Friday, June 18, 2010

Faith and works and loving God

I recently had a question about the relationship between faith and works, and why we don't emphasize loving Jesus more. Here was my response:

Excellent question! Jesus says the first and greatest command is to Love to Lord our God with all our heart and soul and strength (Mark 12:28-34//Matthew 22:34-38). He also says we must love him more than anything else, more than Father, Mother, wife children or our own life (Luke 14:26-27//Matthew 10:37-39; Matthew 16:24-27, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23). To love Jesus above all else IS to love the Lord our God with all our heart. Paul says that if anyone does not love the Lord Jesus, let him be accursed! (1 Corinthians 16:22).

I think Child Evangelism Fellowship is a wonderful organization but they COMPLETELY missed it with their little song that says, "Faith is just believing what God says he will do." NO! Even the demons believe what God says he will go....and they tremble! (James 2:19).

Others define "faith" as the kind of trust one has in a’s not enough to believe the chair exists, you have to trust it enough to sit in it. That view is a little closer to the truth—but it also misses the mark. It is entirely possible to sincerely "trust" that Jesus is going to take you to heaven but have a heart and life that is in complete rebellion against God. Jesus will say, "depart from me, I never knew you, you workers of iniquity (Matthew 7:21-23)!

Faith has an intellectual element. If we don’t intellectually believe that Jesus died for our sins there is little reason to trust him. If we don’t believe he actually, bodily rose from the dead, there is little reason to believe him. Faith also has a commitment element. It is not enough just to believe the facts. We also have to turn to him alone for salvation—not to Jesus and Muhammad, not to Jesus and ourselves, not to Jesus and our good works. We must trust Jesus alone. But faith also has a “heart” element.

When someone is saved, the Holy Spirit changes their heart. He takes away a heart or mindset of rebellion against God and replaces it with a heart of love-devotion-dedication-commitment to Jesus Christ. I think this is what Paul means by "the mind of the Spirit in Romans 8:5-8.

This "change of heart" is called repentance/faith. Repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin. Faith looks at the heart of loving devotion to Jesus Christ. Repentance is the change of heart from a heart of rebellion against God to a heart of loving devotion for Christ. Regeneration is about the new heart given by the Holy Spirit.

Repentance/faith/regeneration does not mean we will be perfect people. Unfortunately we still fail. But it does mean that faith produces works. Faith produces a change. Even for the repentant thief on the cross who couldn’t do any works, his repentance or change of heart was demonstrated by his rebuke of the other thief (Luke 23:29-43). Faith produces works (James 2:14-26).

Paul and James were not in contradiction. Paul begins and ends the book of Romans with the phrase, "the obedience of faith"—which, I think is accurately translated, "the obedience that comes from faith" (Romans 1:5; Romans 16:26). I think this is an “enclusio” meaning that the entire book is about the obedience that comes from faith. In the middle of the book, Paul writes about those who “obeyed from the heart” (Romans 6:17). Paul even says God will judge people “according to what they have done” (Romans 2:6-9). Paul agreed that faith produces works (cf. Galatians 5:19-21; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

How could it be otherwise? If someone genuinely loves and is dedicated to Jesus (faith) with all their heart, how could they not want to please him--not in order to be saved, but because of his great love for us! (Someone in our chapel one time said we should stop trying to please God! He was ignorant of Scripture: 2 Corinthians 5:9; First Thessalonians 2:4; First Thessalonians 4:1; Hebrews 11:6; Romans 8:8).

One of the characteristics of being saved is a heart that genuinely wants to please God. Jesus said, if we love him we would keep his commandments (John 14:15). If we genuinely love the Lord and want to please him, how could that not—through the power of the Holy Spirit—began to change our lives?

The relationship between faith and works is like a wood fire in a fireplace. If there is a wood fire in the fireplace there will always be smoke coming out of the chimney (unless, of course, the chimney is blocked). Smoke is a natural byproduct of a wood fire just as works are the byproduct of faith. But it is the fire that heats the house—not the smoke. It is faith that saves, not the works.

If you want to read more about obedience and loving/pleasing God, please check out my blog post on Pleasing God.

The bottom line is that I think you are absolutely right. We have neglected to emphasize the loving God/loving Jesus aspect of faith.