And it was up to them to make the plan succeed.

“Now there’s a little while to wait”, the Father said in measured tone,
“For he’ll be in his mother Mary longer yet.”
“However Joseph, her fiancé, needs a briefing of his own,
For when he notices he could be quite upset.”
And so an angel known as Clancy went to make the matter mild,
And as he left the Father wore a tender grin –
He added “Clancy, tell him ‘Jesus’ is the name to give the child,
For he’ll be rescuing a people from their sin”.

And so he went; they next assembled forty weeks or so from then,
When Mary saddled up her small and weedy beast.
It had a touch of Timor donkey; three parts thoroughbred of ten –
A hard and tough and wiry burro of the east.
And it would carry her to Bethlehem with Joseph at her side,
And it was there the Saviour joined the atmosphere,
And in the firmament above, the gathered heavenlies applied
their very all to give a hale and hearty cheer.

And now from Kosciusko, where the pine-clad ridges raise
Their torn and rugged battlements on high,
To the wildly busy cities, where the lamps and headlights blaze
Into the midnight of the vast and starry sky;
Indeed wherever gospel messengers have held a little sway
Across out beautiful and well created earth,
A Saviour known as Jesus is a household word today,
And joyful millions tell the story of his birth.

.

You can listen to two further samples here.  The rest of the recordings will be up on December 17th.

.

1

Rich Owen has dug up a great old hymn by WC Smith, added a verse and reworked it.  I tinkered some more and we've now got two fairly majorly reworked versions.  The first is to the tune of Cwm Rhonda (Guide me O...)

Earth was waiting, spent and restless,
certain hope with mingled fear;
Hard the dying, long the sighing,
'Surely, Lord, the day is near;
Great Desire of all the nations,
Speed the hour when you appear,
Speed the hour when you appear!

In the barren streets of Israel,
where the Lord would make his home,
there a lost, rejected people
under curse and law they groan
this old world because of wisdom,
Neither Lord nor God had known,
Neither Lord nor God had known.

Then the Spirit of the Highest
to a virgin meek came down,
Mary bore the Lord's Anointed,
through the cross to claim His crown
weakness shouldered, man enfolded,
Adam's flesh became His gown.
Adam's flesh became His gown.

Earth for Him had groaned and suffered,
since the ages first began;
faithful men who longed to see Him
now beheld the Promised One
God's Salvation, Son of David,
Son of God and Son of Man,
Son of God and Son of Man.

And here's a version that departs even further from the original.  Here's one to that well known meter: 447 447 44447!

In other words it's to the tune of Infant Holy, Infant Lowly which I love (Youtube of tune).

World awaiting, fallen, fainting,
Certain hope with mingled fear;
Hard the dying, long the sighing,
'Surely, Lord, the day is near;
Come Messiah, Earth's Desire,
Hope of nations, generations,
Speed the hour when you appear,
Speed the hour when you appear!'

Dead in Adam, Israel barren,
where the Lord shall claim His own.
God's elected, yet rejected,
under curse and law they groan.
Sin abounding, hope confounding,
Wisdom darkened, hating, hardened,
In our pit He made His home,
In our pit He made His home.

Spirit sending, Christ descending,
To a virgin, meek came down.
To exchange a throne for manger,
Through the cross to claim His crown,
Sorrows sharing, burdens bearing,
Weakness shouldered, man enfolded,
Adam's flesh became His gown.
Adam's flesh became His gown.

Jacob's story, stooping glory,
To retrace the path we trod,
Heaven's Dearest, coming near us,
Bearing Man back home to God.
Loving Neighbour, Prince and Saviour,
Priest and Ransom, Brother, Champion,
Son of Man and Son of God,
Son of Man and Son of God.

5

The first thing to say is that the bible's sexual ethic is different to the world's sexual ethic.  And it always has been.   This might sound too basic to mention, yet the point is commonly forgotten.  Egyptian and Assyrian views of sex were markedly different from Israel's.  As for the Greco-Roman culture surrounding the New Testament church... what's the saying? "A woman for necessity, a boy for pleasure and a goat for ecstasy!"

Both Christians and non-Christians need to realise that the bible's ethics were never the ethics of the surrounding culture.  Therefore Christians ought not to hearken back to some golden age when the bible's norms were upheld by the culture.  Neither should non-Christians insist that "Christians move on from their conservatism and embrace a new golden age."  The truth is that the bible never enshrined the culture's sexual ethic - it always stood apart from it.

This leads to another basic observation... secularists need to recognize that they too have a sexual ethic. They are not champions of liberation - except in the most limited sense. They are simply trying to impose a different sexual ethic and therefore to define a different set of sinners.

The next point is the explosive one, but it needs saying in order to blow apart some suffocating assumptions: Jesus is utterly anti-heterosexual.  It's difficult to think of anyone as anti-heterosexual as Jesus.

I mean really, can you imagine Jesus in the sermon on the mount turning to his disciples and saying “Let your sexual desire be unto the multitude of women.”  If you can imagine that sentiment on the lips of Jesus, you don’t know Jesus!  Christians are not – or at least should not be pro-heterosexual.  Lust is lust and never a positive marker of identity - no matter which cross-section of potential sexual partners are in view!

These modern taxonomies of sexuality are so limited, so unruly, so new, so western, so 21st century.  We struggle to apply them to other 21st century westerners, let alone other parts of the world, let alone other parts of history.  If you try to use our modern categorisations and apply them beyond our tiny blip in time and space you're in for trouble.  If you want to actually listen to Jesus' teaching on sex you'll need to forget everything you think you know about "modern liberal" notions and "out-dated conservative" notions.  Because Jesus' teaching is something else...

Jesus’ view of sex is crazy and it’s beautiful.  Same as everything else.  "Turn the other cheek?  Go the extra mile?  Love your enemies?"  Crazy!  Impractical!  Totally unrealistic!  But beautiful!  Let me explain...

Jesus only really said three things about sex, but on these three foundations you have a crazily beautiful / beautifully crazy view of sex.  In Matthew 19 He quotes approvingly from Genesis 1: “In the beginning the Creator made them male and female.”  Then Jesus quotes from Genesis 2 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh. What God has joined together let not man put asunder.”  Combine these two truths and what do you have?  You have humanity created as interlocking opposites who become "one flesh" when man and woman come together in an exclusive permanent marriage bond.  That’s his teaching on sex and marriage.  And to that He adds, in Matthew 5, that sex is not for any other context.  Not even in your thought life.  Don’t even think about sex outside marriage.  That’s Jesus’ sexual ethic.  It’s crazy, but it’s beautiful.

Because, according to Jesus, when you have sex with someone you are saying “I give myself to you utterly, exclusively, irreversibly and unconditionally for life.”  It’s the most romantic view of sex the world has ever seen.

This is sex as a Ferrari.  If I owned a Ferrari, you could not drive it.  Only if your name was Scrivener could you get behind the wheel.  But if I owned a beat-up old Lada – anyone could drive it.  The Christian view of sex is a Ferrari.  The modern view is a Lada.

But for that reason, this sexual ethic is for the followers of Jesus.  Explicitly the bible tells Christians not to bother non-Christians about their sexual ethics.  1 Corinthians 5 tells Christians not to worry about what people are doing outside the church.  God can worry about them, we’re meant to only worry about ourselves.  This point will be controversial among Christians but I suggest that, in line with the first truth outlined, we address ourselves with the ethics and the world with the gospel.

Which means that the question for the non-Christian is not "Can I live under this sexual regime"?  The question is, What do I make of Jesus?  If He rose from the dead as Lord of the world, then maybe He knows a thing or two about sex.  And if I come to Jesus - not as hetero-sexual, homo-sexual or bi-sexual but simply as a sinner - then there's a place at His table equal to every other sinner.  And though I fail at His crazy-beautiful life in a thousand ways, He knows how to lead me, step by step, into greater and greater freedom from sexual slaveries as well as the other really dangerous sins - like greed, unforgiveness and moral self-righteousness!

For another approach, here's an older post on the subject...

2

Purchase these quarterly devotionals in time for 2013.

And coming very soon - an all-year version.  365 readings in one volume - a great Christmas gift.

Stay tuned for more details.

2

This gets me every time.  From a French Reformed Baptismal Liturgy:

“For you, little child,
Jesus Christ has come, he has fought, he has suffered.
For you he entered the shadow of Gethsemane and the
horror of Calvary.
For you he uttered the cry, ‘It is finished!’
For you he rose from the dead
and ascended into heaven
and there he intercedes —
for you, little child, even though you do not know it.
But in this way the word of the Gospel becomes true.”
“We love him, because he first loved us.”

3

Click for source: Mormon Website

I've been thinking about the three doctrines of 321 and how they interact with the four events of more traditional gospel outlines.  Previously I've discussed Creation and Fall.  Now we'll look at Christ's work of redemption.

How does 3 shape our understanding of Christ's redemption

I don't think I know any gospel outlines that begin with the Trinity.  (If you know of any, please tell me).  But if a presentation does not have the Son of God "in the beginning" it's going to be awkward to crow-bar him in later.

How will Jesus be introduced as anything greater than a Prophet in a scheme that does not begin with His divine glory.  Instead, the introduction of Jesus into gospel explanations can only befuddle the non-Christian who is prone to ask "Who is this guy?  What's he got to do with this creation and fall business you've been speaking of?"

In so many schemes Jesus comes late to fix a problem he's not been involved with.  This has massive implications for the presentation of his Person - does he really come across as fully God?  And it hugely affects the presentation of his work - he looks for all the world like an innocent third party interposed into the God - man dilemma.

John Stott saw the desperate need for a trinitarian framing of the cross when he wrote:

At the root of every caricature of the cross there lies a distorted Christology…  In particular, it is essential to affirm that the love, the holiness and the will of the Father are identical to the love, the holiness and the will of the Son. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. (The Cross of Christ)

The doctrine of penal substitution - which I both affirm and love - has been attacked in recent years.  But the version of it that has aroused such scorn has often been the non-trinitarian caricature which Stott wrote against.  If we're going to uphold the glory of the cross we must put it in its proper trinitarian context.

How does 2 shape our understanding of Christ's work of redemption?

Why did Christ have to become a man?  Why couldn't the Son have incarnated as a literal Lamb?  Or why couldn't God have "zapped" the wooden cross, rather than his Son?  If redemption is simply about the just justification of sinners in the punishment of the Son - why does Jesus become our Brother?  Couldn't God's wrath have been poured out on a non-incarnate Son?

No, no, no!  The Son takes our flesh because he's entering into our plight and transforming it from the inside.  As many church fathers have put it: He became what we are, so that we might become what he is.  Redemption is not simply the balancing of the punishment books.  It's about our Maker summing up his creation in himself - taking responsibility for it.  His penal substitutionary death is absolutely vital.  On the cross he is "carrying the can" for his handiwork.  But that act is comprehended within a vast work of creation and redemption - moving humanity (and in humanity, the cosmos) through death and curse to life and glory.

Of course the Son had to become Man.  Man rules the world.  Adam - the pattern of the Coming One (Rom 5:14) - stood over creation, ruling and blessing it.  Through the fall, he failed and cursed it.  Christ comes to wrest humanity (and in humanity, the world) back to God.  In his resurrection, he takes us through death and into an immortal physical glory.  This is the cosmic dimension to salvation which will always be missed when we construe the gospel as, simply, the answer to 'my sin'.  'Adam and Christ' vitally connects Jesus' work to this flesh and this world.  Without it, as Paul argues in 1 Corinthians 15, we have no gospel.

How does 1 shape our understanding of Christ's work of redemption?

So 3 assures me that Jesus is God. 2 assures me that Jesus is Man. But you might well think - so what?  I'm still left on the outside of all this.  And at this point two questions become vital to ask and answer:

1) How do I benefit from the Person and work of Jesus?

2) What do I do once I have appropriated Christ's salvation?

In answer to the first question, many gospel presentations put the task firmly into the sinner's hands.  Jesus has "cleared the path" through his death and resurrection, now the sinner must "take the step of faith" and come to God.  The appropriation of Christ's benefits happens through "the sinner's prayer" in which we ask for - and God zaps into our account - forgiveness, righteousness, the Spirit and eternal life.  Jesus does not really mediate these benefits, he only pays for them.  And this leads to a problem in answering that second question: What now?

Now that I've stepped across Jesus - "the bridge" - what is the Christian life?  I've got forgiveness and eternal life, so how will the evangelist tell me to continue?  Probably they'll tell me to go to church, read my bible, pray, try hard not to sin and hold on tight till heaven.  To which I'm liable to say "Why??!  What connection does any of that have to what you've described in your sales pitch?!"

But no.  We benefit from the Person and work of Christ because he is given to us in marriage union.  All that is mine is his - he takes my sin and shame and covers over it.  All that is his is mine - he gives me his status, his inheritance, his family connections.  Best of all he gives me himself.  And this is the Christian life: belonging to Jesus and he to me.

So of course the Christian now belongs to his body, of course they listen to him (in the bible) and speak to him (in prayer).  It's all organically related to Jesus himself.  That's a salvation - and a salvation message - that makes sense.

But without Trinity, Adam and Christ and union with Christ, the very heart of the gospel - Christ and his work - will be radically misunderstood.

 

 

At Transformission Mike Reeves spoke of life "in the flesh" and "the spirit of slavery" that dominates those who are in Adam.

When you think of the realm of "the flesh" (or the "sinful nature" - NIV), what do you imagine?  So often our minds run to 'the naughty things'.  Gross disobedience.  Licentious living.

That might be an outworking of the flesh.  But in Romans 8:15, Paul charactierizes life in the flesh as bound by a spirit of slavery.  This spirit is contrasted with the Spirit of adoption.  It's whatever is opposed to our gracious adoption by a generous Father.  Similarly in Galatians 4, Paul makes the contrast between slaves and sons and the slavery is all about bondage "under the law".  In Philippians 3 the horrific evil of "those dogs" - the circumcision sect - is that, through their legalism, they were "putting confidence in the flesh." (Philippians 3:1-11).

Life in the flesh might be about sex.  But - even worse - it might be about circumcision!  Vain self-confidence can be found in the party animal.  But how much more can such vanity exist in the champion of temperance.  And with the added stench of self-righteousness!

We can be distracted from much bigger battles when our struggles with "the flesh" merely focus on "bad behaviours."  As John Gerstner has said: “The thing that really separates us from God is not so much our sin, but our damnable good works.”

The devilish thing about religious carnality is that it doesn't appear to us as carnality.  Instead the "spirit of slavery" makes us toil away at our "damnable good works".  And just as the licentious sinner gets less and less of a kick out of their drug of choice, so the self-righteous prude finds less and less goodness to take pride in.

Take the example of 18th century moralist Samuel Johnson.  At Transformission, Mike read to us from his prayer journals.  Each entry is a window onto life "in the flesh."  Here is the diary of a carnal man:

September 18, 1738 - Oh lord, enable me by your Grace to redeem the time which I have spent in sloth, vanity and wickedness, to lead a new life in your faith, fear and love; and finally to obtain everlasting life.

1757 - Almighty God, enable me, from this instant, to amend my life that I may not finally lose the things eternal.

1759 - enable me to shake off idleness and sloth

1761 - I have resolved till I am afraid to resolve again. Yet, hoping in God, I steadfastly purpose to lead a new life.

1764 - I have made no reformation; I have lived totally useless, more sensual in thoughts, and more addicted to wine and meat. Grant me, O God, to amend my life. My purposes, from this time, to avoid idleness. To rise early. To read the Scriptures.

A few months later: I have now spent 55 years in resolving; O God, Grant me to resolve aright, and to keep my resolutions. I resolve to rise early, not later than six if I can.

1765 - I purpose to rise at eight, Because though I shall not rise early, it will be much earlier than I now rise, for I often lie till two.

1775. When I look back upon resolutions of improvement, Which have year after year been made and broken, Why do I try to resolve again? I try, because reformation is necessary. I try, in hope of the help of God.

It is pitiable, laughable and tragic.  This is what "the spirit of slavery" does to a person.  And it is every bit as fleshly as the debauched hedonist.  Only Christ can save.

Listen to Mike's excellent talks here.

17

James 2:14-26

As a teenager I approached a minister, full of doubts and struggles and a thousand misunderstandings.  My question was, Why doesn't God seem to accept me?  I've prayed the prayer a thousand times, why does heaven seem to be silent?

He told me that I shouldn't worry about whether I was accepted, I just needed to get on and really live the Christian life.

So I went off and tried that (or at least what I imagined the Christian life to be).  And I failed even by my own standards.  And, despondently, I slinked off from Christian things for a good few years.

What kind of faith did I have at that time?  I'd have probably articulated the gospel as something like:  God's big.  You're small.  Behave.

I didn't have gospel faith.  I had demon faith (v19).  I believed God was one.  I believed Jesus was God's Son.  But little more.

Now what would James counsel at this point?  Is James chapter 2 the encouragement to add good works to such rudimentary faith?  Is he exhorting those with demon faith to top up their merit levels until they hit salvific proportions?

No.  James is discussing the kind of faith that saves .  In v14 the word "such" (or "that" in ESV) is important.  James is not making a calculation: Demon faith plus good deeds equals salvation!  Instead this is about discerning what kind of faith is true saving faith.

And the answer is - true saving faith is the kind of faith that's always being fulfilled in active service.  In other words, saving faith (Genesis 15 style) always leads to obedience (Genesis 22 style).

So what should that minister have said to me?  I wish he'd said this:

"Glen, I don't think you really know the gospel.  I don't think you could have the slightest understanding of Christ for you while harbouring these doubts.  I don't think the kind of faith you have is really the active, life-giving, always-leading-to-loving-service kind of faith.  So let me tell you the gospel again, and drive it home to you until assured, authentic, vital faith is birthed in you.  Let me preach the gospel of faith alone to you once more, knowing that the faith that saves will never be alone.  Let me overwhelm you with the promise (Genesis 15) and then you'll bear fruit in obedience (Genesis 22)."

I think that's the approach to a dead faith: preach faith alone.  And I think it's completely mandated by James chapter 2.

.

Twitter widget by Rimon Habib - BuddyPress Expert Developer