Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Obedience-Free Faith

      An interesting proposition came up last Wednesday night as a part of our study of Galations 5:1-15.  The scheduled leader presented a fill-in-the-blank paraphrasing from an anonymous someone, of Gal. 5:1-15 that he thought was useful.  And it was.  But it also contained at least two controversial statements.

      We are told by Paul that factions -- groups of members within the church who have different interpretations than one another -- can be expected to be a permanent part of the physical church experience here in this world.  This permits us to be tolerate of one another, I'm guessing.  The Lord tells us to be tolerant of each other.  Along with that, though, we are told to avoid foolish controversies.  But, no surprise, they appear anyway, and when they do they can have a divisive, contentious affect on a congregation.  They don't have to, but they tend to.  Many of our church fathers through time have embedded many controversial doctrines into the larger church doctrine ( with the consequence there being a numerous variety of different and isolated Christian denominations.  Sort of a blemish on Christianity, but not a defeat. We can expect controversies generally not to be resolved, so it makes sense to avoid them and recognize them for what they are as a means of keeping the peace.  This is not necessarily a biblical way of dealing with controversies, but a method the American church community has adopted in order to, it seems, stifle persecution of one another within the church.  For some of us not as inclined toward stifling denial it presents an opportunity to express ideas and work toward that elusive and important  "requirement" to be of one mind, one Body, one Spirit, one faith.

      The first statement in question was a paraphrase of 5:6 which had something tacked onto the end of it which would almost had to have been borrowed from Eph. 2:8.  The sentence in the paraphrased teaching reads like this (with fill-in-the-blanks underlined), "The response to those who are seeking to be justified before God by the works of the law is the reminder that 'faith working through love' is the manifestation of a life that knows it is saved by grace alone (Gal. 5:6)".  The problem with this sentence is that it is incorrect to say we are saved by grace alone.  It is a potentially dangerous error because it does not say in scripture that we are saved by grace alone.  There has always been a requirement of faith, or an act of faith.  Where then did this notion of being saved by grace alone come from?  It may have come from selectively borrowing the first part of Eph. 2:8, which reads:
 "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is a gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast."
      This is a famously abused verse in which, by some, "gift" is attributed as referring to "faith".  To my knowledge, the Greek clears this up by having a referent of gift pointing back to grace, not faith; but more importantly, in other parts of scripture grace is referred to as a "free gift", and faith never is. Faith is also a gift of sorts, it is the gift of a gracious and undeserved option by God to either chose Him or reject Him -- the option extended to us by our sovereign God of expressing our hearts in faith to honor Him, is a gift.  It is an 'act' of the heart.  That alone is what God wants, he wants us to choose with our hearts (basically our minds).

      One thing we need to know is the difference between grace and faith. God's grace does not save us.  At least according to Eph. 2:8 it does not.  God's grace is His willingness to save us.  Without faith, only grace, we are not saved.  Faith is God's desired response from us.  I dread bringing this up, it is a irreconcilable controversy in Christendom, and I will call this 'foolish controversy number one'. The paraphrasing above containing the reference to "saved by grace alone" probably gets its bearing from teachings popularized finally by John Calvin beginning shortly after the Protestant Reformation.  The Reformation era spawned the reformed church movement.  Reformed doctrine claims the bible teaches that men have no free will of their own and that God has already preordained an elect who He will raise with Him and who he will not -- faith or no faith.  For many like myself, this is a stretch, and they would like to see this teaching expressly supported by scripture.  This has never been done.  Getting to the bottom of this with other believers seems impossible because they keep redirecting me back to John Calvin.  They cannot explain it themselves, in biblical terms, without referring to him, his words, or his writings.  In other words, this notion cannot be articulated by an average believer plainly and understandably from scripture without deferring to Mr. Calvin for help; therefore, the idea is Calvin's not scripture's.

      If you are new to this dispute further investigation will expose a huge divide within the spiritual body of believers.  You will find them telling each other they stand scripture on its head, blaming detractors for spiritual immaturity, for not being able to see it in scripture, even though it is not there, and devouring one another with charges of following after another gospel, a false gospel.  Often times neither side does a great job at supporting themselves.  It is heartbreaking.  In my own opinion, the reformed ideas declaring no-free-will were designed originally as an unanswerable riddle, unable to be proved neither true nor false, posed to simply stick a finger in the eye of the catholic church, exacerbated by the times, in which Christians in disagreement about such things were doing abominable things to each other.  Today, Calvin's writings and those they spawned, and those of St. Augustine, et al., which helped to spawn Calvin's, have left a very rich intellectual heritage used as an encouragement and foundation from which to draw answers not otherwise expressly found in scripture.  It is very popular among intellectuals, none of whom agree entirely about anything about it, since with piles and piles of words, in the right hands, one can make something persuasive out of any anything.    But the patchwork reasoning behind this no-free-will discussion, albeit impressive, is impossible for the common man to articulate himself from scripture unless he let's Calvin do the talking and in the end has faith in Calvin alone that Calvin is right about grace alone. I wish I were overstating this problem.  Attend any discussion of Calvinism and see for yourself.  But stay in the middle.  It centers around the great debate between follower of Calvin and followers of Arminius, and they are both wrong. For two long years I watched and listened, and they are still quarreling.  This ends my personal take on one of several foolish controversies that still pervade Christendom and which have left an irreconcilable rift in the doctrine and body of Christ.

      Onto the second controversial statement.  In the same "fill-in-the-blank" assignment by an author who the study group leader chose to leave anonymous, the author writes: "(Obedience) is . . . not a required addition to faith".

      Obedience is not faith, but faith is obedience.      Alone, obedience is not said to leave us in an acceptable condition with God.  Obedience to God's Law in the Old Testament left one in a condition acceptable to God until, as Paul says, the faith was later revealed. God desired faith but was satisfied with obedience.  But faith in God does not arise without obedience to His will.  God's will is that we believe in Him who He sent. Faith becomes the direct product of obedience.

      The gospel statement that expressly puts obedience as an ingredient of faith is Gal. 5:7.  These people are not coming to faith, because they are not "obeying" the Truth.  They have deserted Christ for another gospel.  Gal. 5:1-10 below provides the context: 

NAS  Galatians 5:1 It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. 2 Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. 3 And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. 4 You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.   5 For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.   7 You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? 8 This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you.  9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough. 10 I have confidence in you in the Lord, that you will adopt no other view; but the one who is disturbing you shall bear his judgment, whoever he is.
      These Galatians have been severed from Christ because they are seeking an acceptable condition with God (justification, salvation) through the law of Moses rather than faith in God's gospel.  The faith they claim to have does not save them.

     The nation of Israel had been cut off; God had withdrawn Himself from them, I believe, some 400 years prior.  They had not listened to His voice or followed His ways according to the covenant He had made with them, so He ended it.  He was tired of their empty sacrifices.  Now with the new covenant, as God's chosen minister, Paul had taught the Galatians the gospel of salvation by grace through faith in God through Christ, only to come back and find that they were following a "different gospel".  Someone had come in and distorted the gospel Paul had delivered.  The Galatians believed that their faith in God through obedience to certain of their favorite parts of the law would save them.  Paul says this persuasion of their's is not from Christ or God (Him who calls them); they are not obeying the truth of the gospel; their misplaced faith will not justify them before God.  They are severed from God again.

      The point here is not to insist to every newcomer to the gospel that he/she must pass some test of obedience before he/she is considered to have genuine faith; the point here is that Paul says there is an obedience involved in coming to genuine faith, therefore, we should not teach otherwise, even its innocent intention is to make it easier for newcomers to understand God's system.

      This is one of several places we are taught that obedience precedes faith - The Galatians coming to right faith hinged on obedience to the truth, which was Paul's responsibility to make sure they were taught.  That is a Christian paradigm of faith through obedience.  Unfortunately, now I'm going to ramble on for a while longer about the topic, because it's good for me.

      Part of getting faith right is obeying the right God.  There are many candidates.  Don't be fooled.  The Mormon believers have faith and it does not save them (not when they claim the Bible Christians use has been changed so much that it is no longer the Word of God).  Faith has requirements and the Mormon does not meet them (instead of God's word, they misplace their faith in a fairy tale authored by Joseph Smith ). I don't want to just start slinging accusations at the Mormons, but am simply repeating what I was told by their representatives during three different meetings, as well as what is taught in their literature, which I still have.

      Salvation by faith in God through Jesus is conditioned upon faith; it requires faith.  Not a god that looks a lot like Him, but in Him, the only known God who has spoken and made Himself known to His creation from the beginning of time. Him who walked the earth and taught and was seen alive again and again after He was executed, buried, and raised from his burial place.  Faith is not unconditional, it is conditioned on choosing God  --the right God.  That is one small requirement of God's that we must obey.  We must get it right.  It is easy because there is only one God who has ever spoken and performed miracles that only God can.  But many get it wrong and their faith is misplaced.

     In our concordance we see passages containing 'obedience of faith'.  We see Paul not trying to get faithful people to be obedient, but trying to bring unjustified people obediently to the faith.  Faith is presented to them by Paul as an act of obedience.  Obedience is tied in as an integral part of faith in the following places as well.  Acts 5:32 says the Holy Spirit is given by God to those who obey Him, suggesting that faith without obedience is missing the gift of the Spirit. In John 3:36 it says that he who does not obey the Son shall not see life.  Isn't this more of the 'obedience of faith' concept of Paul's? In Romans 6:6 Paul speaks of obedience resulting in righteousness.  It speaks of the aforementioned process of obedience-faith-righteousness (righteousness: condition acceptable to God, equals deliverance and salvation, hooray).  2 Timothy speaks alarmingly about what is in store for those who do not know God and those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. Here pre-faith is mentioned, and possibly obeying the gospel unto faith.  In Phi. 2:12, Paul says obey, . . . and work out your salvation in fear and trembling.  This speaks of an obedience to the precepts of faith tied to salvation.  Christ's yoke is light, yet, we have to choose sincerely whom we will serve and obey.  And in Hebrews it is said, to those who obey Him he becomes a source of eternal salvation.  To me that speaks of simply enduring in one's faith. There is a coming to know what is expected and what is required before we know what to do to have faith, and how to endure in it, all through the bible.  Firmly established faith pleases our Lord and our God.

      Abraham has the most famous faith journey.  Abraham's faith journey is one place we can get an elaborate idea of what faith consists of.  Too much almost, for our purpose here; but it's a neat prototype.  Abraham did not just one day have a light go on and believe God.  It was not faith God was demanding of Abraham right away, it was to let Him build knowledge and trust, toward faith, into a story that would stand as lesson for all time.  And His ultimate goal was to make Abraham His friend.  In doing so, it seems, God wanted Abram to see Him in action, to see Him alive and engaged, and for him to get to know Him personally.  Abram set out for Canaan with his dad, nephew and wife, and didn't make it there. They settled and Abram's father eventually died.  There sat Abram.  God showed up to offer to take Abram to Canaan and make him a great nation there. He did not ask Abram if he believed Him or not.  There was nothing yet to believe. Later, Abraham learned that God was teaching him that He was Someone who was able to do what He says he will do; but not yet.  Abram still had nothing to base his faith on.  At that time gods were said to be all over the place, wooden, stone, imagined, fabricated, they ruled people's imaginations; gods were everywhere, and nowhere to be found, and Abram . . . was finally faced with one that spoke.  Here was God, competing with many other gods found in Abram's imagination, including the god of Abram's father, who likely did not expect Abram to believe him until he at least had something to be convicted by. Or so it might be imagined. Abram was still yet to receive the assurance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things yet unseen.  After all, neither did Christ hold anyone responsible for knowing He was God the Messiah until after his death and resurrection.  But that assurance remains both factual and convicting to this day. Still, Abram had yet to go to Canaan and see God deliver him from his mistakes, live unmolested and wealthy, amazingly, in a land full of enemies, rescue and be rescued by God's grace and power, and be visited by the Lord's angels and be visited unbeknownst, by the Lord Himself.  Finally, after all these things the Lord appeared to Abraham, reminded Abraham the He was the most high God who was, after all, going to bless him and his descendents still further forever.  Abraham then had grounds to believe God, and believed.  God credited this faith to Abraham as being not only acceptable but pleasing.  God demonstrated the whole spectrum of faith -- before and after -- through Abraham, and left it for all to see.  We see many faith experiences in the new testament that are nothing like Abraham's.  We don't expect ours to be anything like Abraham's, they weren't.  Yet the same basic elements will be there; perhaps abbreviated, but in their entirety.  All it takes is faith the size of a mustard seed, if it is genuine, to please God.

      Faith without obedience? I wonder what James would have said about faith without obedience?  Judging by his advice on works, he might say faith without obedience is dead, and useless.  I don't want to put words in his mouth, but he did say that faith without works is empty and useless, dead.  He might argue that attaining to faith does require certain ingredients, certain substance.    

      Saying that obedience to the directives of the gospel is not a required ingredient of faith was a recipe for disaster for Simon the magician.  He claimed he had faith.  He may have even had thought he had faith. He confessed with his mouth, was baptized, and had nothing.  Why?  Because his faith did not meet the requirements.  Christian faith has requirements.  My faith in the 'prosperity gospel' falls short; it does not meet those requirements.  I have faith, yet I'm broke.  Mine would not be the testimony they are looking for at a prosperity gospel revival meeting.  They would feel sorry for me, and conclude that I have not yet arrived spiritually.  They would pray for me.  I would tell them I believe in another gospel, the gospel of Jesus the Christ.  If I could read of the requirements of the prosperity gospel of Christ I would gladly fulfill them and glean financial prosperity.  But I don't see them in the gospel of Christ.  So, I am left financially broke, but wealthy beyond measure in the Spirit of a loving and kind God who wants to bless me for an eternity by having me as one of His own child. 

      For the Galatians, obedience was an integral part of them attaining the right kind of faith.  Some of them obeyed the false brethren and were severed from Christ.  That misplaced obedience leaves them with a misplaced faith, which leaves them displaced from God.  Obedience to the Spirit of Truth -- Christ, becomes faith, which becomes liberty, freedom, and joy.

     Faith is an act, a response, to an upward call from God.  Obedience to the call results in an answer of faith.  Faith is itself an act of obedience.  Not only do we confess with our hearts (by way of our mouths), but we must.  Without doing so we cannot confess our faith to the Lord, and He cannot confess that He ever knew us.

      O.k., point made, hopefully.  But what about misplaced obedience today that is rendering some people's faith of no value, or of no affect?  What about those who have confessed faith in Christ in our churches and later find themselves rejecting it?  Was it real?  Or those who never give God a chance in the first place?  Perhaps they are one of those who say, though a God of kindness sounds tenable, a God of wrath, or one who lets bad things happen does not meet their requirements for a worthy God.  He does not meet their requirements; and consequently they do not meet his.  What about also those converting from Christianity to Islam?  They have found the story of Mohamed more believable than the story of the Bible.  The bible does not meet their requirements, and consequently their faith is placed in a god they will never know.  What about those Christians who believe all religions worship basically the same God?  There is a big conflict with the Bible there. And what about Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses as Christians?  They use a bible rewritten by men who didn't even identify themselves. They have lots of faith. Does their faith meet the requirements of the gospel of God in the bible of the original manuscripts?  I talked them out of their interlinear Greek/English fake bible.  I carry it in the car wherever I go.  In the first few passages of John one they fail to accurately reflect the Greek and attribute diety to the Word who was with God in the beginning.  That is no way to hope to translate a bible.  Their faith is of no affect unless it obeys the authentic Word of God.  Those are the Gospel's the requirements, not mine.

      Now is this what the would-be teacher who designed the paraphrase at the beginning of this discussion meant when he said, "(Obedience) is . . . not a required addition to faith"?.  Probably not.  But it is what he said, and it is  a shame.     

      How are we believing?  Can we believe however we want?  The social sciences are eager to demonstrate that people often believe what they, how they want, even in spite of being shown evidence to the contrary.  Christians are not exempt.  The bible tells us that men want their ears tickled and to accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires.  Thus, in this world we get wildly divergent and uncompromising views on politics, economics, religion, and Christianity.  People's beliefs are often according to what they want to hear and driven by whatever beliefs benefit them the most.  Christian faith has requirements that are according to God and Jesus, otherwise there would be men designing and remanufacturing every sort of doctrine according to their own requirements. God's requirement are easy to love:   

 (Micah 6:8) He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
      I know this is getting long.  I need for this to function as a reference repository for ideas pertaining to free faith in my archive to serve as a reminder to myself what I believe, and why -- my memory is not a reliable storage unit.    Let me close for now by referring back to Jame's teaching on saving faith.  This is one of the most frustrating passages for me to incorporate into everything else the bible teaches about faith versus works. The Lord makes us be patient and work to understand James.  If you have been to the Christian debate blogs you will have seen the term "saving faith" used prolifically.  You will see people break it down intricately, ad nauseum, according to their own personal view. But James did give life to the term. I use the term "saving faith" as little as possible because in my view it has been widely misused.  I have watched some of the smartest Christians alive try and agree on what is 'saving faith" is in the Christian context, and they can't.  So, I look at faith as being either faith or not being faith, and it works.  Faith based on the Truth saves. I'm going to go with that.  Imitations abound, and, they are not hard to identify. A brother at the Wednesday night bible study uses the term "genuine faith".  I like that.  But James asks his congregation whether or not the faith that they are exhibiting is a faith that saves.  James points to a faith that some of them are demonstrating as being a useless and empty faith, even dead, and which appears to 'require' something further. Agreed, there is a need for a softer term to use here than "require".  But the point I would like to suggest is that, it is not important that we teach newcomers that "obedience is a required addition to faith"!  But, it is important we do not teach them that "obedience . . . is not a required addition to faith".  The latter is a losing and repulsive exercise.  Even more important, as the aforementioned scripture texts have shown, our challenge now is to figure out how to teach obedient faith in ways that befit God's new testament, His gospel through Christ, and to do it in ways we can use, minute by minute, in our lives daily, so that we can all rightly obtain, and help others to obtain the freedom and joy that ushers forth from coming to that rich act of faith pleasing to the Lord.     

      I'm looking forward to meeting that challenge right here in upcoming moments of spare time.
-Useful Record- last updated on 3/26/2015

This is not a supposed journalistic endeavor, but merely a continuing exploration to grow in understanding.  This article will continue to expand in not only thoroughness, but hopefully in brevity and clarity as well.  The above may even be revised periodically for those reasons.  This thoughtground is not primarily an archive, it is primarily the ongoing reflection of a living, growing student of God's world.


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