Why Saved People Still Need to do Good works

It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do~ Ephesians 2:8-10 NIV

If you are a Christian and reading this blog-post you can count yourself blessed because God has granted you the privilege of living in the age of Grace.

This simply means that Jesus’ death on the cross and subsequent resurrection paid the penalty for your sins (Acts 13:38-40, Romans 6:23, 1stPeter 3:18).  You do not have to follow a bunch of rules, preform weird rituals or submit to the Old Testament law to get God to like and accept you (Galatians 2:19-21, Galatians 3:1-6, Galatians 5:6). If you have trusted in the finished work Jesus did on the cross and repented of your sins, when God looks at you He sees the righteousness, virtue and goodness of Jesus and that is more than enough for Him (Romans 10:10, 2ndTimothy 1:9). 

He totally digs you. Happy sigh. 

For the average Christian this is not exactly new news. Contemporary Christians have been inundated with the message that it is grace rather than works that save us from our sins and make us right with God. This is not in and of itself a bad message.  It is critical we remember that good works cannot save anyone from anything (Isaiah 64:6). During the Middle Ages the church lost sight of this vital truth and as a result the church (and the people in it) also lost sight of its purpose in this world. The spiritual and ethical chaos that resulted from this error is still being felt in our world today.

Sigh.

 That being said, humans tend to be creatures of weird extremes. We rarely do, think or believe anything in a halfhearted fashion. As a result, the current emphasis on grace has caused many Christians to view good works as an optional activity for Christians at best and as an affront to the grace of God at worst. Some Bible teachers and Pastors have inadvertently encouraged this flawed thinking by leading people to believe that salvation is an end rather than a beginning. Many Christians sincerely believe there is nothing left for us to do but glory in our salvation and wait for heaven once we have become Christians.  

Nothing could be further from the truth. 

God could not be clearer in His word: we were saved by grace but we were created for the express purpose of doing good works (Ephesians 2:9-10, Matthew 5:16, 1stTimothy 6:18, Hebrews 10:24). Those good works include (among other things) living righteously, building the church (body of Christ), providing for the physical needs of the poor, sharing truth, loving the lost, fighting for fairness in an unfair world and helping Christians and non-Christians who need help. Today I want to make a biblical case for good works. Not so that we can get saved but because we are saved. Christians should do good works because:

Good works reveal who we are- 

In Genesis chapter 24 Abraham sends his most trusted servant to find his son Isaac a wife. The instructions Abraham gave the man were insanely hazy and vague. Mostly, Abraham did not want Isaac’s wife to come from outside of his clan. The servant very wisely prayed that he would find a woman who voluntarily did good deeds (my words) for strangers. He prayed that he would find a woman who would offer him (a complete stranger) water and be willing to water his camels as well (a time-sucking act of kindness that went above and beyond prevailing social expectations). Abraham’s servant understood that our behavior towards others (especially strangers) reveals our inner nature more effectively than words ever could (Matthew 12:35).  When Christians do good deeds for the right reasons (because we love God) it shows the world that there is something different about us and they tend to find that difference intriguing, perplexing and appealing (Matthew 7:18).   

Good works reminds us of who we belong to and what we are all about- 

Anytime we choose to go above and beyond for someone our good deeds also serve as a reminder to us that we are not called to live for ourselves. Rather, we are called to live beyond ourselves for the glory of God and the good of others. 

Good works point people to a good God- 

Human beings are for the most part motivated by selfishness, impure motives and greed. Because humans are self-serving and greedy good deeds that require personal sacrifice are a rare and noteworthy occurrence in our world. When Christians are open about being Christians and they do good things for no other reason than God wants them to do good things, our acts of righteousness inevitably point people to Jesus. 

Good works are a way to say thank you for a gift we could never earn-

It is simply a fact that no quantity of good deeds could ever make up for our innate sinfulness and pride. We needed Jesus to pay the penalty for our sins so that we could enjoy the benefits of salvation both now and in eternity. When we choose to do the good deeds God commands us to do (Deuteronomy 5:33, Matthew 25:31-40, Luke 6:27-36, Romans 12, 1stCorinthians 10:24, Galatians 2:10) it is a small way to tell God that we appreciate the sacrifice that was made on our behalf. 

Another Major Church Peeve

 

 My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge~ Hosea 4:6a NIV

 There is a really weird debate taking place right now.

 A growing number of elite female athletes are contending that transgender women (men identifying as women) should not be permitted to compete against women who were born women in athletic competitions. These women assert that women who were born men have some distinct physical advantages over women who were born women. Those advantages include greater overall physical size, superior muscle mass and improved lung capacity.  

 Those who argue for allowing transgender women to compete against biological women in athletic competitions maintain that when a man declares himself to be a woman he is a woman and no one has the right to dispute his interpretation of himself.    

 This is a very weird argument for several reasons:

 First, a generation ago no one would have believed that rational human beings would even be entertaining this discussion. As little as ten years ago it would have been considered utterly daft to argue that a person can change who they are simply by making a declarative statement. Period. It really is that weird. Furthermore, clear-headed people know in their heart-of-hearts that declaring one’s self to be something does not (nor, will it ever) affect reality or change that person’s situation. The fact that this discussion is taking place at all goes a long way towards proving exactly how far we have fallen down the rabbit hole (metaphorically speaking) as a society. Lastly, these crusaders are arguing for something and they have no idea what they are arguing for but they are managing to do it quite well.

 They are arguing for the existence of objective truth.

 Those arguing against allowing biological men to compete in female sports are attempting to hold up two fairly rudimentary standards of objective truth. The first being that men and women are fundamentally different. The second is that desiring something to be true cannot and will not alter the reality of what is true. The problem with these standards is not with the standards, the standards are both perfectly reasonable and demonstrably true. The problem is that all this truth telling is just a little too little and a little too late. The secular world has been denying the existence of objective truth for several decades now. The longer a person (or a society) chooses to believe a lie the less likely they are to believe the truth when they are confronted with it. In other words, the secular world is in no mood to be set straight after a half a century of being allowed to party it up in the land of make-believe.

 Sigh.

 Okay, so here’s the thing:

 It is easy for good Christian people to look at this situation, roll their eyes and feel superior to those who have willingly bought into obvious chicanery and are now paying the price for it.

 However, some of the same disdain for objective truth has crept into Church world.  It is not at all uncommon to hear Christians of all ages use the terms “my truth” and “your truth” as if there are versions of truth that all have equal validity and should be taken equally seriously. It is true that people can interpret the same event in two entirely different ways but only one of the interpretations can actually be true. It is also not uncommon for Christians to say things like “that may be true for you but it’s not true for me”. It is true that there are times when God convicts a Christian that a behavior not forbidden in Scripture is wrong for them, because that thing could become a gateway for them for truly sinful behavior (Romans 14, 1stCorinthians 8:9-13, 1stCorinthians 10:23-31). However, that is an entirely different breed of cat from one person deciding that they should not be held to the same moral standards as every other believer on the planet because they have chosen to believe that God’s judgments on moral issues are wibbly-wobbly and open to interpretation (Judges 21:25). In most evangelical churches love has been held up as the highest value (and for good reason) but we have forgotten that love not built on a foundation of truth inevitably devolves into a puddle of messy, inarticulate sentimentality.  

 All of this really comes down to a weird form of willful ignorance.

 For at least two decades now, Christians have been told that what they believe is irrelevant so long as they really love Jesus and other people. Some teachers and preachers have even argued against the attainment of biblical knowledge because they have misunderstood 1stCorinthians 8:1. Some have taught that Paul was criticizing all biblical knowledge as something that puffs people up with pride. Paul was simply stating that the Corinthians (who are a prime example of Christians who lacked love) (1stCorinthians 11:20-22) “knowledge” concerning the fact that idols are nothing had made them prideful. Their understanding of truth was causing them to ignore the needs of those who had not reached their level of understanding concerning THAT PARTICULAR ISSUE.  If Paul were asserting that biblical knowledge inevitably leads to pride he would have been refuting his own teachings about knowledge found in Ephesians 4:13, Philippians 1:9, Colossians 1:9 and 2ndTimothy 2:25.

 Church world needs to do some intense soul searching on the subjects of truth and love and come to a more balanced conclusion soon, or it will only a matter of time before even evangelical churches fall down the same rabbit hole as the rest of the world.

Seriously.

 

Five Things Church People Do that are Wrecking the Church

 

Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out and that times of refreshing may come from the Lord~ Acts 3:19 NIV

 Recently, I have been wondering why the church is not having a bigger impact on our world.

 It should be.

 Seriously, the Church should be hitting it out of the park right now. The advent of the internet has made the Bible widely available to nearly everyone.  There are more solid Christian resources (radio, television, podcasts and books) available to more people in more languages than at any other time in history. Higher rates of literacy mean more people are capable of accessing and making the most of available resources. But, sadly no one could accuse the church of setting the world on fire (metaphorically speaking) at this point in history.

 This means that the church is not completing the one task that Jesus commanded us to accomplish (Matthew 28:16-20). I understand that one very real danger in talking about “the church” in broad terms is that sometimes we forget the church isn’t a building, group of leaders or an institution. The church is people who identify as followers of Jesus (1stCorinthians 12).  So, if the church isn’t getting the job done it means that individual people are the problem rather than some nebulous institution or group of leaders.

 The problems the church is having are not the fault of every person in the church. However, there are too many people in the church who do things or allow things that are simply unacceptable for God’s holy people (Ephesians 5:3-18). The list includes:

Church people have not really dealt with the sin of racism-

 The whole notion that some skin colors, genders or races are somehow superior to others is a weird and sinful social construct that has no place in churches (Colossians 3:11, Galatians 3:28, John 3:16). Every person regardless of race, skin color or gender is both equally loved and equally in need of a savior in God’s eyes. Therefore, prejudice and bigotry have no place in the church. Alas, some church people have failed to really take hold of that message and live it out in their day-to-day lives. The church’s reputation is suffering as a result.  

 Church people do not model healthy male-female relationships-

 I do not understand why a place filled with people who are commanded to practice self-control (Galatians 5:22, Titus 2:11-12, 2ndPeter 1:5) is the only place on earth where men and women cannot work together without things getting decidedly weird. By “weird” I mean sex becoming an issue in some way. Christians have managed to convince themselves that men and women are incapable of actually practicing self-restraint where sex is concerned and this has become a self-fulling prophecy in many Christian circles. We do need to be vigilant concerning the appearance of evil and I know all about the Billy Graham rule (conceived by Billy Graham rather than Jesus). That said, I do not believe separation of men and women in church settings is either biblical or the answer to the problem of sexual immorality in the church. That standard has created at least as many problems as it has solved. It does not require adult Christians to practice self-discipline (a biblical mandate) and because of that standard church people tend to become suspicious anytime they see men and women together (even if they work in the same church). Female opinions have effectively been silenced in the church out of fear that if a woman is near a man who is not her husband sexual sin of some sort will swiftly commence. We must do better. Even the pagans have figured this one out. We should too because it’s hurting our effectiveness and our witness.

  Church people worry about protecting institutions rather than people-

 Too many Christian women have been pressured into staying in marriages that really should have ended (due to sexual sin or physical abuse) because some church leaders care more about the institution of marriage than they do about the woman in said marriage. Then there are the thousands of children who have been sexually abused and deprived of justice because too many people in the church care more about the institution of the church than the souls of abused kids (James 1:27, Isaiah 10:1-3). Not cool. Not biblical. Not okay.

 Church people tolerate pornography-

 Anytime a Christian man is caught in sexual sin the first question asked is always: “Is it just pornography?”.  Every. Stinkin. Time. The “just” is ALWAYS put in front of the word pornography. As if pornography without some other form of sexual deviancy attached to it is somehow less sinful than other sexual sins. Pornography is every bit as sinful as “having an affair” (maybe even worse) because “having an affair” (unless the sex is with a prostitute) is almost always a consequence of some sort of a problem in the marriage. Affairs rarely occur in a vacuum, something else is always wrong: communication is poor, the couple is not connecting, the couple is unkind to one another, eventually one partner pursues companionship with someone else.  Conversely, pornography and sex with prostitutes is a result of lust, lack of self-discipline and covetousness. I am categorically not stating that an affair is acceptable simply because a person is in a difficult marriage (it doesn’t work that way). I am saying that the church will never have a measurable spiritual impact on the culture unless we deal with the sin of pornography in our own ranks.

 Church people don’t evangelize-

 \Seriously, we just don’t. A recent study revealed that forty-seven percent of all millennials actually believe it is wrong to evangelize the lost. Sadly, very few Christians have ever shared their faith with anyone and sixty-four percent believe that evangelism is an optional activity for Christians. Until we change this one thing we won’t change anything.

Why Christians Are Asking All the Wrong Questions Concerning Millennials

Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it~ Proverbs 22:6 NKJV

As a general rule, I do not jump onto bandwagons when it comes to choosing subject matter for this blog page. My aim as a Christian blogger is NOT to talk about what everyone else is talking about. My desire is to talk about the issues nobody else is thinking or talking about because I have observed that it is typically the things we choose to ignore or overlook that ultimately become our downfall.    

This week I am breaking the rule.

I chose to break the rule for a couple of reasons. First, because, sadly, I am a rule breaker. Secondly, I came up with the silly rule and I can break it if I want to (I already confessed that I’m a rule breaker). Mostly, I decided to break the rule because this past week I read three different articles published by three different Christian organizations all asking the same question:

 How do church leaders, pastors and parents entice the millennial generation back into the church? 

  The millennial generation (those born between 1981 and 1996) have abandoned the Christian faith in what can only be described as seriously distressing numbers. It is estimated that upwards of sixty percent of the millennials raised in church have left and most express zero interest in ever returning. Their reasons for leaving typically boil down to a few key issues. Millennials as a group tend to believe that the church is anti-gay, sexually repressive and far too rigid in its teachings and leadership structure. Most also think that the majority of churches have not done enough to help the poor and marginalized in society. 

Some of their criticisms have validity. Others are only reasonable if you remove God and the Bible from the equation. For example, only a fool would argue against the notion that the American church has abdicated much of its responsibility to care for the poor and the government has picked-up the slack.  However, calling the church anti-gay, sexually repressive or overly rigid in its teachings is only fair if one is willing to completely divorce God and the Bible from those issues and teachings. It’s basically impossible to be openly for something God clearly opposes (1stCorinthians 6:9, Romans 1:21-28, Galatians 5:19-21, 1stTimothy 1:9-11, Leviticus 20) and still be squarely on God’s side of the issues. 

All the articles I read this week were entirely focused on finding clever ways to lure the millennials back to church. Some suggested tailoring small-group curriculum and preaching just for that particular demographic. Others recommended making services shorter, using secular music during worship services and making church government more democratic and inclusive. A few even went so far as to intimate (or say it outright) that the church ought to soften its stance on issues (like homosexuality) in an effort to make Christianity more palatable to millennials.   

Some of the ideas were not terrible, others were actually pretty good, a few were clearly stupid. That said, all the recommendations were (in my view) jumping the gun. Before we begin the process of attempting to lure the millennial generation back into the fold, we need to do a thorough postmortem and figure out what went wrong in the first place. The first question that must be asked is:

Where exactly did we go wrong?  

Results do not lie and the results clearly indicate that the Church failed the millennial generation.  We cannot lose sixty percent of a generation to secularism, atheism and every other weird belief system and declare it a win for God’s team. We need to figure out exactly how this happened. Clearly, the problem was not a lack of resources. Between Christian books, videos, Christian curriculum, children’s church and youth groups more money was spent on evangelizing the millennial generation than any other generation in the history of Christianity. I suspect there were two key issues that contributed to the loss of the millennial generation. One lies squarely with parents the other with churches. First, there has been a shocking absence of healthy spiritual modeling in many Christian homes. Parents and Grandparents have taken their kids and grandkids to church and the adults have acted very “church-y” in the presence of church people but a whole lot less “church-y” behind closed doors.  People can fool church people into believing they are better than they are but they will never fool the people they live with into believing that lie. The second problem lies with the churches training methods. We did an adequate job of telling young people what to believe but did not effectively explain why those things were true or how living by Christian principles can make a difference in their lives. In a world with nearly endless competing worldviews, churches must give an adequate explanation as to why Christianity is superior to other belief systems (1stPeter 3:15).  Moreover, it is not enough to simply say something (Darwinism, homosexuality, promiscuity, adultery, trans-genderism, atheism) is sinful or foolish, we have to be able to explain what the physical, spiritual, phycological and practical consequences of adopting a particular belief system or behavior will be. 

What are we going to do differently with the next generation?

If the church continues to do the same things we will continue to get the same results. Churches simply must do more teaching and training. It’s definitely time to stop telling sanitized bible stories and start teaching doctrine. If nothing else Christian kids need to be able to clearly articulate what they believe about life and God and why they believe it by the time they graduate from high school.

How do we get millennials to think and behave biblically? 

This is a much more critical issue than simply luring them back to church. In fact, if we jump to find ways to fill our churches with a group who do think or behave biblically (just to get them back) we will be complicit in the destruction of the Church. The answer to the millennial conundrum is not to soften the churches stance on hard issues. The answer is to do the hard work of clarifying biblical truth to a (mostly) biblically illiterate generation. 

Five Ways The Church Has Failed at Loving People

 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love- Ephesians 5:1 NIV

There is simply no subject that has been more thoroughly discussed or more hotly debated in the church today than the subject of love. My personal library contains at least a dozen volumes on the subject and hardly a day goes by when I do not come across an article or blogpost encouraging (sometimes even shaming) church people into behaving in more loving ways.

That being said, it could easily be argued that the Church is failing epically at this very basic and fundamental task (Matthew 22:36-40). The comments section of articles pertaining to hot-button issues (abortion, homosexuality, the death penalty, immigration) reveal that the world views most church people as a bunch of angry, hard-hearted, insensitive meanies. 

Christians clearly have an optics problem when it comes to the subject of love. 

This problem has created angst in the hearts of most Christians and with good reason. It is simply impossible for those inside the church to convince those outside the church that God loves them if they do not first believe that Christians love them. Unless people believe that God loves them they will reject God; and willfully rejecting God’s love never ends well for anyone (Matthew 25:46, Romans 2:5-11, Hebrews 2:1-3, Revelation 20:11-15). 

Sigh.  

Our current optics problem came about as a result of some missteps on the part of Christians. Most of those missteps are not a result of deliberate mean-spiritedness; just a sad combination of obliviousness, biblical ignorance and misplaced zeal (Romans 10:2).  There are five mistakes Christians make that the cause the world to see us as fundamentally unloving:  

We do not love each other-

In the Christian world there is a huge emphasis placed on loving non-Christians. There is nothing at all wrong with Christians loving non-Christians. Loving non-Christians is always a good and necessary thing. However, God also wants Christians to love each other. God intends the church to be a place where believers treat each other with the utmost love, grace, respect and patience (John 13:34-35, Romans 12:10, Ephesians 4:2, 1stPeter 3:8) so that our churches are a safe place for baby Christians to grow. God also wants churches to be places where unsaved people can clearly see the love and respect Christians have for each other. When unbelievers see authentic love and grace in our church communities they will want what we have. Sadly, many Christians are not always loving, patient or even courteous towards their brothers and sisters in Christ. Instead, many Christians publicly criticize their churches and treat other Christians with open contempt.  This breaks the heart of God and God will not bless the Western Church with revival until His people repent of this sin.  

We lack patience-

1stCorinthians 13 is basically just a treatise on loving like God loves. The very first thing the Apostle Paul tells us about love is that it is patient (1stCorinthians 13:4).  Too often we forget that genuine love gives people room to grow and develop and does not demand that people mature on our timetable. It is critical we correct those who are straying morally (2ndTimothy 3:16, 2ndTimothy 4:2). However, it is equally critical we temper our corrections with the patience, kindness and grace of God (1stThessalonians 5:14). 

Our corrections lack context- 

 In my experience, most Church people are good people who love God with all their heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37-28). However, there are some church people who are a bit overeager when it comes to getting and keeping others on the straight and narrow. Church people forget sometimes that correction is best done in the context of relationship and should NEVER be attempted on church visitors or strangers. Period. It does not matter what the person is wearing or how many piercings or tattoos these folks happen to have. The only truly loving thing to do when someone shows up at church is to celebrate the fact that they are attempting to connect with God on some level. Their appearance (even if it’s inappropriate) should be irrelevant (Luke 15:15-31). 

Some of us think tough love is always the answer- 

Sometimes tough love (and tough words) really are the answer. There are situations in life where people need to be told the truth in a loving but straight-forward, no-holds-barred manner (Ephesians 4:15). However, most of the time a kinder, gentler method is far more effective and should always be attempted before tough love is applied (Proverbs 15:1 Titus 3:1-3, Galatians 5:22-24, Hebrews 5:1-2). 

We avoid truth telling- 

Generally speaking, there are two kinds of Christians in this world. The ones who say too much about sin and the ones who say nothing at all about sin.  Sadly, the ones who say nothing often feel justified in doing so because of the damage done by the ones who say too much. Further complicating the situation is the fact that we have been conditioned by our society to believe that telling people the truth about their behavior is mean and unloving. That said, it is a fundamentally unloving thing to lead people to believe that they can continue to sin without consequences (Galatians 5:16-21).