Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Salvation by Grace—But, What About Works?

I am studying the book of James; His letter is very vocal about works (James 2:26). You’ve heard it said: Nothing is ever truly free. Yet, in the case of our salvation, Scripture says it’s a FREE gift to all who believe in Jesus as Savior and Lord (Ephesians 2:8-9).  

Many may be trying to earn favor by keeping checklists of what to eat, what not to eat, church attendance, serving in soup kitchens, donating to food banks, and other activities. Doing good things is good but it’s not what gets us into heaven.  

How do we reconcile these passages?  The answer is bigger than my blog space today but let me offer a few thoughts to ponder.  

1.      We believe in salvation in Jesus Christ by grace, by that I mean we don’t deserve it.

2.      God’s mercy gives us what we don’t deserve.  

What Jesus did on the cross accomplished it all. By His death and resurrection, sin is paid in full. We are made clean, acceptable to a holy God. 

There’s always been the need for sacrifice in order to receive forgiveness. In the Old Testament, it was by the blood of a spotless animal. This foreshadowed what Jesus would become for us. Jesus was the perfect, sinless and final sacrifice. He offered Himself willingly in our place because He loves us.  

But, if that’s all God cared about I think we would’ve been beamed up to heaven as soon as we professed Christ as Savior. Instead, we receive the Holy Spirit – God’s very presence to give us power to be witnesses and ambassadors in the world for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20).

Ephesians 2:10 says He prepared work for us to do ahead of time – this work touches those who need to see God through the work we do; we reach out and become His hands and feet. As we meet their physical and emotional needs their spirits are touched as well. 

So our works can’t save us. Only the blood of Jesus can do that; so, why the importance in James’ letter?  

Our works are evidence of faith’s transformation. A result of the outpouring of God’s love and grace on us. He died a gruesome death to take our punishment so we can have life. When we as unworthy sinners grasp how much it cost, we desire to offer our lives in return – to serve him and share his message with a needy and dying world. We respond in love by surrendering our lives to Him; Romans 12:1 calls us a “living sacrifice”. 

Gratitude for what God has done spills over into working to spread the hope we received—we must share it. Not everyone will receive it but that’s not our concern – ours is to touch the world with God’s love and leave the outcome in God’s hands. The same grace we received is offered to everyone who receives Jesus as Savior and Lord. Works are simply a vehicle to transport the understanding of God’s grace to the world. 

 I love the quote by St. Francis of Assisi:  

At all times share the gospel and when necessary use words” 

Works don’t save us, but they are faith’s footprints, echoing from the heart God has redeemed.
I know I need to be more willing to serve in response to what I have received from God. How about you?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Jehovah - Jireh, God Will Provide

Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin. Matthew 6:28 

I admit it; I have been toiling and spinning, thinking that somehow it is by my strength things get accomplished. Jesus tells me in Matthew’s gospel not to be anxious for my life, for food or clothes, that God knows what I need and will provide it. This coupled with my attention to this year’s word, ABIDE gives me a pretty complete picture of His promise to meet my needs. 

I know this in my head, but sometimes my heart takes off on its own tangents. Maybe I’m feeling like I need to catch up from being laid up with my broken foot last fall. I surely felt set aside then and pondered why. I am supposed to be pursuing my writing. I am supposed to be lining up speaking engagements. I, I, I…. 

The truth is I am toiling and spinning, not waiting and trusting. I thought after the holidays I would be ready to roll. Yet, I still sense something is not finished—my waiting is still necessary. 

John 15 talks about the need to abide in the vine. Jesus is the vine and we are the branches; I (we) can’t bear fruit without Him. The husbandman or vinedresser is God and He decides when branches need pruning so they will produce more fruit—healthier fruit. Interesting that the growth that needs pruning is all healthy growth, yet it still needs to be cut back so it will be closer to the vine. 

Maybe I am being pruned. Maybe I need to learn more about abiding. Whatever the reason, I believe that there is a purpose for His timing. Even though it’s hard, I trust Him to do what’s best. 

All of this fits in with another article I wrote recently about manna, daily bread. The same way God provided daily provision in the desert for the Israelite wanderers—just enough for each day’s needs, I believe He provides the same way for me. God gave the people instructions about gathering. He told them to gather twice as much the day before the Sabbath because there wouldn’t be any found on the ground on that day. Still, it says some went out to gather on the Sabbath and found none. His instruction can only be heard when I am walking close to Him, abiding with Him. This is the relationship I am created for. 

This is the relationship you were created for too.  Instead of anxious spinning, He calls us to abide. 

So, I will try to abide and keep from toiling and spinning as I wait for the fresh wind of His Spirit to set my next course.  

You can read more in John 15, Matthew 6:25-34 and Philippians 4:6-9 

What are you anxious about?
Learning to abide,