Monthly Archives: November 2017

God’s Grace and Our Works

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).  I fully believe in the truth of this verse, but to my shame I have not talked about this verse as much as I should.  I am saved solely by the grace of God.  My sins have severed my connection with God and corrupted my soul.  By itself, confession in God will not save me.  By itself, faith in God will not save me.  By itself, baptism will not save me.  None of these things on their own will ever be sufficient for me to obtain salvation.  Those acts alone, and even collectively, are not a sufficient price to cover the cost of my sins.  The forgiveness of sins is only possible because God chooses, for his own name’s sake, to extend grace to men and women.

But, God’s grace and therefore God’s salvation, is not unconditional.  If it were, then all people would be saved.  We know that’s not true.  There are conditions which we must meet before we can hope to experience God’s grace.  Faith, as described in Ephesians 2:8, is one of those conditions.  If we lack faith, we cannot expect to experience God’s grace.  This has always been the case, regardless of the law men and women served under.  Romans 9:30-32 says the Jews failed to attain righteousness because they lacked faith.

I also believe the following statement is true – We are not saved by works.  That phrase is completely supported by scriptures, Ephesians 2:9 being one of them (“not of works”).  Does that mean we access God’s grace by faith only?  No.  The phrase “faith only” is found just one time in the scriptures and it is in the negative.  “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only” (James 2:24).  When reading the context of these verses we see the faith which justifies, the faith which saves, is an active faith.  It is a faith which is expressed in actions – works.  But those works, by themselves, do not save.

So what is a “work?”  Without getting into the Greek, the word “work” means exactly what we assume it would mean – something a person does.  Giving money is a work.  Helping someone whose car has broken down is a work.  Providing medical help to an injured person is a work.  And yes, baptism, because it is “something a person does,” is technically a work.

“So that settles it, right?  If baptism is a work and works don’t save then baptism can’t be essential for salvation.”  This line of reasoning is wrong because it has unexpected consequences.  Confession is also technically a work because it is something a person does; however, confession is specifically mentioned by God as something which is part of the salvation process.  Romans 10:10, “with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”  To continue, consider John 6:28 and 29“Then they said to him, ‘What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he sent.’”  In this passage, belief in Jesus – faith – is specifically called a work.  If we apply the reasoning that anything which is a work cannot be considered essential for salvation because “works don’t’ save,” then we are forced to conclude faith is not essential.  The point being made is a blanket statement like “anything called a work can’t be essential for salvation” has serious scriptural flaws.

What is often lost in the discussion about works and salvation is the specific reason why works don’t save.  Too often the “why” is glossed over or completely ignored in the discussion.  One side quotes Ephesians 2:9, the other side quotes James 2:24, and a stalemate results.  As often is the case, figuring out the “why” leads to greater clarity in the matter.  God gives us two reasons why works don’t save.

One of the reasons is found in the back half of Ephesians 2:9: “not of works, lest anyone should boast.”  If works saved, then a person would have a reason to boast about what they had accomplished.  This same theme is echoed in Romans.  Romans 3:28 is often quoted about works and salvation.  “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.”  The “therefore” should turn our eyes to the previous verse which says, “Where is boasting?  It is excluded.  By what law?  Of works?  No, but by the law of faith.”  This theme is continued in Romans 4:2, “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.”

This makes sense.  If my works brought salvation, I could brag, and in doing so, I would take glory away from God.  Consider words of the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14“I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.”  This man was bragging to God about all he had done and how this made him a better man compared to the tax collector next to him.  I could fall into the trap of comparing my works to those of others.  “Well, what you did for the Lord was good, but I’ve done a whole lot more.  I give twenty percent in my tithes rather than ten percent.”

We are tempted to boast about many things.  Boasting about works leads to a sense of having earned out salvation.  This is the second reason why works don’t save.  We cannot say we have earned our salvation or we deserve salvation because of what we’ve done.  Look at Romans 4:4, “Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.”  If works saved, then we could get to the point where we could say we have paid off the debt of sin.  We have earned our salvation and God must grant it to us.

This may have been the mindset of the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-22.  Look at this part of the conversation:

“’Good teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?’ So Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good?  No one is good but one, that is God.  But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.’ He said to him, ‘Which ones?’ Jesus said, ‘You shall not murder.  You shall not commit adultery.  You shall not steal.  You shall not bear false witness.  Honor your father and mother.  And, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  The young man said to him, ‘All these things I have kept from my youth.  What do I still lack?’” 

This man was trying to earn his salvation.  It’s not specifically stated, but there’s a good chance he was hoping Jesus would say, “Sounds like you’ve done everything.  You have eternal life.”

Once we understand the reasons why works don’t save, we can then properly evaluate the role, if there even is one, of things we do when it comes to our salvation.  Look at the wording in Ephesians 2:9 again.  “Not of works, lest anyone should boast.”  We are not saved by our works, but this doesn’t exclude works from being part of the process.  This is an extremely important distinction and makes sense with what we previously read in James 2.  We are not saved by our works; however, works are still part of the salvation process.

In fact, works have always been part of the process.  We have always had to do something to access God’s grace through our faith.  Abraham’s faith, which was “accounted to him as righteousness” had to be shown.  How?  By offering up the son of promise as a sacrifice.  If the Israelites wanted atonement for their sins, they had to do something.  They had to bring the appropriate gift to God as a sacrifice.  Yes, the atonement from God was ultimately from his grace; however, without the Israelite doing something, there was no opportunity for God’s grace.  Look at the story of Naaman in II Kings 5.  Was it actually the waters of the Jordan river which cleansed his leprosy?  No.  It was the power of God; yet, Naaman had to do something to access that gracious healing power of God.  If he did not go to the river and dip seven times there would not have been any healing.  The work didn’t heal him, but a work was still an essential part of the process.

It therefore stands to reason the same principle holds true today.  While we are saved by God’s grace, it is up to us to find the means to access this grace – “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).  We believe in God, we accept responsibility for our actions and resolve to changes our ways, we confess our convictions, and we follow our Lord into the grave through baptism.

Much more could be said about grace and works and much more needs to be said regarding the power of God’s grace in our lives.  Our works, including the moment we obeyed the gospel and submitted to baptism, have no power at all were it not for God’s grace.  May the Lord God be magnified in our lives and in all the earth.

~ Jeremy Morris

iCare

We at the Old Lamine church of Christ have subjects assigned for each month.  Each speaker then takes the subject assigned and gives a lesson on that subject.  A couple of months ago, one of our members set up the subject for the month and it was titled iTruths for an iGeneration.  The subject that was assigned to me was iGive.  Being the old computer person that I am, I picked up on the “i” implications being related to iPhone, iPod, iPad etc.  We had quite a discussion about the differences between the Apple products and, my favorite, the Android products.   When it came my turn to speak of course I had to make some comments about the “i” series.

As I prepared for my lesson, iGive, I got to thinking about a part of iGive being iCareiCare is an important part of our lives.  We can look at the “i” part in two different ways.  As we know we have become an ‘I’ generation.  It is all about me.  We see so much of that in the world today, and I am afraid that we as Christians are somewhat guilty of thinking only of ourselves too.

As most of you already know, I am having a battle with Cancer.  After the initial shock, I have come to accept the fact that first of all God is helping me through this.  I also feel blessed that I have learned much from all of the treatments.  It has helped me to understand what others have to go through when they acquire this disease.   Hopefully I can give others encouragement and assistance in their bout with Cancer.  I think the greatest lesson I have learned is the iCare of others.

 I want to say a big “Thank You” to all of those when have sent cards, texts, given words of encouragement, and above all have told me they are keeping me in their prayers.  This has meant so much to me because it has opened my eyes to the fact that I have so many brothers and sisters who do care for me and I am sure they pass this same level of iCare along to others as well.

We tend to be discouraged when we look around us and see so many falling away from the grace of Jesus, and sometimes we almost feel we are in a very small group of believers.  This reminds me of what God said to Elijah in 1 Kings 19:18 and mentioned again in Romans 11:4 of how there were still seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal.  It has also given me an opportunity to talk to others about Christ, telling them that whatever happens to me is in God’s hand.  This has inspired many of my friends, not all members of the church of Christ, to tell me that they are keeping me in their prayers.  I am also reminded of Paul in Philippians 1:21 where he says, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”  These are wonderful words of encouragement to all of us as we look forward to being with Christ in eternity.

~ Doug Weekley

Let Them Sing!

What if you went to church this Sunday, and after hearing the song leader announce the first number, turned to that page in your songbook only to find yourself looking at words written in Spanish?  What if, then, you and the congregation (who don’t know Spanish well…or in some cases, at all) went on to sing not only that song, but several others in Spanish?  What if the only songbook you had to sing from was in Spanish?

      What impact would that have on your worship?  Would it be edifying?  Instructive?  Would you be “singing with the understanding,” as Paul taught? (1 Corinthians 14:15).

      This scenario is actually reality for thousands of our Filipino brethren.  Over the years, well-meaning Americans have made English hymnals (e.g. Sacred Selections) available to the churches in the Philippines, and the Filipinos, unable to do any better, accepted the gift and made the best use of it they could.  But the consequences have not been good.  Singing in an unknown (or too little known) tongue, brethren have been making melody with their mouths, but not always with their hearts.  They have been singing without the understanding.  Consider the following information shared with me by our brother Roger Wanasen when asked about this:

•    “In a remote churches they don’t understand English at all.”

•    “Some brethren can read English word but they don’t understand the meaning of the word.”

•    “For example, “Toiling on” in the Ilokano language means ‘can’t hear.’”

•    “In the Visayan language, when they sing the word ‘Christ was crucified’ their understanding is ‘Christ committed suicide’….”

•    “…and many more.  Those are only few example….”

•    And some understand the word with right meaning, but they don´t understand the message of the song.”

•    “There is some occasion that when I brought songbooks in their local dialect.  I can see the joy of their singing because they understood what they are singing for.”

It would be wonderful if we could help them always understand what they are singing.

      At my request, Brother Roger has supplied the following information concerning present hymnal needs among Filipino congregations.  Three different language groups are in need of songbooks, at this time, and in the following numbers:  (1) Visayan: 1000 books; (2) Ilokano: 1000 books; (3) Tagalog: 500 books (this is lower in priority, however).

      Songbooks in these languages are already available for use if the funds were available to purchase them.  The books are hardback, published in the Philippines, vary in length (Visayan- 224 songs, Ilokano- 312 songs, Tagolog- 583 songs), and are less expensive than the songbooks we use here in America.  After doing some research, the best prices I found for new copies of our most common hymnals were:  Sacred Selections ($12.50); Special Sacred Selections ($14.25); Songs of Faith and Praise ($12.49).  These prices included any discounts for purchasing in large quantities.  By contrast, the prices for Filipino hymnals are:

•    Visayan: $3/book (per 1,000)

•    Ilokano: $3/book (per 1,000)

•    Tagalog: $12/book (per 500) (larger book)

         At these prices, if all 2,500 songbooks were purchased, the total cost would be $12,000.  Excluding the lower-priority Tagalog hymnals, the cost would be $6,000.  A great deal of money, either way, admittedly.  So large a sum, in fact, that I was tempted to not follow through with my plan for writing this article.  But would it not be money well spent, brethren?  Either amount is far less than we put toward paving our parking lots, and it would be for something of far greater value in the eyes of God.

      So although it feels a bit awkward to do so, I am writing to ask if members of the Lord’s body would be willing to help fund the purchase of some or all of these songbooks.  Perhaps, we who have two or three different hymnals in our native tongue to choose from on any given Sunday could help our Filipino brethren have one.

      Brother Joshua Riggins has agreed to help with this endeavor.  As many of you know, Joshua is a banker by profession (as Paul was a tentmaker), and has for some time, now, been facilitating the distribution of donated funds to our brethren in the Philippines.  Through his work (overseen by the elders of the Bloomfield, Indiana congregation), and that of his predecessor, Charles Biery, a time-tested means for secure, accountable, and trustworthy transmission of funds is already in place.  For this effort, there seems no reason to reinvent the wheel.

Any individual or congregation who would like to help make it possible for our brethren in the Philippines to sing with the understanding can do so by sending contributions to:

church of Christ- Philippines
P. O. Box 342
Bloomfield, IN 47424

Please specify on the check, or by accompanying letter, that the funds are intended for Filipino songbooks, so that Joshua can make certain they are used exclusively for that purpose.  If/when sufficient funds have been collected for the most-needed songbooks—the 2,000 Visayan and Ilokano hymnals ($6,000)—I will make an announcement in The Gospel Message and via social media.  Should enough be donated to also enable the purchase of the 500 additional Tagalog books ($6,000), I will announce that, as well.  I will also gladly communicate privately with any individual or congregation who requests it.  All of this, of course, if God permits.  Additionally, Joshua and/or his elders can be contacted directly for information.

God has given us so much material wealth in this country.  No nation in the history of the world has ever seen the like.  Perhaps we can use some of it to help our Filipino brothers and sisters who give us such a good example in spiritual things.

•    “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10).

•    “And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35).

~ John Morris