Friday, November 26, 2010

Cache Valley Evangelical Statement of Faith

The Cache Valley Evangelical Statement of Faith was written by a gathering of pastors in Cache Valley from a variety of denominational backgrounds to signify our unity and togetherness in our Lord Jesus Christ:

The Bible - We believe that the Bible is the only inspired, infallible and authoritative Word of God, and that God has kept His promise to preserve His Word. Further, we hold that the Bible is the final authority for all Christian doctrine and practice.

The Trinity - We believe that there is one unchanging God, Creator of all things, infinitely perfect and eternally existing in three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The Father - We believe that God the Father is an infinite, personal Spirit, perfect in holiness, justice, wisdom, power and love. He concerns Himself mercifully in the affairs of men and women, hears and answers prayer, and saves from sin and eternal death all who come to Him through Jesus Christ.

The Son - We believe that Jesus Christ is God incarnate, fully God and fully man, having been conceived through the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin. He lived a sinless life, was crucified, was buried and was raised bodily from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father as our High Priest and Advocate.

The Holy Spirit - We believe that the Holy Spirit is a divine Person, equal with the Father and with the Son and of the same nature. His ministry is to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ and implement Christ's work of redeeming the lost and of empowering the believer for godly living, service and witness.

The Human Condition - We believe that God created Adam and Eve in His image and for His glory, but they rebelled and sinned and incurred physical, spiritual and eternal death. As a consequence, all their offspring are born with a sinful nature and are sinners by choice and therefore under condemnation.

The Work of Christ - We believe that salvation is by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, and is received apart from any human merit, works or ritual. This salvation was purchased by the shed blood of Jesus Christ when He died on the cross for our sins and is guaranteed by His resurrection. This finished work of Jesus Christ is the only and all sufficient grounds for justification and eternal life with the Father. All who turn to Jesus Christ by faith are freely forgiven of all their sins, are born of the Holy Spirit, and have become the children of God, and are delivered from all condemnation.

The New Life in Christ - We believe that those made a new creation in Christ are now no longer slaves to sin and are set free for good works. They are made right with God apart from their own works by the work of Christ on the cross. The Holy Spirit recreates them to be eager for good works.

The True Church - We believe that the true Church is comprised of all who have been justified by God's grace through faith alone in Christ alone. They are united by the Holy Spirit in the body of Christ, of which Christ is the Head. The true Church is composed only of believers and is manifested in local churches. The Lord Jesus has called His Church to glorify God by making disciples of all nations. His Church is given two ordinances, baptism and the Lord's Supper, which visibly and tangibly proclaim the gospel.

The Future - We believe that Christ will return and that God will raise the dead bodily and judge the world, assigning those who are in Christ to everlasting life and joy with the Lord, and those not in Christ to judgment and everlasting conscious punishment in the lake of fire.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

True Christianity

"For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness comes by the law, the Christ is dead in vain." - Galatians 2:19-21

This passage contains an amazing lesson in religion, a lesson that, if missed, will cost us dearly. And I have found that many people who profess to be religious haven’t the slightest idea what this lesson is. The importance of this verse can easily be felt. We must stop to consider it, to ask, what does he mean? Too often when people read the Bible they assume they already know what it means; they already know all there is to know about religion before they pick the Bible up. Thus their reading of the Bible is obscured and they are not able to see what is actually being said in it. This is the behavior of fools. I was once like that and speak from personal experience. Let us not do that as we look at this passage.

The apostle Paul is also speaking from personal experience. He is not talking about people out there, but about himself: “I”. Something had happened to this man that radically changed the way he thought about everything: about God, about himself, about religion. To observe Paul saying that he is “dead to law” is an amazing thing when you consider this man was at one time the greatest champion of law on the face of the earth. He was zealous for the law, and he saw Christianity as a threat to law, a threat to all that was good and holy. He was so zealous for the law that he began traveling to different cities in order to bring Christians to trial and totally annihilate Christianity altogether. You must understand that he did this because of his zeal for the law. So many times we think that the persecution of Christians has to do with them being hated by the world because the sinful world hates how very lawful they are! This is a superficial view of what persecution is all about. Paul was not a man who desired to sin and who therefore hated the pious and holy Christians. Paul was a pious Pharisee, and if you were to see his pre-Christian life you would have been shocked by it's apparent holiness and uprightness. Many people would probably feel he never needed to become a Christian at all, that he was just fine. But they do not see with spiritual eyes.

Paul was zealous for the law, but now we read him saying: “I through the law am dead to the law that I might live unto God.” What does this statement mean? It’s meaning is of utmost importance. The most amazing thing it tells us is this: that if we are not dead to the law, we are not alive unto God. Let me say that again: If we are not dead to the law, we are not alive unto God. Paul was spiritually dead before he became a Christian, though he thought he had a relationship with God. Had he died at that time he would have gone to hell. He did not have eternal life. Now this is greatly shocking, because for most people the law is the way in which they relate to God. That’s how religion works in people’s minds: you do what God commands and then you reap the benefits of a relationship with God. That is what law means. God’s commands are law, the moral things He requires you to do, and if you do them you get rewarded, and if you don’t do them you get punished. Law is what every man and woman naturally understands, for God gave us consciences. Law is a very real thing. Paul here acknowledges the reality of law. It is not a man-made fiction. God indeed has a law and it has demands upon every single living person. When you are born into this world you are born under God’s law, whether you are Jew or Gentile. The law he is speaking of here is not restricted to the law of Moses, but is God's law in general (Rom. 2:14-15). It is the moral obligations we are all under when we are born regardless of who we are. In a nutshell, you can sum it all up in two simple commands: Love the Lord your God will all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and, Love your neighbor as yourself. These two commands are comprehensive: if you were to obey these two commands you would never again sin and thus you would be righteous before God by law. The scary thing is, if you are under the law, you must obey these commands because God obligates you to do so. There is no flexibility when it comes to doing what is right with God. You must not sin, and if you do not obey God then you are unacceptable to God. If you do not do what God requires of you (and He does require it) then to hell you will justly go, for that is what you deserve for not obeying God. You prove yourself worthy of death for not obeying a good law from a good God to which your conscience assents. This is how the law works.

Of course, before Paul became a Christian he did not think he was a guilty person at all, and thought he was obedient to the law. There are billions of people like him today. Most non-Christians do not think they are worthy of death, but they think they deserve to go to heaven. This is because they refuse to acknowledge the law for what it really is. Yes, Paul, the champion of law, did not acknowledge the law. Oh, he knew what it said, but he did not take seriously what it required. What happens is that sinful men who want to be religious redefine what the law means so that they can feel good about themselves and have others feel good about them. So they say that “all” doesn’t really mean all, but "most of the time". "Do" really just means "try". Fornication only means having intercourse with someone who is not your spouse, not lust. Murder is only when you take a life, not hatred in your heart. Somehow you can still sin and be obedient to law, because the law's requirements have been redefined. In this way bad people fool themselves into thinking they are good. But the truth about the law came to the apostle Paul, penetrating his soul like a sword. He now states: “I through the law am dead to the law.” Meaning, the law itself brought me to a place where I died to it. The law did something, and that something meant death to law. It was when the law was seen for what it really was that Paul, forced to give in, died to it (Rom. 7:9). As he writes later in this very same letter, this is in fact the whole purpose of the law: the law was given by God, not to teach us how to be good people, but to teach us that we are not good people. The law was given by God to crush our human moral perceptions, to destroy our hope in our own goodness, to kill us at our self-righteous center. None of us are good, but all of us think we are good until the law has been shown to us in all it's deadly perfection. Once we see who we really are in the light of the law of God we die to the law as the way to be righteous before God and as the way to relate to God.

But where is the best place to see the law for what it really is? Is it by studying the law, the first five books of the Bible? While it can be seen by doing that, Paul was a student of the law and he didn’t see it, because as I said before, when left alone men twist and redefine the requirements of the law to suit themselves. There must be a more indelible place to see. And there is. The greatest setting forth of what the law truly is, which God Himself publicly set forth as the true interpretation of His own law, is the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The cross is the ultimate illumination of the law. We see this in the words of the apostle Paul: “I am crucified with Christ.” This was the moment of transformation in Paul's life. When Jesus appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus Paul had the most important revelation of his life: "That man Jesus who was crucified is actually the Holy One of Israel! God raised Jesus from the dead because He is in truth the Holy Messiah... the One who is speaking to me now is the Christ! But if He didn’t die for His own sins (as I thought He had) since He is the Holy One... for whose did He die?" The Scriptures that this Pharisee knew so well must have come flooding back to him in a rush of new understanding: “All we like sheep have gone astray, each one of us have turned our own way, and the Lord laid upon Him the iniquity of us all.” “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5-6) Paul saw his own death in the death of Jesus Christ. He saw that Jesus had died on the cross because he, Paul, was a sinner worthy of death, despite all his reputed law-obedience. It was all dung. It was worth nothing. He was not righteous before God by the law, otherwise Christ would not have died. “If righteousness came by the law, then Christ died for nothing!” (Gal. 2:21) The cross of Christ is the once and for all statement that all men are sinners and that the law cannot make them righteous.

So you see, this crucifixion with Christ is not something that as Christians we are to be constantly striving to attain, as is so often heard: “You need to be crucified with Christ, Christian!” No. If you are a Christian, if you have come to the end of the law and put your faith in Jesus Christ for your justification, then you are crucified with Christ and you are dead to the law. His death was your death, and in God’s sight you are dead, your punishment has been paid, and the law has no more jurisdiction over you. What does the law have to say to a dead man? Your status before God has totally changed. This is what this verse is saying. Your status is changed. You don’t need to get crucified because you are crucified, and your life is now in Christ and you no longer relate to God by law. When you were under law you were dead to God because of your sins, but now that you have been crucified with Christ and have died to the law, you are no longer a sinner in God’s sight, but are alive unto God in Christ Jesus. God sees you as perfectly righteous, as righteous as Christ, because your identity is now in Him and not on your own apart from Him. This is what it is to be a Christian!

And what now? How shall our lives be lived as Christians? Since we are no longer under the law and no longer under any obligation to God’s commandments whatsoever (for indeed we are not), what then shall motivate us to do good works and live a life to the glory of God? Will we keep God's commandments, even if we don’t have to? The glory of this gospel is that the answer to this question does not lie somewhere outside of the gospel, but in the very same place where we started. Before the apostle Paul became a Christian he was a zealous man, but after Paul became a Christian he was even more zealous. We look at his life and are amazed at his love and passion for God and for people. Now here in Galatians 2:20 he is telling us the secret to his life. That which compelled him had nothing to do with law. Paul’s life was not lived because he had to do things. That kind of a motivation eventually breaks down after not too long; there’s no power in it, and doing things simply because you have to is not pleasing to God. God wants us to do what we do because we want to, from the heart, and not out of compulsion.

What then is the motivation and power for living? It is found in the very same place where we started: in Christ crucified. Paul states: “The life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.” There it is. It must be read all together. The life that he now lives as a Christian, he lives by the faith in the Son of God who loved Him and gave Himself for him. That was it! That was the secret of the apostle Paul. As Paul believed that Christ had loved him and had gave Himself for him on the cross, he was filled with response to the love of God. When we see the love of Christ for us, we cannot resist it, we cannot fail to respond to it, for there is no love like it, and it overwhelms us and calls us to action, not out of fear but out of gratitude and desire. Nobody loves us like Jesus does! Paul saw that God did not just love him in some pathetically small and cliché way (as the world speaks of love), but with a love incomprehensible, that cannot be seen anywhere except at the cross of Christ: where Jesus Christ gave His own life for us - not for good people, but for bad people! "For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom. 5:7-8) We, who are unworthy sinners, He died for. Jesus died for you because He loves you. That was the reason. There was nothing that He owed you. It was pure love. That’s how much God loves you, my dear friends. How can you reject that? To walk away here is to walk away from true love, and you will never find such love anywhere else in all the world. You will never know such a wonderful person as God. There is no one like Him. And His love is enough for you to live your whole life on, and even to give up your life for Him if you ever had to.

The Christian life starts with the cross, it is carried on by the cross, and it ends with the cross, only to be ushered into that blessed eternal bliss of redeemed men and women worshiping the Lamb for the triumph of the cross! That is what Christianity is all about! The love of God revealed in Christ crucified. Can you seriously propose something better than this? Many people who profess to be Christians have no concept of what Paul is talking about here in Galatians 2:19-21. They thought Christianity was all about being a good person, keeping rules and following the law. They thought they had a relationship with God because they pray, or go to church, or read their Bibles, or do good deeds and don't do certain bad things. But we must learn this lesson in religion: if you are not dead to the law then you are not alive to God. The law condemns you and nothing more. You need to come to the place where you, like Paul, die to the law - when your righteousness, hope and relationship with God is no longer determined by law but by Christ crucified, who died for your sins so that you could be righteous before God by faith in Him.

Only the person who has believed in this way is a Christian. And if you are a Christian, here is what you should do now: live your life by faith in the Son of God who loved you and gave Himself for you. Don’t look anywhere else for motivation. Keep your eyes fixed upon the place where it all started, and remember that Christ gave Himself for you because He loved you, and nothing can ever change that. You are loved perfectly right now by God, and nothing can ever be added or taken away from that. Think about it! And live your life as a response to God’s amazing love.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Understanding the Covenants

Understanding the covenants is of paramount importance to understanding the Bible, and it is the main key in understanding the mystery of Israel in these last days.

The confusion arises from not distinguishing between the Abrahamic and the Sinaitic covenants. Many lump these two things together into one when it ought not be done. The Abrahamic covenant is a unilateral (one-way) covenant that God made with Abraham and his descendants, promising to make them a nation, bless them, and give them the land of Canaan forever. The Sinaitic covenant was a bilateral (two-way) covenant that God made with Israel after bringing them out of Egypt, guaranteeing them blessings or curses based upon obedience or disobedience to the conditions of the covenant. The Abrahamic covenant knows of no such conditions; in fact, despite Israel's ongoing disobedience, God continued to remember His unilateral covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and so continued to be faithful to the nation of Israel even though they were perpetually rebellious and broke all the terms of the Sinaitic covenant. This is the amazing drama throughout Scripture - the tension between God's one-way covenant and the two-way covenant of the law.

"And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise." (Gal. 3:17-18)

Thus we believe that the original promise God made to Abraham concerning his people and the land still stands - it is irrevocable - yet because the law was introduced as a condition for enjoying it, a tension now exists between God's promise that they would possess it and Israel's inability to possess it by law. As Paul continues on, he explains why the law was given. It was given to teach us that we must turn to Christ to be justified by faith. Israel will dwell safely in the land in the future once they turn in faith to Jesus Christ. When Christ comes the second time He will gather them and plant them in the land "with His whole heart and with His own soul" (Jer. 32:37-44) because at that time Israel shall know God - Jesus - as "the Lord our Righteousness." (Jer. 23:6). Thus the original Abrahamic promise will be fulfilled and the law will be established... both by Jesus Christ. It is when God finally fulfills His promise to Abraham by bringing in the rebellious nation to inherit the land forever that God will be publicly glorified in the eyes of all nations (read Num. 14:10-21 carefully and prayerfully). Bringing Israel into the land is God's "mission impossible"! When He does, all the earth will know that Jehovah is God, and what kind of God He is! A God of grace and righteousness - a God who keeps His promises despite our sin.

Thus we find that Jesus did not come to do away with, but to confirm, the promises made to the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob:

"Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers." (Rom. 15:8)

"As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers' sakes. For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance." (Rom. 11:28-29)

These are powerful verses to be reckoned with.

So when we read in Jeremiah 31 (and quoted in Hebrews 8) that God is going to make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, we take that to mean just that: with the nation of Israel (understanding that many Gentiles are added to it, and that in the end the natural branches that were broken off shall be grafted back in again). The new covenant is established in Christ's blood; it is the gospel. Yet what it replaces is the old covenant; and what is the old covenant? Not the Abrahamic covenant, but the Sinaitic covenant, as it explicitly says! "Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant..." (Heb. 8:9) It is explicit: it is the two-way covenant made at Sinai when God brought the nation of Israel out of Egypt, not the one-way covenant that God promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and which Jesus Christ came to confirm! Thus the law, the old Sinaitic covenant of works, is replaced by the gospel new covenant, to the intent that Israel inherits the promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob - that the promises which God spoke to the patriarchs might be fulfilled for Israel in Christ.

That is the context of Jeremiah 31:31 which so often gets overlooked. Most of the Church is made up of Gentiles now so we don't fully grasp the Jewish framework of the gospel nor appreciate the essence of the Abrahamic covenant. It seems we have lost the original "hope of Israel" (Acts 28:20). Israel in the land means God's public glory in the earth without which it can never otherwise be revealed. I suggest we do much meditation upon Numbers 14:21, for it is in this context that God declares that "as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD." When we re-read the prophets in this light, their words explode with life and the New Testament with new eschatological meaning.

Thus we must distinguish between the Abrahamic and the Sinaitic covenant, not lumping them erroneously together, if we are to see the true meaning and glory of the new covenant with "the house of Israel and the house of Judah."

Toward a Biblical Eschatology

The following is a letter written to a Christian brother concerning premillennialism and the people of God.

Hey M---, I hope all is well with you too, brother. Love hearing from you!

When it comes to eschatology, misunderstandings abound. One of the greatest misunderstanding of all is that there are essentially only two views Christians can take on Israel: Supercessionism or Dispensationalism. Dispensationalists can't stand Supercessionism, and Supercessionists can't stand Dispensationalism. It is automatically assumed that if one does not hold to Supercessionism they are Dispensational, and if one does not hold to Dispensationalism they are Supercessionist. That is an unfortunate and needless "catch 22" that shouldn't exist. Let me say that I am neither a Supercessionist nor a Dispensationalist. I believe in one people of God and only one. In this I wholeheartedly agree with you and the Supercessionists. However, I also believe that Jewish people, even the non-believing Jewish people, are still in the game and are not superseded by the Church, and I also believe in the premillennial kingdom of national Israel that is to come at the second coming of Jesus Christ. I do not believe there are two peoples of God - Israel and the Church - and I do not believe in the pretribulational rapture or the Left Behind series! But I am premillennial. Not all premillennialists are Dispensationalists.

What's interesting to me is that there is a current move in the amillennial camp away from older amillennialistic doctrine and a growing embrace of the notion that a mass conversion of Israel will occur at the end of the age. Of course there have been exceptions in the past, but it is interesting that this idea is gaining much popularity today. Even the forsaking of the term "Replacement" is a noteworthy evidence of this, whereas in times past it was a term that was used freely by amillennialists. So though it may have been used derogatorily by Dispensationalists, it certainly wasn't strictly a derogatory word (mind you, Supercessionists use the term "Dispensational" derogatorily as well!).

But the implications of this movement in the amillennial camp toward seeing a mass conversion of Israel is profound. If this be true, why? Does this mean that God's covenant with His original people still stands? Does this mean that unbelieving Israel still has a part to play in God's redemptive plan? If so, why should we stop only with the conversion of the Jews? Why not embrace the full covenantal promise of the land of Israel and the kingdom of David? It seems to me that such a movement is arbitrarily stopping short of believing in the fulfillment of all the promises of God to Israel. If you concede the one, why not concede them all? They are likewise promised. Such a concession in the amillennial camp is in my estimation a huge leap towards premillennialism, even if at this time they don't see it. Many amillennialists today are even believing in the restoration of this very earth and in the earthly kingly rule of Jesus Christ on it. But why not believe in the earthly kingly rule of Jesus on this earth in Israel? Stopping short of this seems arbitrary and unexegetical.

If the argument of Gal. 3:28 is given, then premillennialists can give a perfectly reasonable answer: there exists in Christ diversity in unity. Just like the Trinity and just like a family, there is diversity, even priority, but this diversity in no way destroys the oneness of the unity. If there is no more male and female in Christ, why do we still acknowledge maleness and femaleness in our Christian communities? Because there still exists male and female diversity! And therefore there still exists Jew and Gentile (as Paul himself owns: "I myself am a Jew"). The point of Galatians 3:28 and Ephesians 2 is that regarding our access to God through Christ there is no racial boundaries. "And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby." (Eph. 2:16) Both Jew and Gentile are reconciled to God in one body: in Christ. That's the whole point. But the breakdown of diversity goes no further than this. God still sees the diversity of His creation even though when it comes to being reconciled to Himself in Christ Jesus there are no distinctions.

As you have well pointed out in Romans 11, there is only one people of God. The Church is Israel - Israel as Israel has always been with all her covenants and promises. There is not a new Israel; there is only the same old Israel that God has always known: but some of the natural branches have been cut off (Jews who haven't believed) and many wild branches have been grafted in (Gentiles who have believed). Israel is the same. It is essentially Jewish. It is still the nation that came from Abraham. All the covenants and promises are still true for her, only there has been a mysterious shifting around of her members. Though, as many amillennialists are seeing, God still has a purpose for those unbelieving Jews: He is able to graft them in again! How much more since they are natural branches! And He will indeed do so at the end of the age, when all the broken off branches will be brought back into Israel to be joined with the saved Gentiles and remnant of believing Jews that were not cut off; not two people but one. But as Gentiles are enjoying an unusual habitat in the tree, those Jews will be coming home.

You see, you don't need to be a Dispensationalist and believe in two peoples of God (banish that horrid thought!) to be a premillennialist, and you don't need to be an amillennial Supercessionist to believe in one people of God. Sadly, most people in both extreme camps don't know this. I am convinced that the view that I hold is both exegetically sound, reasonable and consistent with all the other doctrines that I believe. I am premillennial, and I believe in one people of God. On the contrary, I believe that to be Supercessionist is to be inconsistent with one's view of sovereign grace and with the tried and true method of Biblical interpretation. Why would the God who has always spoken clearly, who always finishes what He begins, who never revokes His gifts and callings, disannull His covenants and promises He made with the Jews? Because of their disobedience? No... that is not the God that we know.

Why should it be thought impossible or strange that God should raise the dead nation of Israel and fulfill His Abrahamic/Davidic covenant with them in time and space on this very earth? What amazing public glory it shall be when the Lord Jesus Christ returns in full vision to the whole earth to fulfill the promises made to the fathers. Glory! Count me in!

Love you dearly my brother,

Thursday, November 11, 2010

How Grace and Works Fit Together

"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." - Ephesians 2:8-10

Notice how works are mentioned three times in this passage. First, we are saved by grace through faith and not of works. Works have absolutely nothing to do with us being saved. If we say that we have to have works to be saved then we flatly contradict this Scripture.

Secondly, our salvation is the work of God. We are His workmanship. He is the one who worked so that we could be saved without works. He died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead. We don't work but receive by faith the gift of God that He worked for.

Lastly, we are saved unto, or for, good works. We are not saved by good works, but God saved us so that we would be people who do good works. When Christians stress the fact that works have nothing to do with salvation it often comes across that we are saying that Christians have nothing to do with works at all. This of course isn't true, but we simply need to understand where works fit in and where they don't. If we place works in the wrong place we destroy the gospel and forfeit the reception of salvation (Gal. 2:21, 5:4), so that is why we take this so seriously.

Therefore whenever we hear someone say that works have something to do with being saved (notice I didn't say with salvation) we immediately recognize it is not the gospel. The gospel is all about grace: receiving something you don't work for. "Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." (Rom. 4:4-5) We do not believe grace in this context has to do with God graciously working in us to do works. That is for another context. This context has do with receiving the gift of justification without the necessity of doing any works at all - not even those works which God works in us. Notice!

"Now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested..." (Rom. 3:21)
"To the man that does not work..." (Rom. 4:5)
"David describes the blessedness of the man unto whom God counts righteousness without works..." (Rom. 4:6)
"Not of works..." (Eph. 2:9)

It is "not of works"! Being saved has nothing to do with works, even the works that God does through us (for that is for after we are saved: Eph. 2:10, Phil. 1:6, 2:13, Titus 2:14, 3:8). This is talking about the absolute absence of the necessity of works for being saved. This is what the gospel is all about!

And as I have said elsewhere (which is the point I must stress again), it is not faith that produces love in us (love, which is the essence of all good works), but it is the object of faith that does this, and the only object of faith that does this is the gospel as stated above. Only the belief that God justifies the ungodly without any necessity of works because God loves you and died on the cross for your sins so that you can be saved freely as a gift produces the resultant response of love in our lives. It is when we believe in the love of God toward us as demonstrated in the "unspeakable gift" of the death of His Son that we truly understand what love is and respond accordingly. So we must banish the idea that mere faith produces works and that works are required to be saved. The true Biblical principle, which I will paraphrase from Gal. 5:6, is that faith in the love revealing gospel of justification by faith without works produces in us the love which moves us to do good works. That is the true relationship between faith and works, and how salvation and works fit together.

So ironically, when we start telling people that they must have works to be saved, and when we get them stop looking at the freeness of the gift of God's love but rather at themselves and their works, we sever the root of fruit-bearing. We may be sincere in our desire to see people bear fruit, but we actually are fighting against the cause. The truth is, the grace of God is counter-intuitive. If you preach that men do not have to do works to be saved since God has provided everything necessary for them because He loves them, they will actually produce the fruit of love. If we preach that they must do works to be saved (however we explain it), we will actually see just the opposite. No one will be saved, and everyone will become miserable, not knowing the true love and grace of God, and will therefore behave accordingly.

Contrary to what the wisdom of the world may think, grace is the only answer to man's sin problem. God's grace through Christ justifies us and saves us, and that same grace also sanctifies and changes us, making us living reflectors of the love of God in Christ Jesus which we have personally believed and experienced. As John Newton said so well, it truly is "amazing grace"!