Hebrews 4:1-16 The Sabbath Rest For God’s people

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First century Roman culture was a culture of despair.  Some historians would refer to it as a culture of suicide.  It was violent, it was bloody, it was dangerous, it was oppressive, it was full of death and disease.  On top of that the religious establishment had created such religious oppression that people lived in bondage.  Most had given up any thought that they could ever stand right before a holy God.  It was into that context that Jesus uttered the words, “Come unto Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  About three decades later, the writer of Hebrews would give a message to people on the threshold of bloody persecution.  The message was not a message of health, wealth and prosperity.  It was a message that in the midst of the pain, you can enter His rest.  So here we are two thousand years later.  I think we all get this.  Sometimes the world can be very, very painful, hurtful, heartbreaking, confusing, devastating.  In the midst of all of that, what Jesus offers us is rest.  That’s what we want to talk right now.  If you have a Bible, turn to Hebrews, Chapter 4.   
 
One of the terms that we’ve seen a lot in the book of Hebrews is the word therefore.  You know the old adage: Whenever you see the word ‘therefore’ you stop to see what it’s there for.  And it basically reminds us that all of these truths are connected.  You can’t take any one passage in Hebrews and pull it out of its contextfor one truth leads to another truth leads to another truth and it’s all connected together.  It’s good that we keep remembering that.  Chapter 3 was all about the cost of unbelief, which then leads us to Chapter 4 verse 1: 
 
Therefore (in light of that, the cost of unbelief), then let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, anyone of you may have seemed to have come short of it. (*NASB, Hebrews 4:1)
 
So what’s the fear?  The fear is that even though there’s still a promise of rest, it wasn’t just about people thousands of years ago entering a land.  It wasn’t just about people in the first century.  It’s every bit as true for us today.  There is a promise of rest.  The word promise is really an important word in the book of Hebrews.  As a matter of fact, no New Testament book uses the term more than the book of Hebrews.  What do you say to a group of people that are on the threshold of bloody persecution?  You remind them, there’s a promise.  There is a promise that, in the midst of the storm, I will give you rest now, and a glorious future to come.  But the concern is that they won’t believe it.  It’s interesting that he says, anyone of you may seem to have come short of it.  This basically confirms what we talked in the last chapter—that when the writer is looking at the first readers, his audience, he’s identifying them primarily as believers but he’s not convinced they’re all believers.  There is no New Testament writer who could know that everyone who will receive this letter is a believer.  So there seem to be some who perhaps don’t believe.  Maybe they’re giving lip service; maybe they’re just going with the flow, but he says, “But it may seems like you’re coming up short.  You don’t really believe it.”  So that’s our audience—primarily believers—but the writer is not convinced that everybody believes, and that’s part of his concern here.  Verse 2: 
 
For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united (mixed in) by faith in those who heard.   
 
So the children of Israel heard good news.  We talked about this last time.  The good news was that God will give you the Promised Land—a land flowing with milk and honey.  But the truth was not mixed with faith; therefore it did not profit them.  They did not believe.  The writer is saying, in the same way we have good news.  We, too, have an offer of rest that we can enter into—a promise of rest.  But that promise has to be mixed with faith if we are going to profit from it.  It is a reminder that even though Jesus died for the sins of the world, the message is not universalism.  It’s not, “Everybody’s in!” The truth has to be mixed with faith.  There’s God’s part and there’s our part—that’s always the way it is.  God’s part is He has done the work, and He offers rest.  Our part is we have to believe, mixed with faith, in order for that truth to profit us.  Verse 3:  
 
 For we who have believed (the writer puts himself in there) enter that rest, just as He has said, “AS I SWORE IN MY WRATH, THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST,” although His works were finished from the foundation of the world.
 
So what is he talking about there?  He’s saying we who have believed enter into this rest.  When David said to the children of Israel in Psalm 95 that with belief they can enter God’s rest—My rest —God says, there’s a reminder that even though they were in the land, David was concerned that they would not enter into His rest.  In other words, the land wasn’t the point.  The land was a picture; the land was a shadow.  Are we saying today that in order to enter into God’s rest, we have to all fly to Israel and enter the land?  And we all understand, “Of course not!”  So the land was a picture, a metaphor.  David comes along with Psalm 95, They’re in the land—David’s king over the land; he’s reigning over the land—but his concern is they still won’t enter His rest because the rest isn’t just the land; it’s just a picture, a metaphor.  So what is it?  It’s God saying, “My rest,” which goes all the way back to Genesis 2:2 where it says the rest of God started all the way back at the foundation of the world.  In Genesis 2:2, we’re told that “on the seventh day God rested.”  He quotes that in verse 4:
 
 For He has said somewhere concerning the seventh day: “AND GOD RESTED ON THE SEVENTH DAY FROM ALL HIS WORKS”; and again in this passage, “THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST.” (VS. 4-5) 
 
So here’s what he’s saying: On the seventh day of creation, God rested.  Why did God rest?  Was He worn out?  Had he had a really hard week?  God didn’t rest because He was tired; He rested because the work was done.  The text says that when God had completed His work, He rested.  Then He placed Adam and Eve in His rest.  This is essentially what defined paradise.  God had done the work; once it was completed He rested, He didn’t begin another work and rest cycle. He rested from creative work once and for all. Adam and Eve entered into that state of rest.  This is what God has always wanted for people made in His image.  But as you know the story, Adam and Eve sin; chaos enters the world, yet God still promises rest—“to enter into My rest.”  Was it the land? Was it a day? The land was just a metaphor, just a picture.  David comes along hundreds of years later and he still desires for the people by faith to enter God’s rest.  It wasn’t just the land; it wasn’t a day. It was something far more than that.  Now one of the interesting parts of Genesis 2:2: When God rested is not on day 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6—each one of those days ends with, “There was morning and there was evening.”  But on the seventh day, when God rested, you don’t read those words because the rest of God was not a day of the week.  It was not one day of the week.  It was a state.  God had now completed the work; it was a state of rest, and He wanted people made in His image to enter into that rest daily.  So the Jewish promised land is a shadow, the Jewish Sabbath day of the week is a shadow, but God’s rest is something far more than that.  Verse 6:
 
Therefore, since it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience,”  
 
So today there remains a rest for us to enter into, but we do so by faith.  We talked about this: Disbelief leads to disobedience!  Whenever I don’t believe God tells the truth, then I do it my way.  Whenever I don’t believe that God’s going to meet some need in my life, I do it my way.  Disbelief always leads to disobedience; that’s the concern of the writer. So verse 7:
He again fixes a certain day
Okay, there it is!  He again fixes a certain day—a day of rest.  What day is that?  Well, it’s today!  Oh, it’s Sunday.  Last time I said, “It’s today,” and they said, “Oh, it’s Saturday.”  This has been a longstanding debate: Is it Saturday or is it Sunday?  Are we still under the Sabbath of the old covenant?  Or is Sunday, the new covenant Sabbath?  Answer:  “Neither…Neither!”  This has nothing to do with whether or not you mow your lawn on Saturday or Sunday; it has nothing to do with whether or not a business is open or closed on a Saturday or Sunday; it has nothing to do with whether you have worked the fields on a Saturday or Sunday; it has nothing to do with whether you took a nature walk or went to church on a certain day!  The Sabbath rest today is today!  Ask me on Tuesday; I’ll say, “It’s today!”  Ask me on Friday, I’ll say, “It’s today!”  It’s not a holy day of the week; that was just a metaphor; it’s just a shadow.  It’s not a holy piece of ground or “the holy land” (Zec 2:12); it was just a metaphor—a shadow.  Ultimately it is a state to enter into the rest of God.  That’s what he’s saying: “What day is it?”  “It’s today!”  Verse 7:   
 
He again fixes a certain day, (what day?) “Today,” saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, “TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS.” For if Joshua had given them rest, He (God) would not have spoken of another day after that. (Vs. 7-8) 
 
So Joshua is the Hebrew version of the name Jesus.  So Jesus is the Greek version.  The Hebrew version of the exact same name is Joshua, and it reminds us that Joshua in the Old Testament was a type or a picture of the Messiah to come, a picture of the Jesus to come.  So what did Joshua do?  Joshua led them into the land of promise.  They claimed the land.  They observed weekly holy days. But God still promised that day of rest was yet to come.  So what he’s saying is, “If entering and possessing the land was the rest, then there would be no reason to say there’s still another day of rest coming, unless the land was merely a metaphor, a picture.  Just like the day of the week is a shadow of the ultimate fulfillment to come.  Verse 9: 
 
So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.  
 
Now that phrase Sabbath rest is actually one word in Greek.  It’s not found anywhere else—this is the only place it is found. It doesn’t say that there is a Sabbath day; it says there is a Sabbath rest.  So what is the Sabbath rest that remains for the people of God today?  It’s not a piece of land; it’s not a day of the week; those were just shadows; they were just pictures.  What is it?  Verse 10: 
 
 For the one who has entered His rest (how did he do that?) has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His.  
 
There it is right there—verse 10!  This is the main theme of the gospel all throughout the New Testament.  Who is it that enters into God’s rest by faith? Not God’s work and rest cycle, but God’s rest.  It’s the one who ceases from his or her works and enters into God’s rest.  On what day? Today. So what is the Sabbath about today?  It’s about not working.  What does that mean?  It has nothing to do whether or not you mow your lawn on a Sunday.  It has nothing to do with whether or not your business is open or closed on a Saturday.  It has nothing to do with whether or not you are working the fields on a Sunday.  It has nothing to do with that.  Sunday is not the new covenant Sabbath.  It has nothing to do with that.  What does it have to do with?  The idea of works is used consistently throughout the New Testament as defining those things we’re doing to somehow try to merit favor with God—efforts of self-righteousness, religious activity, things we’re trying to do to make ourselves good enough for God. The world is full of religion.  Religion taps into our desire to be our own god.  I want to do it myself; I want to make myself righteous; I want to make myself spiritual; I want to measure up on the basis of my own efforts.  But religion is oppressive; religion is damaging; religion is full of hopelessness and despair because every day you are reminded that you’re actually just a loser that will never measure up to the standard before a holy God.   
 
We know from the book of Hebrews what the work is that God completed—the fulfillment of a promise that at a point in time, the Creator God of the universe took on human flesh.  He blazed a trail of salvation by conquering sin and death once and for all.  As the ultimate High Priest, He offered Himself as the ultimate sacrifice for sin to make propitiation for sin.  Chapter 1 said to make purification for sin.  He was buried; He rose again; He returned to the Father and what did He do?  We learned this in Chapter 1: He sat down.  The priest was never allowed to sit because their job was never done, because it was only a foreshadowing of the promise of One who would ultimately pay the price for sin.  Jesus uttered on the cross, “It is finished!”  When He rose from the dead, He returned to the Father and the great High Priest sat down!  Mission accomplished; paid in full!  What did He do at the right hand of the Father?  He rested.  He created the rest of God that God has always wanted for people made in His image.  How do we enter into that rest?  By faith!  We cease from our own self-righteous works.  We give up our own attempts to merit favor with God through religious activity, and in brokenness and humility we acknowledge the only hope we have is what Jesus did for us.  We enter into the finished work of Christ.  This is a consistent message throughout the New Testament.  We’re going to throw a couple of verses on the screen just to remind ourselves of this message: 
 
But to the one who does not work but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness. (*NASB, Romans 4:5)  
 
This is the theme of the New Testament.  This is verse 10.  There is a Sabbath rest.  “Is it a piece of ground?”  “No, it’s not!”  “Is it a day of the week?”  “No, it’s not!”  Those were just shadows or pictures.  But ultimately Sabbath rest is when we rest from our own attempts at self-righteousness and we simply rest in what God has done for us through Jesus.  Sometimes people will say to me, “How come you don’t keep the Sabbath?”  Answer: “I keep it every day.” What a shame just to keep one day of the week. Ask me on Tuesday, I’ll say, “It’s today!”  I rest in the finished work of Jesus on the cross today.  Ask me on Friday, I’ll say, “It’s today!”  I rest in the finished work of Jesus on the cross.  It has nothing to do with mowing your lawn, opening your business, or working in the field.  It has to do with resting in what Jesus has done for us on the cross.  There is a Sabbath rest.  Verse 11: 
 
Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall through following the same example of disobedience.  
 
Now clearly rest is not automatic.  It’s not even automatic for believers.  That’s why he says, “…be diligent; work really hard at resting.”  There are those who have never trusted Christ.  They need to believe this is true.  Perhaps they’ve been used and abused and beat up by religion and need to hear, “That’s not what it’s about.”  But it’s also possible for those of us who have trusted Christ to still be miserable because we don’trest in the finished work of Jesus on the cross.  The enemy comes along and he whispers in your ear, “You’re a loser; you’re a failure; you’ll never measure up. Who do you think you are that God just hands out some kind of a salvation as a gift? You’ve got to be kidding me.  God probably is so annoyed that you’re in His presence because you’re a loser.”  How many lies does the enemy whisper in our ears and we’re anxious; we’re fearful; we’re hopeless, and we’re despairing because we are not diligent to rest.   
 
Can I come to the end of a day where I’ve blown it, biffed it, and disappointed God and myself again and still be at rest?  Answer:  “Yes!” …resting in the finished work of Jesus on the cross.  I need to be diligent to rest because when I rest, when I think that way, when I remember what’s true, that is the most likely scenario where I’m going to be repentant, where I’m going to confess, where I’m going to do it differently tomorrow—because I remember again who I am in Christ!  Verse 12: 
 
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able  to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. (Vs. 12-13)   
 
In other words, Him with whom we will be accountable.  So the Bible is not just words on a page. It’s a living, breathing book.  It’s the God-breathed Word of God.  God takes His words with His Spirit and He penetrates and He judges and He sorts out, and He presents us naked. That’s literally what it says—naked before a Holy God—the One to Whom we will give an account.  For some people that is an absolutely terrifying thought.  For some people they will avoid the book because the book terrifies them because it penetrates and it judges; and it discerns and it sorts out; and it presents us naked before a Holy God.  But for those of us who believe, it is where we find the truth. 
It’s where we find grace and mercy.  It’s where we find relief from the bondage of religion and enter into the rest of God.  It’s where we find guidance; it’s where we find life.  When we understand the truth about God’s rest, I am not terrified to be presented naked before a holy God because I know I stand in the rest—the finished work of Jesus on the cross.  It’s the living, active Word of God that gives me life, that gives me hope, that gives me a future, that gives me what I need to rest in my most difficult moments in life.  Verse 14: 
 
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens (meaning back to the Father to be seated), Jesus the Son of God (that’s His humanity and His deity), let us hold fast our confession (our statement of faith, what we believe).  For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.  Therefore let us draw near with confidence (boldly) to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Vs. 14-16)   
 
When we go through the most difficult moments of life, we cry out not to a god who is so abstract and disconnected we have no sense that he understands what we are going through.  That’s not who He is.  It’s the One who actually took on human flesh.  As remarkable as that may seem, the God of the universe actually became one of us—and He walked on this earth.  He knows our struggle; He knows our pain; He knows our trials and our temptations; This is the God who loves me; this is the God who saved me; this is the God who’s experienced the struggle and the pain that I’m going through.  I come boldly and confidently into the presence of God, and in my hour of need I find grace and mercy.  I find what I need to get me through another day! 
 
There is a Sabbath rest.  It’s not a day of the week; it’s not a piece of ground.  It’s a Person.  It’s a Person who did for me what I could not do for myself—and He offers it freely as a gift!  If mixed with faith, I believe and enter into His rest.  
 
He’s just inviting you, by faith, to enter that rest, to experience the forgiveness of sin, and to experience a relationship with God.  I would invite you this morning, to enter into that rest.  What day is the Sabbath rest? It’s today!  Why would you wait?  Why would you wait until tomorrow?  Why wouldn’t you enter that rest today?  
 
Our Father, it’s really just so hard to comprehend that the God of the universe actually took on human flesh to make a way of salvation, to conquer sin and death once and for all,  to make payment for sin, and to simply offer it freely as a gift.  Lord, we’ve been reminded that truth has to be mixed with faith.  We have to choose to believe that’s true to enter into Your rest.  Lord, may today be our day of Sabbath rest. In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

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.”   

 

Is your view on sin narrow?

RepentCross

If your understanding of sin is narrow, then your understanding of God’s law, His grace, and your love for others will also be narrow.

Here’s the truth about the gravity our sin condition, the high standard of His law, the unfathomable depth of His grace and Christ’s sacrifice.

God’s definition of sin is broad

  • Everything that is not from faith is sin’ (Romans 14:23)
  • Turning away from God through unbelief is sin (Hebrews 3:12)
  • Not doing what you know is right is sin (James 4:17)
  • Doing wrong without knowing is sin (Leviticus 5:17)

Breaking God’s commandments is sin (1 John 3:4)

  • God’s commandments are not just the ten commandments, but all the moral commands stated in the Bible
  • The Rich Young Ruler thought he kept all the commandments of God, but Jesus said it wasn’t ‘complete’ because he did not care for the poor according to his financial ability (Matt. 19). Taking care of the poor is a moral command
  • The story of the rich young ruler shows the impossibility of earning one’s salvation by following a list of commandments (Mark 10:26)
  • James 2:9 states if you show favoritism or discriminate anyone, you have broken all the commandments

Even our human nature is sinful from birth

‘See, I was born in sin and was in sin from my very beginning’ (Psalms 51:5). Our sinful human nature can produce only one thing naturally. Sin! That’s why we need to be born again. More on this later

We cannot view sin as merely a list of dos and don’ts

  • Since, everything that is not from faith is sin, every action and attitude that we do without faith in God’s promises is sin
  • Therefore, we cannot view sin as merely a list of dos and don’ts
  • One of Satan’s most successful lies is that sin can be limited to a manageable list of dos and don’ts
  • This is so satanic and dangerous because it causes thousands of christians to think that things are OK between them and God because they avoid one list of don’ts and practice another (much shorter) list of do’s (ex: church going, returning offerings, not committing murder literally etc); but in fact may be sinning all day long

God’s standard of law is so high; no fallen man can measure up to it always

  • His standard of law is so high that it is humanely impossible for any fallen man to measure up. Perhaps occasionally, but not all the time. In Greek, Romans 3:23 is actually saying ‘all have sinned and continue to fall short of God’s standard’
  • It this standard of law that we have broken, are guilty of, condemned for, and deserving death (Romans 6:23)

His standard of love towards others is also high

  • A lawyer asked Jesus, what must I do to inherit life (Luke 10:25). Then Jesus recited the story of the good Samaritan. The lesson from the story was you must show perfect love to your neighbour, wherever, or whoever they may be all the time. This is humanly impossible to do all the time.
  • This parable teaches once again the impossibility of earning one’s salvation. The standard, which is perfect love, is too high; you can’t manufacture such God kind of love.

Narrow view of sin leads some to believe they can ‘do’ the law and inherit life

  • Because some have a narrow view of sin, and law, they like the rich young ruler, pharisees and that lawyer still think that they can DO the law to inherit eternal life
  • Only way to be saved by the law is to keep the law perfectly—every moment of every day for your entire life
  • “But those who depend on the law to make them right with God are under his curse, for the Scriptures say, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the commands that are written in God’s Book of the Law” (Galatians 3:10)
  • People have a tendency to just cherry-pick a handful of things out of the law like the Sabbath (if you are a Sabbath keeper), offering giving, not stealing literally etc. But what Paul is saying, you can’t cherry-pick the law. If you’re going to earn righteousness under the law, it’s all the commandments (love others unconditionally, help the poor, don’t discriminate, every single one of them etc), and if you fail in one slightest detail ever in your life, then you are under a curse, and you are condemned.
  • If you think you can be saved by ticking a few commandments, you are in for a surprise. ‘Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:23)
  • If we don’t understand the seriousness of sin, the standard of his law, and how we don’t measure up to God’s standard, we will never understand our dangerous-sinful-hopeless-condition, why Jesus came, why He died, why we need a savior, what he accomplished by His death, and how we can walk righteously.

Because we cannot pay for our sins, God turned over our sins to Jesus

  • Sin separated us from God, and created a bridge between us and Him (Isaiah 59:2), but Jesus took away our sins on the cross (1 Peter 2:24). God punished Jesus for our sins (Isaiah 53:5), and ‘brought us back to himself through Christ’ (2 Corinthians 5:18)
  • Apart from Christ we are separated from God, condemned, lost. But ‘Christ united us with God‘ (Eph 2:6). We were united with God the moment we repented for our sins, trusted Jesus that He was punished for our sins, our death, our law breaking, and believed that His sacrifice is sufficient to save us.
  • When we repented, our sins were completely forgiven. ‘There is now no condemnation for them that belong to Jesus’ (Rom 8:1). The law no more condemns us because it already condemned someone else: Jesus. ‘You are complete in Him’ (Col. 2:10)
  • Since we have broken God’s law, there is no way our good deeds could offset our bad deeds. ‘For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die’ (Gal 2:21). Only Jesus can save us and He did save us from the punishment by taking the punishment for our sins.

In God’s plan, we receive righteousness on the basis of faith

  • I am “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” (Philippians 3:9).
  • We receive the righteousness of God apart from the law, meaning it doesn’t come from obeying the law. It comes from another place; it comes from Jesus Himself. It’s His righteousness.
  • God’s credits his Son’s righteous life on this earth as our righteousness by exchanging it for our sins the moment we repent, tell him we have messed up,  and confess we can’t measure up to His standard, and put our trust in Him! In that very moment, we are declared righteous in God’s presence as a gift of God’s grace (Romans 4:3). This is the good news! This is radical. This is grace. This is something only God thought up in his heart. Not man. Please don’t lower grace to your standard.

When you repented and believed in Jesus, you were born again

  • When we repented for our sins and our inability to save ourselves, and accepted Jesus as our perfect sacrifice, sin bearer, savior, Lord, He came into our life and we were born again. Jesus gave us a new birth, a new start in life. Our past is just that. Past. We can now look forward to living changed, righteous, and joy filled lives as we have Jesus living in us now.
  • ‘When we believed, we were sealed with the Holy Spirit‘ (Ephesians 1:13). This seal is the guratanee that tell us we are now God’s children, we are empowered, we have eternal life, we will inherit what God has promised us (2 Corinthians 1:22).

Without the new birth, you can’t enter the kingdom of God nor walk righteously

  • Unless one is born again, he cannot enter God’s kingdom (John 3:3).
  • We need to be born again, because when we were born into this world, we were born spiritually dead; this was the result of Adam’s fall. When they died that day eating the fruit (Genesis 2:17), they died in a real sense. Their spirit or spiritual nature died. Therefore, all Adam’s children are born into this world ‘dead’ (Eph 2:5) or with a dead ‘spirit’. They are dead to the things of God, dead to the voice of the Holy Spirit. They can’t hear God speak to them.
  • Nicodemus was a Sabbath keeper. Pharisees were Sabbath keepers. They kept a narrow list of commandments, and were satisfied that they met God’s standard. However, they were not born again. Their spirit or spiritual nature was still dead. That’s why they failed to meet the weightier matters of the law like justice, mercy, faith (Matthew 23:23), taking care of the poor, and helpless according to their financial ability. They didn’t even know they were sinning.
  • People who are not born again may keep a narrow set of laws and judge other people on external things like church going, offering giving, etc. but their hearts are far from God. They have an outward form of religion, but they have not changed from the inside out, because they were never born again.

There is more than forgiveness in God’s plan

  • When Jesus lives in us, He comes out in our actions, attitudes and affections. He empowers us to bear fruits of righteousness. He fulfills the righteousness requirement of the law in us (Romans 8:4) as His Spirit guides us.
  • The law tells us this. How messed up we are every time we look at it because it’s standard is so high (Romans 3:20). We have never kept its demand constantly, every moment, every day.
  • Those who have a narrow view of law will never see their true state from the law. The Pharisees never saw this. Therefore, they never really saw the need for a savior to take away their sins.
  • However, the Holy Spirit is our guide now, and not the law (Gal 3:25). We are ‘led by the Spirit’ (Romans 8:14). When the Spirit guides, He puts us in tune with all the moral principles of God. We become sensitive to others. We become gentle, kind, patient. We become more and more like Jesus.
  • The law may change people from the outside. But only the Spirit changes us from the inside out.
  • While the Spirit guides us, we will read and study God’s word to see if we are following all his teachings and not cherry picking a few things.
  • When you have Jesus, you have the fruit (singular) of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Notice, its not fruits, its fruit. When you have the Spirit, you have the entire basket of fruits: ‘love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law’.
  • Against such things there is no law means there is no law that can produce this fruit. There’s no legalism or external religious observances that can produce this. It’s a fruit of the Spirit.
  • If you only have one or two of the fruits, that means you were not born again! Probably you never understood how sinful you are before a Holy God, and his law! You didn’t truly repent. Therefore, you were not born again.

Conclusion:

  • If you are not trusting Christ for forgiveness and are not resting in his daily work on your behalf, then none of your actions comes from faith, but every one of them (even the most noble) is sinful and an insult to the infinitely trustworthy God.
  • Here’s the good news: Jesus took away your sins, and gave you new life. He died your death. His death wasn’t just a demonstration of love or death of a martyr. He died in your place so that he can take you home.
  • Following Jesus is not following a set of narrow laws. It is having a relationship with Him, trusting what he did on the cross, believing that His sacrifice is sufficient payment for your sins, trusting him daily to do what is right in your life, and making His word your authority for living. As you trust him, you are empowered to obey him, honour him, and live a holy life. No matter what life may throw at you, you can face it, because your future is secure in Him, and His finished work.

When you understand how high God’s standard of law is, and how sinful you are, only then can you really appreciate grace and the sacrifice of Christ.

When you receive His grace, only then can you really demonstrate the same kind of grace, love, kindness, and gentleness to others.

If you have not received Him as your Savior and the Lord of your life. Then:

  • Confess your great sin, how you haven’t measured up to his high standard and know you deserve to be condemned for insulting Him by your lack of faith, and thinking you could measure up.
  • Repent, turn to Him and believe now in Jesus, that as your Savior who died to bear you sin and punishment, so you could live forever and walk in newness of life.
  • Take him as your only hope of salvation and acknowledge him as your only Lord.
  • Thank him for his forgiveness and His promise to be with you, and in you, and to empower you to do his will.
  • Trust him to do what is right in your life.