Archive for the 'faith and works' Category

05
Jan
13

The Comfort of James 2

James chapter two is one of the more controversial chapters of the Bible especially when James writes in verse 24:  “Ye see then how by works a man is justified, and not by faith alone.”  That sure sounds like James is contradicting passages like Ephesians 2:8-9 where Paul says we are saved by faith and not by works.

But, as always, the context in which James says this is vitally important.  Especially enlightening is verse 18:  “Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.”  These words spell out plainly that James is talking about, not how God recognizes who believes and who doesn’t, but how we recognize that it each other.  It’s talking about how we show, make apparent, our faith to other people.

In that context, works are important because, unlike God, we can’t see faith.  Faith resides in the heart and is invisible to humans.  All we can see are evidences of faith.  That’s the point of James’ illustration in verse 26:  “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”  Faith is like our spirits – it is invisible.  Just like we know the spirit is still in a body if the body shows signs of life, so also with faith.  Faith makes itself visible in works.

But what is so important to remember is that although faith always produces works and thus faith and works go together, they are two separate things.  It’s a matter of cause and effect. Spirit-worked faith in Jesus’ sacrifice for us is the cause of our salvation, while works are the result of our being saved.  Or to put it another way, faith is the root and works are the fruit. And it’s devastating to mix the two.  Paul brings this out in Romans 11:6:  “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.”  Mixing works in with grace as a cause of salvation does nothing less than destroy salvation.

James is not contradicting that.  In fact, he is reinforcing that as seen in his citing Abraham as an example.  In verses 21-23 he mentions two incidents from Abraham’s life.  It is important to see that he does not mention them in chronological order.  He first talks about his sacrifice of Isaac – something that occurred decades after the event mentioned in verse 23.  In verse 23 he quotes Genesis 15:6 – the significant verse that tells us when God justified him (declared him righteous).  James is emphasizing that God had already declared Abraham righteous decades before his sacrifice of Isaac.  He didn’t wait until Abraham had done this work to declare him righteous.  No, he did that when Abraham believed.  Because God can see faith and because faith alone saves, God could do that.  But we can’t.  Therefore Abraham’s subsequent sacrifice of Isaac made his faith complete in the sense that now Abraham himself, his contemporaries, and even we today, have this wonderful evidence that he believed.  It’s like an apple making an apple tree complete, identifying the tree as an apple tree.  Now we too can justify Abraham because he showed us his faith by his works.

James agrees with the rest of the Bible.  God declares us righteous, he justifies us, on the basis of faith alone.  And that is so comforting.  My being worthy before God isn’t a team project with Jesus and me both contributing to it.  It’s not even Jesus doing most of the work and me doing a little bit.  It’s all about Jesus doing everything for me.  It’s about God giving me eternal life as a gift.  And that is so comforting.  Because now I know beyond the shadow of any doubt that I will spend eternity with Heavenly Father.  I know that because Jesus has already done everything for me.  All praise and glory be his!

12
Sep
12

FAITH AND SAVING FAITH

Chapter 17 of the Teachings of George Albert Smith deals with faith and especially its power.  It cites example after example from both Scripture and LDS history of people doing great things through the power of faith.  It ends with the exhortation to nurture such faith through the keeping of the commandments.

This is how Mormonism most often talks about faith.  It defines it as “a principle of action and power” (True to the Faith, p. 54). The fact that Mormonism talks about faith is something many Mormons quickly point to when they are accused of not being Christian.  “We are Christian.  We talk about having faith.” This has led many non-Mormons to consider them Christian.

It’s right at this point, however, that it is important to make the distinction between faith in general and the specific faith that saves people from an eternity in hell.  What is vitally important in saving faith is its object.  Faith that saves is not just a general trust that God is good but the very specific trust that Jesus came as our substitute and did it all for us – keeping the commandments in our place and cleansing us from all our sins.

That type of faith is not what Mormonism talks about.  It is not mentioned once by President Smith in the chapter cited above.  Or take the following as an example.  It is from the manual, True to the Faith , and is its entire treatment about faith in Jesus.

     Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ

            In order for your faith to lead you to salvation, it must be centered in the Lord Jesus Christ (see Acts 4:10–12; Mosiah 3:17; Moroni 7:24–26; Articles of Faith 1:4). You can exercise faith in Christ when you have an assurance that He exists, a correct idea of His character, and a knowledge that you are striving to live according to His will.

            Having faith in Jesus Christ means relying completely on Him –  trusting in His infinite power, intelligence, and love. It includes believing His teachings. It means believing that even though you do not understand all things, He does. Remember that because He has experienced all your pains, afflictions, and infirmities, He knows how to help you rise above your daily difficulties (see Alma 7:11–12; D&C 122:8). He has “overcome the world” ( John 16:33) and prepared the way for you to receive eternal life. He is always ready to help you as you remember His plea: “Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not” (D&C 6:36).

There are many good sounding statements in these two paragraphs.  But look at the object, at what they tell people to have faith in.  You can exercise faith in Christ when you have an assurance that He exists, a correct idea of His character, and a knowledge that you are striving to live according to His will.

And a little bit later:  trusting in His infinite power, intelligence, and love. It includes believing His teachings. 

      Noticeably absent is any talk of trusting in his death for our sins.  But that is what the Bible says is essential.  “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood.” (Romans 3:25)  Saving faith is very specific; it’s trusting that Jesus, through his life and death, has saved us.  It’s trusting completely in Jesus and not in our own works.  “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” (Romans 4:5)

For all of its talk about faith, this is something Mormonism doesn’t talk about.  Therefore this is something we need to talk to our Mormon friends about. They need to hear that saving faith is trusting in Jesus’ works, not their own.

 

24
Jul
12

Enduring until the End

Mormons often respond to a Christian’s insistence that a person’s works do not contribute anything to salvation by pointing to those passages in the Bible (i.e. Matthew 10:22) that tell us to endure until the end.  They then claim that those passages are saying that the Bible says we have to do something to be saved; namely, endure.

At first blush, that appears to be a legitimate argument.  But that is only how it appears to be.  There are two things that show the fallacy of this defense.  First, there are the numerous Bible passages that state that salvation and eternal life are God’s gift to us received only through faith – passages like Ephesians 2:8-9.  One of my favorite passages in this regard is John 3:15-18.  There Jesus talks about salvation and everlasting life.  Five times in that brief section he talks about believing. There is not even one sniff of talk about our work.  Or we could look at a passage like Romans 11:6 (“And if by grace, then it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace.”) which show that God’s grace and human work don’t mix.  In other words, God makes it plain through such passages that he doesn’t consider enduring to the end a work that contributes to our salvation.  If he considered it as such a work, passages such as the ones listed would be false and deceptive.

The second point deals with the question of when we are saved or when we receive eternal life.  It is true that sometimes the Bible talks about this happening in the future referring to when we fully experience that in heaven.  But it is just as true that the Bible often talks about believers having salvation and eternal life right now.  “For by grace are ye saved through faith.” (Ephesians 2:8) “Are ye saved” is a present tense describing a present reality, not a future happening. Or look at Jesus’ words:  “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” (John 5:24)   Again “hath” is a present tense.  Note also “is passed” not “will be passed”.  Salvation and eternal life, according to Scripture, does not lie only in the future for believers.  It is their present possession with the full experience of it awaiting them in heaven.

My point in all this is that “enduring” is something believers do only after they have already been saved!  It is not part of their being saved – it doesn’t contribute to their salvation.  Think of a man lying unconscious in his burning house.  A firefighter heroically rescues him and carries him to safety.  There he is attended to by paramedics and regains consciousness.  Although it is probably unnecessary, they warn him not to return to his burning house.  So he stays a safe distance away.  Think of how ridiculous he would sound if he would begin telling people that he contributed to his rescue by staying that safe distance away.  Or think of how the firefighter who rescued him would react to such statements.  Although there is no such thing as a perfect illustration, this is similar to anybody claiming that they contributed to their salvation by enduring to the end. Such statements don’t please our Savior who rescued us by giving everything for us, including his very life.

No, what pleases Jesus is when we give him complete credit for our salvation.  He so richly deserves that because salvation is all about what he did for us.  His blood washed away all our sins.  His perfect righteousness is credited to our account.  He saved us when we could do nothing – when we were dead in sins.  To him be every bit of praise and glory!

02
Dec
11

FAITH IN JESUS’ WHAT?

Both Mormonism and Christianity talk about having faith in Jesus.  But, as with so many words and phrases, each means something differently by that.

James E. Talmage, who was an LDS apostle, defined faith this way:  “Primarily, and in a theological sense, we are considering faith as a living, inspiring confidence in God, and an acceptance of His will as our law, and of His words as our guide in life.”  Apostle Joseph B. Wirthlin put it this way:  “We each should develop the faith of Nephi to do the things the Lord has commanded [see 1 Ne. 3:7] knowing that all commandments are given for our good.”

When Christians talk about faith in Jesus, however, they are not talking about accepting His will as our law or even His words as our guide in life.  The first and primary things Christians think about when faith comes up are not Jesus’ words but his works.  To Christians, having faith in Jesus means trusting that what Jesus did he did for us and because Jesus has done those things, we are already acceptable to God.  So much so that faith in Jesus, for Christians, includes the thought of abandoning any reliance on our own works.  But note that any mention of Jesus’ works for us is completely absent in James E. Talmage’s words – even though he is describing faith “primarily”.

Although both Mormonism and Christianity talk about having faith in Jesus, they have two different objects in which they place their faith.  In order to understand each other and not talk past each other, it is important to see this difference.  It is not enough to agree that both talk about having faith in Jesus.  The telling question is: faith in Jesus’ what?

26
Nov
11

Fully converted

At the last General Conference, in one of his talks, President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency, talked about meeting an elderly man.  After describing the meeting he remarks:  “He was an example of the fully converted Latter-day Saints I meet often after they have given a life of dedicated service.  They press on.  President Marion G. Romney described it this way: ‘In one who is wholly converted, desire for things [contrary] to the gospel of Jesus Christ has actually died, and substituted therefor is a love of God with a fixed and controlling determination to keep his commandments.’” (Ensign, Nov, 2011, p. 70, emphasis added)

Note the two things I emphasized in that quote.  First he says he meets such people often.  In other words, according to him, a fully converted person is not that rare.  And secondly, one of the main characteristics of who is wholly converted is that the “desire for things contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ has actually died”.

Really?  Such a person never again has a sinful desire?  Not one sniff of sinful anger or revenge?  Not one self-centered or selfish yearning?  Not one twinge of lust or greed?  Not one moment of doubt or worry?  No trace of apathy?

This is a condition not even claimed by biblical prophets.  When the prophet Isaiah saw a vision of the Lord he exclaimed:  “Woe is me!  for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips.” (Isaiah 6:5)  This is something not even claimed by the Lord’s apostles.  Paul lamented:  “For the good that I would I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do.”  (Romans 7:19).  But President Eyring says he meets such people often!

There has been only one person who, at the time of his death, had no sinful desires.  That person was Jesus.  That is why his death was an acceptable sacrifice for sin.  And that is why his death was a necessary sacrifice for sin.  For absolutely everybody else continues to have sinful desires until the day of his or her death.  And that is why whoever is saved is saved entirely on what Jesus has done and not, in any way, in what they do.  To Jesus, and to Jesus alone, be the glory.

09
Aug
11

A template for gaining eternal life?

“16 And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? 17 And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? [there is] none good but one, [that is], God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.

18 He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, 19 Honour thy father and [thy] mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

20 The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? 21 Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go [and] sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come [and] follow me.  22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.”  (Matthew 19)

When discussing how someone can gain eternal life, Mormons have frequently pointed to these words Jesus spoke to the rich young man – especially his words in v. 17:  “but if thou will enter into life, keep the commandments.”  They then often state that these words show that keeping the commandments are essential for gaining eternal life.  Case closed.

But does that interpretation even coincide with what Mormonism teaches?  As many Mormons are quick to point out, Mormonism does talk about grace.  Mormonism teaches that no one can gain eternal life by their own merits.  “For we know that it is by grace we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23) is one of the foundational passages of the LDS Church.  Mormonism teaches that it takes a combination of God’s grace and man’s effort to enter God’s presence.  “The phrase ‘after all we can’ teaches that effort is required on our part to receive the fullness of the Lord’s grace and be made worthy to dwell with Him.” (True to the Faith, p. 77)

But that is not what Jesus told the young man!  He doesn’t even hint at grace.  All he talks about is keeping the commandments.  If Mormons want to point to these words as a template for gaining eternal life then they had better not mention grace at all – because Jesus doesn’t.  Here Jesus says it’s 100% – not 50%, not 25%, not 1% – but 100% about keeping the commandments.

That is God’s consistent answer to the question:  “what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?”  If the question is about what a person needs to do, then God’s answer is you have to do everything.  You have to perfectly keep all the commandments.  If that is the question, then grace is not part of the answer.

That, my friends, is a sobering answer.  It is one that can easily lead to despair.  And that is God’s exact intent!  He wants people to despair – of their own goodness and efforts.  That is what Jesus wanted to accomplish with the young man – he wanted the young man to throw up his hands at the impossibility of doing this.  He wanted that because only people who realize that they are in deep trouble look to him for rescue.

Suppose, for a moment, that there was a person who had to get across the ocean but didn’t realize how big it was.  He was a good swimmer so he thought he could swim across.  He was convinced that he could do it, even after many told him he couldn’t.  Finally they urge him to get into the water and start swimming.  They do that for the express purpose of proving to him that he will fail – so that he won’t try when nobody will be around to save him.

Jesus was doing a similar thing with this young man.  He wanted to impress upon him the impossibility of his keeping all the commandments.  Thus no mention of grace.  Contrary to what Mormonism teaches salvation is not a both/and proposition.  It is not both by grace and works.  It is an either/or proposition.  Either by grace or by works.  It’s one or the other.  Not both/and.  The story of the young man, contrary to what many Mormons state, does not support the both/and proposition, but the either/or one.  This is an important point to remember when this story is being discussed.

Even more important to see – and believe – is that our salvation depends 100% on what Jesus did and 0% on what we do.  To him be all the glory!

 

21
Jul
11

Amazing Grace

 

Very few words have only one meaning.  That is apparent in any dictionary as most words have a number of meanings listed for them.  Therefore the context in which it is used is vitally important in determining its proper meaning.  Nowhere is this more important than in reading the Bible.

Take the word grace.  When it is used in the context of salvation, it refers to an attribute of God – his unconditional love.  This is the love Jesus spoke about in John 3:16.  This is the love Paul referred to in Romans 5, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.’  What is pertinent to our discussion is that the Bible says, when it comes to salvation, grace and works don’t mix.  “And if by grace, then it is no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace.  But if it be of works, then it is no more of grace; otherwise work is no more work.”  (Romans 11:6)

Mormonism defines grace differently. The LDS manual, True to the Faith, says:  “The word grace, as used in the scriptures refers primarily to the divine help and strength we receive through the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ.”  The LDS Bible Dictionary uses almost the exact same wording.  A couple of other excerpts from it:  “This grace is an enabling power that allows men and women to lay hold on eternal life and exaltation after they have expended their own best efforts.”  “However, grace cannot suffice without total effort on the part of the recipient.”  Nowhere do either of these two sources mention the idea that grace is God’s unconditional love for mankind.

One reason I am pointing this out is to highlight the fact that when Christians and Mormons talk about grace, most of the time they will be thinking of two different things.  If there is going to be any meaningful discussion between the two, this fact needs to be acknowledged.  Christians will need to remember that when most Mormons hear the word grace they will be thinking of an enabling power given them.  Mormons will need to remember that most Christians will be thinking of God’s love shown them in giving them salvation totally and freely on the basis of what Jesus did.

The second reason for doing this is so that I can bear my testimony about this amazing grace.  I know that God has accepted Jesus’ payment for my sins and I don’t have to add anything to it.  I know that I am going to spend eternity in celestial glory in God’s eternal family, in God’s presence, solely on the basis of what Jesus has done.  To him be all glory!




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