The Link Between Our Faith and Our Works

            Last month, I wrote about what God really wants from us: a transformed heart. I also wrote that God will reject those who claim the name of Jesus but do not do what is right. On the surface, this implies that we are saved by our works, but that is absolutely not true. Saving faith, being declared legally righteous in God’s sight and finding acceptance by him comes alone through trusting Jesus (Romans 5:1). So, how then is “doing right” related to our salvation?

            First, we need to realize that we cannot muster up the strength to just “do right.” The kind of heart transformation that we need is only accomplished by God when we trust Jesus. God continually demonstrates His works before us so that we will come to fully trust Him. In John 6, Jesus told the crowd that the work of God they witnessed (the miracles Jesus performed), was so that they would believe in Jesus as Savior.

            This is not to say that the only work from us that God wants is that we believe in Jesus, but that the work of God for us (his continued demonstration of his miraculous power and faithful love in our life) is for the purpose of wooing us to trust His love for us in Jesus. In other words, we come to believe Jesus in all that He declares about Himself and who He is and what He has accomplished on the cross and will accomplish in our future. Or to state it another way, we are freed to worship God with our wills and our lives. We are freed from our slavery to dead objects and dead pursuits to serve our new master, the living God. What a great privilege and high honor!

            The Bible teaches that once we are saved, we are not free to continue to walk in sin (Rom. 6:1-2). In fact, we are actually obligated to be good. In John 14:15, Jesus says, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” Also, 1 John 2:3 says, “And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.” If we know Jesus as our King, and we respect His position and authority and believe his promises, we will both be right (because the shed blood of Jesus has cleansed us) and do right (because we are compelled to serve our King). This behavior change is the result of the Holy Spirit accomplishing what God promised us in Deuteronomy 30:6: “And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.”

            So the reason it is important to pay attention to our works is because there is a link between what we do and what we believe. Our beliefs are the foundation of our works. Faith is the seed from which our works grow. That’s why Jesus taught the crowd in the sermon on the mount that saving faith is recognized by its fruit (Matthew 7:15-20). This is both a quantity of life issue (true salvation that leads to eternal life) and a quality of life issue (finding freedom from hurts, habits and hang-ups that hurt us).

            Regarding the quantity of life, true saving faith has eternal benefits. True believers will enjoy eternal years of blessing in God’s eternal Kingdom where we will forever worship and serve Him, and also to be able to enjoy the fruit of our labor. Eternal life with our eternal King will be filled will endless blessing and joy that is unparalleled to what we know in this short life (Romans 8:18-24). That promise is guaranteed to those who believe in Jesus as their savior, and it can never ever be taken away or lost (Romans 8:31-39).

            Regarding the quality of life, people who have true saving faith will experience a better way of life that offers benefits which transcend even the most extreme suffering and pain this world brings. However, for those who have experienced saving faith but continue to walk in sin, that quality of life will eventually greatly diminish— even when it seems as though people who walk in sin sometimes appear to be successful. The Psalmist lamented this problem in Psalm 73. People who experience true saving faith but continue in sin and fail to serve God will experience the Lord’s discipline. This is what the writer assures us in Hebrews 12, and the Psalmist finds peace about it in Psalm 119:75, and where the sage finds hope in Proverbs 3:12.

            Additionally, when we have saving faith, over time we learn to trust the love of Jesus more and more. As we do this, we should increasingly give up vices that we once turned to during times of stress, difficulty, or boredom and find satisfaction and freedom in Jesus. This process of maturing in the faith (or you can say, “Increasing in trust”) is called sanctification. In sanctification we grow to devote our time, talents and treasures to Jesus. In sanctification, we come to increasingly find satisfaction and contentment from a relationship with God. An increase of this kind of faith will produce fruit that is revealed in our character (Galatians 5), in our countenance (John 4), and in how we use our resources (time, talent & treasure: Matthew 25).

            Living life with an unchanged heart is dangerous because the Lord rejects the worship of the one who claims His name but has a hardened heart. Not only that, but sometimes some of the most scathing discipline can come in the form of when the Lord lets us walk in our sinful desires. Consequences to our choices can be the unbearable pain that the Lord might use to turn us back to Him (1 Corinthians 5:1-5). Our desperation in pain can be the solemn assurance of the Lord’s discipline and thus our salvation (Hebrews 12:3-8). God loves his children too much to continue to let them stay in sin.

            When we have continual hypocrisy (the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform) in our life, we can be assured of one of two things. Either we know God and are not walking in a way that brings blessing, and consequently will experience the Lord’s discipline. Or, if we habitually live without bearing true fruits of saving faith in our life, we may be proving that we never really knew God. The seeds of saving faith will increasingly yield the fruit of that faith. God will prune us to make us more fruitful. He is interested in receiving the fruit of our worship. The seeds of unbelief will produce fruits of the flesh that God rejects (Galatians 5:19-21). That is why Paul exhorts the church at Corinth, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you–unless, of course, you fail the test? (2 Corinthians 13:5).”

            So, if you have struggled in sin (or habitually producing the fruits of sin) like I have before, you might want to ask, “Am I really saved?” That is, have I ever come to trust in Jesus as my personal Savior? If the answer to that is “no,” then begin to trust Him with your will and life now. Take a moment to confess your sin and ask for forgiveness and accept his grace. If the answer to that question is “yes,” then you should believe that Jesus’ blood covers your sin and trust in the salvation that God has provided. You should look for the root of your sin and ask Jesus, “where am I not trusting your love or where are there idols in my life?” When he shows you these, turn away from those idols and find your love, value, and acceptance in Jesus.

            Thank you for taking the time to read this letter that is longer than normal. The relationship between faith and works is something that has created great confusion in the Church for generations, but it is something we need to get right because it is a matter of eternity and a matter of our welfare here on earth and potential as a Church. Let’s get it right and keep God first in our life as a result of so great a salvation!

 

Blessings,
 
Pastor Jeremiah