Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Saving Faith: The Possession of the Profession

What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." (Romans 4:1-3 NIV)

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Have you suffered so much for nothing—if it really was for nothing?Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard? Consider Abraham: "He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. (Galatians 3:1-7, NIV)

There has been a lot of controversy in the Church about the nature of justification and what justifies a person before God. Protestant Churches exist because of this debate. One would think that after over 1,000 years of being under the constraints of what humans must do to be justified before God, the Church would not go back into slavery but many people are now proposing a new understanding of justification that is different from what the Reformers broke free from but still enslaves us. The doctrine of Justification through faith is a somewhat simple doctrine to grasp but is an issue that the Church stands or falls on. There is no liberty on the issue of justification. How one believes and applies that doctrine either makes them a Christian or someone who does not understand the Gospel.

While most people in the world do not get into nor will they get into any great depth about the issue of justification, there are many people in America who state that "believing in God" will give them salvation. It is a common notion that if people raise their hand or walk down the aisle or pray a prayer that they are saved because of these things. They have to be sincere of course, but these things make a person just before God.

When I read the Bible I get a very different interpretation of this matter than what some people are teaching. I do believe that praying to God for repentance and professing one's faith are important. Both have to be done but they are not what saves a person. James says it this way:

"You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone." (James 2:19-24, NIV)

What saves a person is trusting that Christ is enough to cover their sins. When a person is actively trusting in Christ and what He alone has done, it shows up in how they live.

"Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. As it is written: "I have made you a father of many nations." He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, "So shall your offspring be." Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah's womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why "it was credited to him as righteousness." The words "it was credited to him" were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead." (Romans 4:16-24, NIV)

Abraham had living and active trust in God and that faith was something he possessed. For it to be a profession, it must first be a possession. We must have faith before we profess having faith.

This is a very beautiful and scary thing. I know somewhat how gracious I am to have a God who has justified me so that through faith I am transformed. I also know how unbelieving I am as a person and how doubtful I can be about lots of things. Because of this I pray: "God, I believe; help my unbelief!"

But I am not like Abraham in that I have seen God do what H says He will. I have seen God through Christ fulfill His promise to Abraham and to everyone else He has made a promise to. I am cleansed from sin through the cross and am able to draw close to God because of this. God gives us saving faith as a gift when we calls us to Him.

"The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:
"Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
but a body you prepared for me;
with burnt offerings and sin offerings
you were not pleased.
Then I said, 'Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—
I have come to do your will, O God.' "
First he said, "Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them" (although the law required them to be made). Then he said, "Here I am, I have come to do your will." He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:
"This is the covenant I will make with them
after that time, says the Lord.
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds."
Then he adds:
"Their sins and lawless acts
I will remember no more."
And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin. Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God,2let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:1-23, NIV)

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