Reasons to Rejoice-Reflections from Philippians

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I’m sure we could all identify with various emotions that we felt over the last several weeks. Maybe it’s anger; maybe it’s fear, anxiety, frustration, annoyance. But I’m wondering if one of those emotions that’s defined you over the last several weeks has been joy. You might think that’s kind of a strange thing for me to say. Some might even think it sounds kind of insensitive. But here’s the deal. If your joy is dependent on your circumstances, you’re destined to live a pretty unhappy life. The fact is there are very few circumstances we can control. God’s word shows that Joy is a choice. It’s an attitude, and we make that choice based on what we believe to be true.

So if you were to ask a New Testament scholar what book of the New Testament most celebrates what it means to rejoice or to be joyful as a Christian, I think they’d probably all agree it’s the New Testament book of Philippians. If you happen to have a Bible with you, go ahead and turn to Philippians. It’s helpful to understand the background of the book of Philippians. It’s written by the Apostle Paul and he’s writing from a Roman prison, chained to two guards, waiting to find out if he’s going to be executed or released. So think about this. Over fourteen times in a short, four-chapter letter, Paul talks about the theme of joy or rejoicing. When we’re going through this chapter, we’re not going to go verse by verse, line by line, like we normally do. I’m just going to pick out themes that he talks about—that he rejoices about—because he knows they’re true. I’ve identified six reasons to rejoice, no matter what the circumstances.

1) So the first one I find in chapter 1. He opens in verse 3, talking about thanking God for the Philippian believers, and verse 4, offering a prayer with joy. Why? Verse 6:

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, 5 in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now…For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. (NASB, Philippians 1:4-6)

Paul is praying for these believers in Philippi and he says he does so with great joy in his heart. Why is that? Because he knows that they have believed in the gospel, and that means that Jesus has started something in them that He’s going to finish. He’s going to complete it all the way to the day of Jesus Christ, all the way to the return of Christ and the ushering in of the new heaven and the new earth. So, Paul isn’t just rejoicing that this is true of him, but rather he knows this is true of these people and because Jesus has started something, he knows He’s going to finish. Think about this. He is sitting in a Roman prison; he is imprisoned because of his commitment to the gospel. They’ve arrested him because he proclaims the message of Christ. He has literally given his life that these people might believe. But now, sitting in a Roman prison, he knows they truly believe and because of Christ, then what the Spirit of God has started, He’s going to complete. They’re going to make it all the way to the finish line, and their future is glorious! And he would say, “That’s something worth dying for!”

Paul says in the book of Galatians 3:5, what the Spirit starts, the Spirit’s going to complete. Jesus doesn’t start something; then you have to somehow complete it. The Spirit starts it; the Spirit completes it. He says in Ephesians 2:10, through His grace, Jesus is going to make you into a masterpiece of His grace, something so glorious that He’s going to hold you up in the heavenlies and the angels will gasp at the wonder of what you’ve become. And since Jesus has started that work, we’re all going to get to the finish line, and it will be glorious! So I would say, “Not only do I find joy in knowing that’s true of me, I find joy in knowing it’s true that Jesus will complete His work in you!”

2) The second reason to rejoice I find in verse 12 and following, where Paul says:

Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel,

So think of it this way: Paul finds great joy in knowing that not only he, but also these Philippian believers have trusted Christ, and what Jesus has started, He is going to complete in them. But then he extends it. If that’s true, if the gospel is that wondrous, we need to add more names to the list; we need to advance the gospel. We want more people to know Jesus, to know this joy and to know this future that has been made possible. So when Paul is talking about his circumstances, basically what he’s talking about is on his second missionary journey, he arrived in Philippi, and this is a pretty famous story in the book of Acts, chapter 16:

It’s the story of the Philippian jailer. Paul and Silas are thrown in prison, and God brings an earthquake. Basically the jail is opened up but Paul and Silas remain in the jail, and the jailer says, “What must I do to be saved?” Well, this is the birth of the Philippian church, so these are the people that he’s talking about. They experienced a miraculous deliverance from jail, and perhaps somewhere along the way they concluded that’s the way it’s supposed to always work. But what happens is Paul goes from Philippi to Jerusalem, and when he gets to Jerusalem, he’s arrested. He’s then sent to Caesarea where he spends two years in jail there. As a Roman citizen, he appeals to Rome. Rome accepts the appeal, so he gets on a ship to go to Rome, but the ship gets in a storm. There’s a great shipwreck; almost everybody dies, and he ends up on the island of Malta. While he’s there, he’s picking up sticks for a campfire, and a deadly snake bites him, and finally he ends up being stranded for three months. Then he gets to Rome and in Rome he’s chained to two guards. That’s what he means, by my circumstances. And so they’re trying to figure out, if Paul is the premier church planter, he’s the premier missionary, why would God allow him to seemingly rot in jail and rot in prison? Why not another Philippian jailer story and deliver him so he can advance the gospel? So maybe they’re thinking Paul isn’t telling the truth, or maybe he doesn’t have God’s favor. In their minds, something’s kind of messed up here. So what he’s wanting them to understand is that his circumstances, whatever they may be, have been used by God to advance the gospel. So the second reason to rejoice is the reminder that God uses all of our circumstances to advance the gospel. 


So Paul basically is saying that everywhere he looks, God is using his circumstances to advance the gospel, and so he rejoices in that.
I can rejoice because He can use any circumstances—including the circumstances we’re in with this virus—and everything that has to do with it. How might God be using that to advance the gospel? He’s doing amazing things around the world, and we need to trust Him and rejoice that God is accomplishing the mission. He’s advancing the gospel.

3) The third one is also in chapter 1. I see it in verse 21 where Paul says:

For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.

That’s an amazing statement. Essentially what Paul is saying is, “Either way, I win. There’s no losing in this deal.” Remember, Paul is sitting in a Roman prison and he’s awaiting word as to whether he’s going to be executed or released, so this isn’t just theory for him. This is the real deal, but he says, “I win no matter what.” When he says, “For me to live is Christ,” again he’s not saying the goal is to live to be ninety, sunbathing on the Love Boat. He says to live for Christ is more fruitful labor, in other words, more opportunity to serve, to plant more churches, to advance the mission. But he also says to die is gain. As a matter of fact, he says not just that would be better, he says that would be very much better. The reality is, when we start thinking that this world is where it’s at, that this world is what matters most, that this world is where I’m going to be happy, that this world is what I want to live for, then everything becomes about survival. Everything is about doing whatever we have to do to live to be ninety because what matters most is this life. Then we start fearing death; then we start denying death. All of that changes when we understand correctly that our hope is in the world to come. Our hope is in the promise that Jesus is coming back, that Jesus will deliver us to the new heaven and the new earth.

Historically there have always been problems with diseases and infections. Some of them have been worldwide; some of them have been much more in a particular locality. But historically, when people had a contagious disease, they often were ignored; they were neglected; they were left in the streets to die. But it was the Christians who rolled up their sleeves, who went out in the streets and they treated them with kindness, with compassion, with care. They took care of them, and often they contracted the disease and they died of the disease. It was understood that the goal, the mission, is not to see how long we can live. To live is Christ; to die is gain. It’s about being faithful. It’s about being diligent to advance the mission and being obedient to what God has called us to.

I don’t know what’s going to happen in this particular situation. I don’t know what’s coming five years from now. Nobody knows that. But I do know if there is great sickness and great suffering and there is a need for kindness and compassion and care from people who may actually die from whatever that disease is, that God calls the church to roll up our sleeves, to get in the streets and make a difference— to be the church! We’re never going to live that way unless we understand, as Paul rejoiced, “To live is Christ; to die is gain,” and there’s no losing in that deal. It’s only when we understand the world to come—and that is our hope—that we actually learn to live well in this world now.

4) The fourth reason for joy I see in chapter 3, and that is that Paul identifies that he stands righteous before a holy God, not on the basis of his religious performance or good works, but on the basis of what Christ has done for him—and he believes that by faith. In the first part of chapter 3 he goes through the list of all the things that he accomplished. He was a high achiever; he was a Pharisee; he was full of self-righteousness; he was zealous; he was the best of the best. But he goes on, starting in verse 7-9:

Whatever things were gain to me, those things [those religious achievements] I have counted as loss… in order that he might gain Christ and in order that he might know Christ. and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith  


He even goes so far as to say he counts it as rubbish. It’s just trash in comparison to knowing Christ. He goes on and says that he stands right before God, based on the righteousness of Christ, that he  received by faith. So think about that. What if, in times like this, what was required of us to stand righteous before God was to get to a certain building, was to get to a certain ritual, was to have some pastor or priest or attend some church or observe a holy day on a particular day by attending church on Saturday, or to do some certain thing that makes us right before God, but you can’t get to them because everything isshut down? What a horrible, desperate feeling that would be! But the reality has nothing to do with a building or a pastor or a priest or a ritual or day. It has to do with faith in Christ, and found in Him, not with a righteousness derived from the law, but with His righteousness . And so Paul says, “I rejoice sitting in a Roman prison cell,” because he stands right before a holy God because of his faith in Christ. He goes on in chapter 3, in verse 14:
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

That’s an interesting verse. The upward call is Greek language that would be referencing that when someone won what would have been their Olympic games, they basically were called up to the metal stand, as we would call it, in front of an emperor/king—somebody of significance—and they would receive their prize. So Paul is saying that he presses on because, at the end of the story, (He who began a good work will be faithful to complete it,) and he’ll be invited up to the metal stand and receive his prize. And his prize is this relationship with Christ. It’s the resurrection from the dead. It is the new heaven and the new earth, everything that’s promised in Christ. And it’s not based on his performance. It’s based on his faith in what Jesus has done for him!  So, no matter what, he says, “I rejoice because I’m confident. I know this is true in Christ!”

5) The fifth reason to rejoice is in chapter 4, as a matter of fact in verse 4:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice!

It’s kind of a double joy there, and the reason he says is because he’s able to trade his anxiety for peace. Again, think about this.  He’s sitting in a prison cell awaiting possible execution, but he says that rather than being anxious, he prays to God, and the result is he experiences peace. I once heard somebody define peace as the possession of adequate resources. In other words, Paul is saying, “Because I know Christ has adequate resources for whatever I’m going through, I don’t need to be anxious, but rather I can experience peace.” As a matter of fact, it goes on and says it’s a peace that goes beyond understanding.

I think a lot of people these days are asking what they can do, and people have creatively found ways to help. But it’s hard sometimes to know how we can help in these uncertain times. Maybe the best thing we could do to help would be to display a peace that goes beyond understanding. In other words, could the people around us that are experiencing so much despair and fear and panic, look at you and say, “I don’t understand, why are you so peaceful?” It’s almost like, “Do you not understand what’s happening?” Could we say, “I’m peaceful; I don’t need to be anxious because I know God possesses adequate resources for whatever I’m going through. It’s going to be fine. I just need to trust Him.” But the key to that starts in verse 8, when he says:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Vs. 8-9)

The key to peace and not being anxious has to do with what you choose to dwell on. If you’re going to dwell on the negative, if you’re going to dwell on the bad news, if you’re going to dwell on all the things that annoy us or upset us or concern us, you’re not going to know peace. You’re just going to know anxiety. I can’t emphasize this enough:  In these days of uncertainty, when so many people are stuck at home and wondering what’s going to happen, it’s easy to feed on bad news. It’s on our phones. Every time you open up your phone, there’s some warning about the virus. Every time you get a news’ feed, it’s something about the virus. Almost all the commercials on TV right now have something to do with the virus. The media sensationalizes this thing and creates all kinds of hysteria, and people just feed on that. I would suggest it takes less than five minutes per day to get up to date on what’s happening. You don’t need more than that.

You need to dwell on the things that are good, the things that are right, the things that are beneficial, the things that are pure, that are lovely. You have to discipline yourself to dwell on the right things in order to experience peace rather than anxiety. So one of the things you can dwell on is the book of Philippians. It’s a short book—four chapters. Read it over and over and over again. It’s all about joy in the midst of difficult circumstances.

6) The last reason to rejoice is in chapter 4, starting in verse 10 where Paul says he rejoices, and then he gets to verse 11. Why?

Because he’s learned to be content in whatever circumstances he finds himself in. ..in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret..

Now, again, he’s writing from prison. He’s awaiting possible execution and he says, “I’ve learned to be content.” That’s really quite a remarkable statement! That Greek word content, this is the only place in the New Testament it appears, and it was connected to the Stoics. The Stoics were all about self-sufficiency, and that’s basically what this word means. No matter what was happening around them that they could not control, they, in their own self-sufficiency, would not react or respond to it. Paul is going to essentially redefine the term. How is he able to be content in such circumstances? Well, he tells us in verse 12 that he’s learned the secret. That word secret is an interesting word. It’s a Greek word that referenced mystery religion, and secret had to do with a secret password, a secret passageway. There was some secret they learned in order to enter into this mystery religion. So Paul is picking up on that terminology, and essentially saying, “I’ve learned the secret to contentment. I’ve learned the password; I’ve learned the entrance.”
What is it? Verse 13:

I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

What’s the secret passageway into contentment? It’s the understanding, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. It’s not self-sufficiency; that would be a disaster. But rather it’s Christ sufficiency! It’s understanding that no matter what happens, Christ is enough. Whether I live or die, I win. What He started in me, He is going to complete. He uses my circumstances to advance the gospel, and we understand that is all by faith in what Jesus has done. It’s not based on my performance, so I can experience peace instead of anxiety. None of us know what tomorrow holds. But we do know that Christ is enough. So, every day there is reason to rejoice! Let’s pray.

Our Father, we are so thankful that Christ is enough. We’re reminded there’s very little in this world that we can control, but what we can control is what we believe. Lord I pray that You would remind us we have good reasons to rejoice because we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. Lord, remind us, day after day, that no matter what, Christ is enough! In His name we pray, Amen.

The above is Adapted from: Messages from Lincoln Berean from Pastor Bryan Clarke.

Image credited to: Transitchurch

 

Faith That Works

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USELESS FAITH

James 2:14-26

If you have genuinely experienced the life-changing power of God’s grace, if you have been radically changed and transformed, if you have the nature of Christ and the Spirit of Christ within you, how can that not make you a generous person?  Is it possible that even though you know the right answers to the questions, you’ve actually never experienced true saving faith?  And a faith that isn’t a saving faith is a faith that is useless.  That’s the argument that James makes in James chapter 2.

Now James is a very practical book, perhaps the most straight-up practical book in the New Testament.  The author James is not the Peter, James, and John; it’s James, the half-brother of Jesus.  This book’s written less than twenty years after the resurrection of Christ, so a very early book.  He’s writing to dispersed Jews—Jews that consider themselves to be Christians, but because of the persecution in Jerusalem they have fled and been dispersed around the Mediterranean.  But James has a concern that even though they consider themselves to be Christians, for many of them there’s simply no evidence that they have experienced a life-changing encounter with Jesus.  They say the right things but there are no works that seem consistent with a life that has been changed by Jesus.

Just because you say you are a Christian, just because you may know the right answer to some quiz questions, doesn’t mean you’ve actually experienced true life change.

So in Chapter 1, James talks about the need to be “doers of the word and not merely hearers only.”  The Bible’s not an encyclopedia.  The deal is not that someday when you die God gives a quiz and if you get eighty percent, you’re in.  It’s not all about information; it’s about: This is how life is to be lived, and it begins with a powerful encounter with the resurrected Christ.  He ends chapter 1 by saying, “For example, it should affect the way you talk.  It should affect a compassion for orphans and widows in need.”   In a 1st Century culture, those were the two most vulnerable categories of people.  You should genuinely care about those in need, and number three:  to remain unstained from the world—in other words to pursue a lifestyle of holiness.  So that’s being a doer of the word, not merely a hearer.

Chapter 2 moves into a discussion about partiality, that if you treat someone with money differently than someone who is poor, you’re guilty of partiality, which is completely contrary to the message of grace.  He doesn’t say that’s bad behavior; he says that’s sin.  As a matter of fact he says, “It’s every bit as much sin as murder or adultery.”  That then creates the context for the discussion that we want to have starting in verse 14:

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? (*NASB, James 2:14)

 

Now it’s very important to understand the question is not whether salvation is by faith alone.  The discussion is not:  Is it faith alone?  Is it works alone?  Or is it faith and works?  That’s not the discussion.  As a matter of fact, that is a settled issue.  The New Testament could not be clearer that it is faith alone, not by works.  The issue James is discussing is the nature of saving faith.  There’s no question it’s by faith alone, but the faith that saves is a faith that works.  The Bible does not teach that salvation is basically an intellectual assent of three or four bullet points and, on the basis of my assent to that, I get my ticket to heaven and slip it in my back pocket.  The New Testament teaching is that salvation is a radical transformation.  It is rebirth.  You are a new creation in Christ.  You actually have a new nature and it’s the nature of Christ.  You actually have the very Spirit of Jesus dwelling within you.  It is complete and it is radical.  If that’s true, then it’s far more than an intellectual assent.  It is life changing and there should be evidence of a changed life.  If all there is that twenty years ago I said a prayer, put my ticket to heaven in my back pocket, and “I’m good,” and other than that you live no differently than the rest of the world, you have reason to question whether you have actually experienced a saving faith.  That’s why James says, “Can that faith save him?  Can a faith that has no works save?”  That’s the question at hand.

Verse 15:

If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? (Vs. 15-16)

So there’s our illustration:  Somebody is in need of food.  Somebody is in need of shelter.  Rather than having a heart of generosity, there’s merely pious language.  Go in peace, be warmed and be filled.  But the question is, “What use is that?”  And the answer is, “It is no use.”  It does nothing to meet the needs of these people.  A true, radical transformation produces a heart of generosity.  There is within us the compassion for people in need just like Jesus demonstrated when He walked on the earth.  Verse 17:

Even so…verse 16 is the illustration…faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself…

 

In other words faith that demonstrates no real life change.

To experience the resurrected Christ, something deep within me changes.  I have a new conviction of sin; I have a passion for righteousness and holiness; I have a desire to be generous.  I want to know God; I want to know God’s Word; I want to know God’s people; I want to give my life to the things that matter.  If there’s simply no life change, that is a faith that is dead, and it is not a saving faith.  James anticipates an objection and he records that in verse 18:

But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works”; (Vs. 18a)

Now verse 18 is much debated.  The debate is about where the quotation marks go.  In the Greek text there are no quotation marks, and so it’s up to the interpreter to decide how much of that verse is the voice of the objector.  I believe only the opening line is the objector.  All the scholars agree that it’s the voice of the objector saying, “Now wait a minute”, (and by the way this is perfect for our 21st century post-modern crowd).  The objection is, “Now wait a minute, you have your deal; I have mine.  You do it your way; I’ll do it mine.  Some have faith; some have works; it all works itself out.”  That’s basically what the objector is saying.  So then James is responding:

       “…show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”                                        (Vs. 18b)

How do you demonstrate that you have truly experienced a saving faith if there are no works?  James is saying, “You have no reason to believe that you have experienced a life-changing encounter with Jesus if there are no works.  You simply have no evidence of that.”  But James is also saying, “I’ll show you I’ve been radically changed; it’s evident in the way I live my life.”

Now the purpose of this text is not for everyone to walk back out the doors thoroughly insecure, now wondering, “Am I really saved?”  It isn’t that complicated.  Look at your life: If you can demonstrate, “I have been radically changed,” “I have a passion for holiness,” “I have a heart of compassion,” “I want to know God,” “I want to know what God says,” “I want to be generous,” “I want to walk in holiness,” “I have conviction of sin,” there’s evidence that I have been radically changed by the power of Jesus.  But if you were to be completely honest and say, “You know when I look at my life, I know the right answers to the quiz questions, but other than that I see no real difference between my life and the unsaved people around me,” you have reason to believe perhaps you haven’t really experienced saving faith.  Verse 19:

You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.

 

In referring that God is One, remember these are dispersed Jews and at the core of Judaism was the belief of one God.  It’s a reference to the Shema from Deuteronomy that says, “Our God is One God.”  All of the religions of the ancient world were polytheistic—had multiple gods.  There was one religion and that was Judaism where there is one and only one God.  So this is at the core of their belief system and James is saying, “You believe that.  Good for you!  So do the demons!”  They get it! There is one God and this God is powerful and it makes them tremble.  So let’s put this in 21st Century language.  Most of the people who identify themselves as Christians would say, “Well, I believe like the Christmas story; I believe that, you know, God became flesh; Jesus was born in a manger from a Virgin Mary.”  Well, good for you!  The demons believe that too!  “Well, but I believe the Easter story.  I believe that Jesus died on a cross.  I believe that He was buried.  I believe He rose again.”  Good for you!  The demons believe that too!  I would suggest there’s not a demon out there that denies the Christmas story or the Easter story; they know that’s what happened.  They get it.  They believe it and they tremble!  But clearly that doesn’t make them Christian.

You have to move from intellectual assent to what the Bible would call believing or trusting.  It’s a step of faith—that I actually trust that Jesus did this for me.  It includes repentance: I’m no longer pursuing self-righteousness but trusting in what Jesus did for me.  And it is a faith that results in a radical transformation, and that radical transformation should be evident in changes in your life, your purpose, your mission, your conviction of sin.  You are a new creation in Christ, and at the center of that should be a heart of generosity.  That’s who Jesus is and, if we now have the nature of Christ, it should be evident in our desire to help those in need.

 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?  You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.  In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?  (Vs. 20-25)

Two illustrations:  If you were to take those verses, pull them out of context and isolate them, it’s very confusing. That seems completely contrary to what Paul teaches in Romans.  But this is a reminder why we do not take verses out of context and isolate them.  They are very much given in a context and that’s where they have to be understood.  So to start with, let’s remind ourselves that when Paul was making an argument that salvation is by faith alone, who did he use as the poster child to make his point?  Answer is Romans chapter 4: Abraham. He quotes Genesis 15:6: “Abraham believed and it was reckoned as righteousness.”  He wasn’t circumcised until two chapters later.  The discussion here in James is thirty years later when Abraham offered Isaac.  The argument that James is making is not that Abraham was justified on the basis of works, but rather that the Bible states he was justified on the basis of faith.  But to demonstrate that faith was a saving faith, it was followed by works.  Specifically thirty years later, in his greatest moment of faith, he was willing to offer Isaac, his only son, on an altar in obedience to God.  So the question would be: “Okay, the text says that Abraham was justified by faith.  How do we know that’s a true statement?”  Answer:  “His works demonstrated that he was truly, radically changed, justified by the power of God.”

It’s the same argument with Rahab.  Somewhere along the way, Rahab the prostitute believed.  We don’t know when that was.  We only know that when the spies went in to Jericho, she risked her own life to protect them, to care for them, and to deliver them.  What we know is that Rahab did not just have an intellectual assent.  She believed; she was radically changed; the evidence is that she actually risked her life in order to act on that faith and to deliver the spies.  The story of Rahab is a fascinating one.  Her faith was so great that she would live among the Jewish people and she would actually be a woman through whom the seed of the Messiah would travel.  If you look in Matthew chapter 1 in the genealogy of Christ, there listed is Rahab the harlot—a radical transformation.  His point is true: saving faith works.  He closes the chapter with verse 26:

For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.  

It’s a rather graphic illustration, but if you’ve been to a funeral, there’s a body in a casket.  Without the spirit there is no life; it has no potential to do anything.  Faith without works is like a body without spirit; it is simply dead.

So what do we do with this text?  First of all, this is not a text by which we judge everyone else’s salvation.  That’s always the danger in a text like that.  Perhaps you’re sitting there thinking, “Well, I’m thinking about Joe,”—“Joe’s out”—“and Sally”—“Sally’s out.” Or even my spouse.  That’s a very dangerous thing to do.  You don’t know that.  What you do know is yourself and your own heart, and that is the point of the text. Okay, good for you. You know the right answers: You know the right answers on the quiz; you know what to say when God asks you the Kennedy question.  That doesn’t mean you’ve experienced a saving faith.  A faith that saves is a faith that works (not faith plus works).  If you’ve truly experienced a radical transformation by the power of Jesus, Paul says to the Corinthians that salvation is on the basis of God’s grace and that grace is so radical that if you’ve truly experienced God’s grace, it will make you a generous person.  Specifically he says, “Jesus, who was rich for your sake, He became poor in order that through His poverty you might become rich.”   

 

Jesus’ sacrifice is sufficient

Cross

If we want to know whether Jesus’ sacrifice is enough to save us, we need to know some things about our condition before a Holy God.

Firstly, we need to know the bad news.

The bad news is all have sinned, and continue to fall short of God’s standard (Romans 3:23).

This means a few things:

  • We are not good enough to be with God.
  • We cannot offset our bad deeds by good deeds: No matter how many good deeds we do, we cannot offset our bad deeds. No amount of truth telling can offset that one tiny lie. No amount of kindness can offset that one small outburst of anger.
  • We cannot pay for our sins in any way.
  • We must be punished. We are guilty. The wages for one sin is death (Rom 6:23).

Are you feeling lost and hopeless? That’s ok. Actually that is healthy. Only then can you really understand and appreciate the gospel, and the need for a Savior.

Here’s the good news. Anyone can be saved by trusting Jesus’ sacrifice (John 3:16). This is what God did:

Because we cannot pay for our sin, God turned over our sins to Jesus (Isaiah 53:5)

Paul stated the gospel this way:

The Gospel really is…this Good News that saves you if you still firmly believe it…that Christ died for our sins…and that three days afterwards he arose from the grave” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

Jesus’ death wasn’t a martyr’s death. It wasn’t just a demonstration of love. It is much more. He died in our place. He died our death. When Jesus said ‘It is finished’ and died on the cross (John 19:30), He paid the price for our sins completely.

Is this sacrifice a sufficient payment for our sins?

Yes, in Greek, it is finished means tetelestai. It is a banking term to mean debt is paid. Jesus paid our sin debt we owed God. He satisfied God’s wrath fully.  He met broken law’s demands completely. And when He rose, He earned the right to give life eternal to anyone who will receive Him and believe that His sacrifice is sufficient to save them (John 3:16).

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation (adjudging of guilty) for those who belong to Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

Some believe it is still not enough

During Paul’s day, some Jewish Christians were teaching that Jesus’ sacrifice wasn’t really enough. The same issue exists today. The idea is Jesus’ sacrifice alone cannot save us, we also need to add others things. During Paul’s day it was circumcision, and other Jewish laws.  Today, some try to add kind acts, church going, Sabbath, offering giving, and other good works to His finished work to gain forgiveness and acceptance from God.

Paul’s says don’t even think about it

Paul warns that if you teach Jesus’ sacrifice is not enough, you are teaching another gospel, which is not a gospel at all (Galatians 1:6, 7). And he goes on to say the following things among other things about people who teach and believe in such a gospel:

  • They are cursed; literally should be destroyed (Galatians 1:9)
  • Trying to be right with God through obeying the law, which is impossible (Galatians 2:16)
  • Trying to receive God’s inheritance through keeping the law, and not by trusting Jesus (Galatians 3:18).
  • Trying to receive the Holy Spirit by their works, which doesn’t work (Galatians 3:2)
  • Do not and cannot even obey all the commandments all the time, and hence are under a curse, and prisoned (Galatians 3:10)

Don’t add, but show gratitude

Paul said, we are made right with God when we “believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood” (Romans 3:25). If you repent for your sins, and inability to save yourself, and trust Jesus’ finished work is enough to save you, and receive Jesus, not only Jesus came into your life, He also forgave your sins, gave you a new start and empowered you to live a new life pleasing to Him.

Now you can show God your gratitude through your good works, not to gain or earn favor from Him, because you really can’t. Besides, you already have His favor. But in response to Jesus’s finished work and as the Holy Spirit who is in you leads you to do His will, obey and honor Him.