Sunday, December 29, 2013

Justification by Faith Alone, but What is Faith?

Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV) For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 


I feel an incredible burden to write on this issue, so that's what I'm going to do.  It's important we understand as Christians just where our salvation comes from.  For many of you, you already know this.  I didn't know when I was growing up.  I thought if I just obeyed the 10 commandments good enough, I might be good enough to go to heaven.  I thought that if I was a decent person, I'd go to heaven.  Too bad the Bible doesn't say that.  


I was raised in the northern woods of Wisconsin, on straight Catholicism, and midwest Lutheranism.  That is the majority around these parts, with the third category being generally baptist or non-denominational.  


Catholics seem to be big on works-faith, which is the idea that my good deeds get me right with God.  


So let me set the record straight for the seekers out there.  This isn't about desperately trying to perform morally, and always failing to live up to it, and finally giving up in the end because we can't measure up. 


Our salvation is 100% about what Jesus Christ did on the cross.  He paid it all.  Not just the sins we've already committed at our moment of conversion, but every sin we'll ever commit in the future as well.  Jesus paid it all.  


John 5:24 (ESV) Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. 


We have got to know this as Christians.  We have nothing to stand on in front of God.  Not a single work.  Not a single good deed.  We all fall far short.  


We have Jesus Christ.  And those of us who are trusting in him, having faith in him, our sins are gone.  They are all gone.  


 Romans 5:1 (ESV) Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 


It's just that simple.  And I've heard people sit back and say "I really admire your faith, I wish I had it."  You can have it.  It's not magic.  


What is faith?  


I mean really, we never shut up about the words "faith" and "believe" but what do they mean?


The dictionary says faith is "confidence or trust in something or a person."


The definition for believe is "to have confidence in the truth, the existence, or the reliability of something, although without absolute proof that one is right in doing so: Only if one believes in something can one act purposefully"


Great.  When I trust someone is it an involuntary thing?  Does it just happen?  Hey, sometimes, if I'm just a really swell naive guy.  But what happens when I've been hurt a lot?  What happens when I've trusted and been kicked in the face and beaten into my shell, over and over again?


Am I no longer capable of faith?  Am I doomed now?  No.  Faith is not an involuntary knee-jerk response that just sort of happens.  The purpose of the apologies I post, the intellectual defenses and offenses into Christianity, is to help bring seekers to the point, where it's now reasonable to make a leap of faith.


But what is a leap of faith?  


It's just like offering trust to someone, when we don't really know if they're deserving of it.  But we can't have a good relationship with the person if we don't offer them trust.  We just can't.  We'll constantly be suspicious, checking up on them, wondering about them, driving ourselves nuts, and it'll self destruct. 


So if I'm a mature person, and say I've met a girl and we're getting to know each other.  I take stock of various things.  Her family and friends speak well of her.  Ok, great.  Next?  She regularly attends a good church.  Excellent, great, next?  She dresses modestly.  Awesome.  I spend time with her. I get to know her.  I let my instincts perceive the situation.  But as we get closer, I reach the point where I have to say:


Alright, I've seen enough evidence.  I've put the pieces together.  There is no way I can know that she is 100% trust-worthy.  I just can't.  She could be really good at hiding how nuts she is.  Who knows, right?  But I'm at that point, where I really like her, I want to be close to her, I want to know her and spend time with her and have a relationship with her.  


So I make a leap of faith.  I offer my trust up, which makes me nervous.  I'm kind of afraid.  But I know it's the right thing to do.  So I do it.


It's just like that between you and Jesus Christ.   Christianity is not religion, going to church every sunday, playing church and acting holier than the joneses.  Christianity is a relationship with God almighty, made possible by believing on Jesus Christ, and confession of sins in prayer.  Or "repentance" which simply means, having a change of mind.  


Are you at that point?  You've read the apologies, the intellectual arguments, you've checked up on all of it, and it's starting to seem quite coherent and logical.. maybe it's time, that God is starting to reveal himself to you, and you're ready to make that leap.  Just like the trust we offer in our human relationships.  


Galatians 2:16 (ESV) Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. 


So let me encourage you to make the leap.  Jesus Christ is a wonderful savior.  Father God is a wonderful Father.  It's a risk, sure it is, but I think it's worth it.  Living forever, helping people, knowing the truth.  There are lots of benefits.  There are risks and sacrifices too though.  I've gotta give my life over to God.  I've gotta work with the Holy Spirit as my selfishness is replaced with selflessness.  I've got to endure ridicule for my testimony of the truth.  But all in all, its the truth.  And at the core, I've always wanted the truth.  I hope you have too.  Because Christianity isn't about God giving you everything you want, it's about you getting on board with God's plan for your life.  And it is the best plan.  Better than yours.  


So whats the practical process of this relationship with the Creator of the universe? 


I put my faith in Christ, I offer trust that a man named Jesus Christ did live, that he was God incarnate, and he did pay for my punishment on the cross.  I offer up my belief that these things are real, and that the Bible is true.  I start reading my Bible.  I find a good church.  Perhaps I find a good Bible study or small group.  I get on my knees and pray twice a day.  I tell my sins to Father God, and I ask him to help me turn away from them, to practice a new way of life.  The Holy Spirit works in my life, works on my sins and changing me into a better person.  And slowly over time God removes my sins and helps me walk in wonderful ways.  


It's not about the 10 commandments.  It's about the two commands of Jesus.  Love God, love people.  We are no longer under the Old Testament law.  


Mark Driscoll said it very well, when he said, "I hate religion. At Mars Hill we hate religion. Because religion assumes that you don't wanna do certain things, and so we have to make you do them. Right? I need to yell at you, threaten you, talk a lot about hell, get real spooky, I need to put legalistic control mechanisms on you, somebody to walk around with a clip board and call balls and strikes in your life. Religion assumes that you wanna do evil and we're gonna make you do good. That's not what we believe as Christians. We believe that God gives us a new heart, so that we want to obey him. Our job as church leaders is not to make you do something you don't want to do, but to help you do something that you do want to do."


So our offering of faith, our offering of trust in Jesus Christ, what he did on the cross is what justifies us.  We are imparted with the righteousness of Jesus Christ.  We live forever :)  We have quite a wonderful God.  A God who became a savior, to humble himself, to sacrifice himself for my failing.  Because I was rebellious, when I couldn't obey him.  And I still struggle.  But Jesus Christ paid it all!  Praise God!


Philippians 2:1-11 (ESV) So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,[a] 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[b] being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.