Posts Tagged ‘works

27
Nov
13

Our Forgiveness: Cause or Effect of God’s Forgiveness?

Does God forgive us because we are forgiving or are we forgiving because God forgives us?  In Matthew 18:21-35 Jesus tells a parable that seems to indicate that God’s forgiveness is based on our forgiveness.  Here is the parable:

“21 Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? 22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven. 23 Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants.  24 And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. 25 But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. 27 Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. 28 But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. 29 And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. 30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. 31 So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. 32 Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: 33 Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? 34 And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. 35 So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.”

At first glance it does look like Jesus saying that we have to earn God’s forgiveness especially when he underscores the lesson of the parable in verse 35.   Over the years many LDS members have referred to this passage to make that point to me.

But a closer look at the parable shows that this is not its message. Before anything else, the king forgives the unmerciful servant.  Also note how wonderfully he does that.  The servant doesn’t even ask him for forgiveness.  All he asks for is a time extension. Instead of granting him that wish, however, the king immediately and fully forgives his massive debt. (10,000 talents of gold was an unbelievable debt seeing that a talent was about 100 pounds.  We are talking about 50 tons of gold.)

The king’s incredible forgiveness of this massive debt comes totally out of the blue.  Nothing the servant did merited this forgiveness. At this point in the parable all we know of the servant is his failure to pay the debt. It is obvious that God did not forgive him because he was so forgiving.  God’s forgiveness came first. Our forgiveness of others flows from God’s forgiveness of us, and not vice versa.  God’s forgiveness gives us the motivation and the impetus to be forgiving ourselves.

This parable then becomes another illustration of how works, in this case our being forgiving, are an effect of being forgiven and not a cause of our being forgiven.  It brings in the added element that when the Holy Ghost creates faith in people, they are naturally changed.  They were spiritually dead.  Now they are spiritually alive.  And if that change is not evident – in this case by not being forgiving – then it is an indication that the person does not truly believe.

What an awesome God we have.  To him be all praise, glory, and honor.

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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!

07
Sep
12

Keeping the Sabbath

Lesson 16 of the “Teachings of George Albert Smith” deals with keeping the Sabbath and taking the sacrament.  I have seen quite a few LDS members not strictly adhering to Mormonism’s Sabbath restrictions.  Some were bothered by this, some not so.  This particular manual doesn’t go into as much depth as some manuals do in explaining specifics.  Here are a couple of quotes from it.

“One of the first sermons that were preached in this (the Salt Lake) valley was by President Brigham Young, and he warned the people to honor the Sabbath day and to keep it holy, and no matter how difficult their circumstances they were not to go out and do manual labor on the Sabbath day.”

“I say to you that if the members of this Church, knowing better, persist in desecrating the Sabbath day in the pursuit of worldly pleasures, they will lose their faith, and the Spirit of our Heavenly Father will withdraw from them.”

The manual, Gospel Principles, lists some of those worldly pursuits.  “Our prophets have told us that we should not shop, hunt, fish, attend sports events, or participate in similar activities that day.” It continues by saying:  “President Spencer W. Kimball cautioned, however, that if we merely lounge about doing nothing on the Sabbath, we are not keeping the day holy.  The Sabbath calls for constructive thoughts and acts.” (p. 141)

I have often wondered how the dozens of Mormons who have played in the NFL over the years (Steve Young being one of the most notable) squared their playing on Sundays with Mormonism’s teachings.  And that is just one of numerous examples.  I have seen some of my Mormon acquaintances shopping on Sunday or eating out.   To be fair, I also know some who try to follow the Sabbath requirements to the letter.  There have also been a few who have told me about some of the less than truthful things they did as families to give the appearance that they were keeping the Sabbath.  (One of the my favorites is the family who played cards on Sunday and called the card game, genealogy, so that they could say they were involved in their genealogy if anybody asked.)

I made mention of this because this illustrates a number of unattended consequences when keeping the commandments become such a focal point.  Yes, some will try very hard to keep them but will also feel very guilty when they fail.  Others will just pick and choose the ones they want to keep.  And still others will feel forced to act hypocritically.

How much better it is to make Jesus and his perfect law-keeping for us the focal point!  That frees us from guilt and gives us the freedom to confess our sins and not try to hide them.  That further serves as a powerful motivation to glorify him in all that we do.  Focusing on Jesus and what he has done for us – and not on what we are to do – is the best way to honor and keep the Sabbath.

O, by the way.  The Bible also says: “ Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: 17 Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.” (Col. 2:16-17)

17
Aug
12

Keeping the Commandments

This is a phrase that is commonly heard in Mormonism.  Many people in Provo countered with it as I talked about already being perfect in Christ.  They could not conceive of perfection in Christ without our doing something also -without our also keeping the commandments.

This phrase also appears repeatedly in Chapter 15 of the Teachings of George Albert Smith, the manual currently being studied in the LDS Church.  The chapter continues the discussion of mission work and is entitled, “Advancing the Work of the Lord”.  The following quote from that chapter is especially telling.

“Zion will be redeemed and the world, which now misunderstands the work of ‘Mormonism’, will live to know that it is the power of God unto salvation to those who will keep the commandments of our Father.” (p.165)

Compare that to Romans 1:16.  “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.”  “It is the power of God unto salvation to” are identical in each quote.  But then what a difference! Mormonism points to a person’s keeping of the commandments while the Bible points to a person’s belief.

This illustrates what I heard repeatedly on the streets of Provo.  And not just there. This also illustrates what I have heard repeatedly from the LDS Church and its members over the years. The emphasis of Mormonism, even when the topic is salvation, is not on trusting and believing in what Jesus has done for us but rather on keeping the commandments.

Yes, it is the desire of every believer to try and keep God’s commandments.  LDS members grossly misunderstand Christians when they think that we believe that we can run amuck in sin because we believe that we are saved freely.  Nothing is further from the truth than that.  The key difference, however, is our motivation. Believers try and keep the commandments not as something we need to do to be saved, but rather out of gratitude for already being saved through Jesus’ perfect life and sacrificial death.

That difference in motivation makes all the difference in the world.  For any reliance on our works in the matter of salvation does nothing less than ruin that salvation.  You can’t mix God’s grace and our works.  “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.” (Romans 11:6)

24
Jan
12

JOYFULLY PAYING OFF THE DEBT

One of the greatest feelings in the world is making your final house payment!  That calls for celebration!

But imagine the following scenario.  A couple has a large balloon payment tacked onto their mortgage.  For years they have been salting away extra money for it.  Finally the day arrives to make that payment.  They eagerly go to the bank.  They are grinning ear to ear as they lay their money down on the banker’s desk.  But as he examines it, he begins to frown.  After further examination he informs them that all their money is counterfeit.  Not only are they still in debt, but the time to pay off that debt has now expired.  They are ruined!

That is what will happen to people on Judgment Day – to people who – in any way – rely on their own works to get to heaven.  Salvation rests entirely on Jesus’ payment for sin.  All those who mix in their works with Jesus’ work are adding nothing but counterfeit money – worthless money that causes them to default on their debt.

This is why Mormonism is so dangerous.  It does talk about salvation by grace, but it denies the teaching of salvation by grace alone.  We see that even in the LDS author who speaks the most about grace, Robert L. Millet.  He wrote a book entitled Grace Works.  His whole premise is, as the back cover of the book quotes him as saying, “We have an obligation to cooperate with God in the salvation of our souls. While the ultimate power of change is in Christ, we can do our part and choose to be changed.”

But the Bible says God’s grace and man’s works don’t mix when it comes to salvation.  “And if by grace, then it is no more of works, otherwise grace is no more grace.  But if it be of works, then is it no more grace; otherwise work is no more work.”  (Romans 11:6)  It’s like the scenario above.  It doesn’t matter what percentage of the mortgage is paid by counterfeit money.  As long as any of it is paid with counterfeit money, the couple is still in debt.  As long as a person is relying on what he does to be saved – no matter what percentage of his salvation he attributes to his efforts – he is still in debt and thus in deep trouble.  Talking about grace is not enough.  The issue is all about salvation by grace alone.

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!

 

18
Apr
11

Does Staying in the Faith Contribute to Salvation?

One of the many differences that come out in discussions between Mormons and Christians is what is all involved in faith.  Christians limit faith itself to trusting in Jesus’ work rather than in their own works to be saved.  We do see good works as resulting from faith and closely connected to faith but not part of faith itself.  We do that because the Bible not only says works are not part of faith – Ephesians 2:8-9 and other passages but also refers to them as fruits of faith – John 15:5 and other passages

Another thing many Mormons include in the definition of faith is staying in the faith.  But is that true?  Say that I was sleeping in my house when it caught fire.  The smoke made me unconscious.  A fireman rescues me without any help on my part.  After I’m rescued, I’m sitting on the sidewalk watching my house burn.  But then I remember a prized possession that is still in the house so I rush back into my burning house to try and get it.  This time I die.  If, however, I didn’t do that and stayed on the sidewalk could I then say that I had to do something to be saved?  I don’t think so.

The Bible talks about believers having been saved with no works on their part – past tense.  It talks about believers possessing eternal life – present tense.  Both are accomplished facts.  Yes, we need to remain in the faith – an encouragement we often hear in the Bible.  But does that mean that my staying in the faith contributes to my salvation?  No more than my staying out of my burning house contributed to my rescue in the analogy above.  In fact, it would be an affront to the fireman who rescued me to claim any credit for my rescue.  So also it is an affront to Jesus to say that I did or have to do anything to be saved.  But that is exactly what Mormonism teaches.  As Robert L. Millet, a BYU professor wrote, “Therefore acting alone, the grace of Christ is not sufficient for salvation.  The works of man – the ordinances of salvation, the deeds of service and acts of charity and mercy – are necessary for salvation.”  It’s teachings like these that cause us to say that Mormonism is a very dangerous religion.




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