The Great Salvation Debate: Works or Faith

I recently got into a debate on Twitter about Salvation.  The problem with Twitter however, is that it is difficult to express yourself in 140 characters or less, and Salvation is a big controversy even amongst Christians.  Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that we must work for our Salvation.[1]  From my many readings and discussions, I have gathered that many “Christians” believe that to be true as well, at least to some degree.  Someone that I was recently debating with directed me to the book of James, quoting chapter 2, “faith without works is dead.”  This statement is made in verse 17 and again in verse 26.  What we are missing though, is everything in between, which will give a very important entity needed when reading and studying scripture, the context.

Now, let’s start back at verse 14, of James chapter 2. “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?  So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:14-17).  Basically, what James is saying here is, there should be evidence of the faith you claim to have.  “Thus you will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:20).  James goes on to say, in verse 18, “But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”  This again reiterates that works is the evidence of faith, and that faith precedes any works that may be incurred.

Verse 19-26, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.”

So, faith precedes works. When Abraham offered his son Isaac, it wasn’t for fear of losing his Salvation, it was merely a display of his faith that was already in him.  Abraham was already declared righteous before God, and because of his great faith, he was willing to demonstrate that faith in obedience.  The faith that we have, if Christ is in us, will compel us to do good works.  If Christ is not in us, then we are still in the flesh and we are spiritually dead.  This is made clear in Romans.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:1-8)

The first sentence in this passage is astounding.  “There is no condemnation for those in Christ.”  Our debt has been paid, there is no penalty for our sin.  We cannot do anything to lose the Salvation gift that we have received from our wonderful Savior, that is what it means to be saved!  No one can snatch us from His hand (John 10:26-30). We have been set free and we are no longer walking in sinful flesh, but are now walking in the Spirit!  We cannot please God with our own works, but in Him we have life and peace.  Salvation is a free gift, you can’t lose it and you don’t have to work for it.

Now someone is going to say, “Doesn’t that just give people a free pass to sin?”  Paul faced that very same criticism from his audience.  “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?  By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2).  A true Christian desires to be free from sin, not to sin freely.[2]

[1] John Ankerberg and John Weldon, “The Secret Teachings of the Masonic Lodge: A Christian Perspective” (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1989, 1990) p. 10, cited in Fritz Ridenour, “So What’s the Difference?” (Ventura, CA: Regal Books from Gospel Light, 1967, 1979, 2001) p. 128.

[2] Author unknown

Jesus Never Let His Theology Get in the Way of His Ministry??

On March 9th, Saddleback church posted to their Twitter feed, “Jesus never let his theology get in the way of his ministry.”

It was subsequently deleted on March 31st following many adverse comments and retweets that were made by outraged Christians like myself. Theology is the study of God, so if Jesus is God in the flesh, then who better to teach about God, then Jesus himself?

I was shocked to say the least that Saddleback would make such a ludicrous statement. Then again, I shouldn’t be so surprised considering the source. Rick Warren, founder of Saddleback Church wrote in his book, The Purpose Driven Life, “This is the essence of witnessing – simply sharing your personal experiences regarding the Lord.” He claims that we aren’t expected to “prove the truth” as lawyers prove a court case. He further claims that “your personal story is more effective than a sermon, because unbelievers see pastors as professional salesmen, but see you as a ‘satisfied customer,’ so they give you more credibility” (p.336). So apparently, churches need to provide a shopper’s survey so we can tell about our “customer experience.” Then those pesky pastors will have something to validate that unbelievers should “buy” what they are “selling.”

Warren also articulates, “Many people who won’t accept the authority of the bible will listen to a humble, personal story. That is why on six different occasions Paul used his testimony to share the gospel instead of quoting scripture” (pg. 337). The bible proves the first statement to be untrue. “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31). The second statement, which is in reference to Paul’s time in Jerusalem (Acts 22-26), gives a horrifyingly wrong understanding of Paul’s ministry.

A great example of how Paul conducted his ministry is found in Acts 17. While in Thessalonica, Paul and Silas went to the synagogue of the Jews. It says, “And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead” (Acts 17:2-3). Take notice of what this passage is saying: as was his custom, reasoned from the scriptures, proving it necessary for Christ to rise from the dead. Meanwhile, Warren claims we aren’t expected to “prove the truth” or use scripture to witness. What a disturbing statement to make in face of the countless martyrs that have spilled their blood throughout history, who lived in accordance with Paul’s example.

Here are more examples of Paul using scripture for his ministry. Acts 17:11, “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” In Acts 17:24-31, Paul preached from the Scriptures to the Men of Athens, to prove that there was a creator. In Acts 18:19, Paul returned to Antioch and “reasoned with the Jews.” In Acts 19:8, “he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God.” Contrary to what Warren teaches, Paul was using theology to “prove the truth” to the unbelieving Jews throughout the book of Acts. Jesus used theology as well. In fact, if Jesus truly is incarnate, then He was automatically engaging in theology.

God did not tell us to hide the gospel behind a “personal story” that would be more relatable to unbelievers. He said, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation (Mark 16:15). Does “proclaim the gospel” mean that we should present it in different ways because they may not accept what the bible teaches? Proclaim means “to declare” and the gospel is the “good news,” which is found all throughout the Bible. So how can we proclaim the good news without scripture? We can’t! In order to tell about God, we must know God, and we know Him through His Word.

So why has theology become such a bad word? What has happened to that age-old children’s song, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine” that we sang as children? When did we become so afraid that the Bible will only scare people away? Paul preached the Word boldly because he was not ashamed of the gospel (Romans 1:16). We also should proclaim boldly, the teaching of the scriptures, and not be afraid that it will only drive people farther away from it.
Christians should have confidence in the power and sufficiency of God’s Word (1st Timothy 3:16). “For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit” (Hebrews 4:12).

Warren should contemplate long and hard on Jesus’ assurance that “man does not live off of bread alone, but off of every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD” (Matthew 4:4, Deuteronomy 8:3). This should compel Warren and Saddleback Church to sing out God’s Word in proclamation, “let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!”

Joyce Meyer’s “Have a Great Day” Theology: Book Review

If just reading the Bible isn’t giving you the peace and happiness you desire, worry no more! Joyce Meyer claims that with her new book, you will “experience a new level of joy, contentment, and excitement about your life.” 20 Ways to Make Every Day Better will hit store bookshelves on April 4th and there is a sample available on JoyceMeyer.org that includes the introduction and the first two chapters. However, if the sample is any indication of what we can expect from the rest of the book, I’m willing to bet that it is full of twisted scriptures and total nonsense from beginning to end.

Joyce starts out her introduction talking about the problem with bad days saying, “I don’t believe for one moment that you have to go through life held hostage by your circumstances.” Then later in the same paragraph she says, “Your hope and happiness is not dependent on the world,” along with a bible passage, “He Who lives in you is greater (mightier) than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). The problem with her use of this passage is that 1 John is not talking about a bad day or our happiness, but it is talking about false teachers, which I find to be both interesting and ironic.

Joyce then twists Proverbs 4:18, “more and more (brighter and clearer) until [it reaches its full strength and glory in] the perfect day [to be prepared]”. She says of this verse “that God’s will is for [our] lives to get better and better.” The Amplified Bible that she likes to use gives every alternative meaning and adds a lot to this text, and she also started in the middle of the verse so there is a lot of room for misconception here. This is what the English Standard Version says starting at the beginning of the verse, “But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day.” This verse is simply talking about wisdom, not literally a “perfect day” or “truly enjoying each day”, as she discusses in the next paragraph. In fact, the entire book of Proverbs speaks of wisdom and folly, and a good example of folly would be changing the meaning of scripture as you please.

Another verse Joyce uses to convince us that God wants us to enjoy our “destiny-filled life” is John 10:10, “I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance [to the full, till it overflows].” You may have read that thinking it sounds different than you remember, and you are right. Again, the Amplified is adding words and distorting the text. In the 25 other versions of the bible provided on Biblehub.com, not even one of them has the words “and enjoy”. The English Standard Version simply says, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Jesus was speaking here of eternal life, through belief in Him as the Son of God and the only way to Heaven. It is not saying that God wants us to have a “great day”, or have a fantastic, destiny-filled life on Earth.

The introduction ends with, “this is a book full of biblical instruction, practical application, stories to inspire, and helpful observations.” Sounds exactly like what the Bible does, so why do we need this book again? Especially since she has not given biblical instruction so far with the passages she has presented. Every passage she used in the introduction was taken out of context to make a point that she is reading into her Amplified Bible. When reading these passages in context, in any other version, it is clear they are talking about something entirely different than what she would like you to believe.

The most important observation I made in my reading is that she uses the words “I believe” many times throughout. In fact, she uses this phrase 5 times in the 4-page introduction. When learning from a bible teacher, and I use that statement loosely in this case, I don’t want to know what they believe, I want to know what the bible is teaching. A bible teacher, or pastor should be telling what God’s Word is saying, in context, not taking a few verses and placing them next to a nonsensical opinion.

This book did not give me a new level of joy about my life. In fact, it frustrated me to see how many times a person can take the bible out of context in just a few pages of writing. 20 Ways to Make Every Day Better provides 20 ways to distract you from spending time in Jesus’ Word. We are going to have bad days no doubt, but we can still have joy through the bad days and we don’t need Joyce Meyer’s new book to do it. Just remember John 16:33, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”