Today is an absolutely BEAUTIFUL day in my hometown! The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and although it is pretty hot, it is absolutely beautiful outside. What an awesome summer day. The Lord says “Today is the day that the Lord has made, let us REJOICE and be GLAD in it!”
A couple of days ago on another BEAUTIFUL day, I saw this tiny hummingbird drinking nectar from a flower. I think I can count the number of times I’ve seen actual hummingbirds in my lifetime on only one hand. It was quite a sight, and I felt that it was a GIFT from God. I tend to look at life that way, as beautiful things or extraordinary things in Nature as Gifts or sometimes even Signs from God. Well, that hummingbird seemed like a GIFT. Do you know what was the most wonderful GIFT that God has ever give mankind? For God so loved the WORLD that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever would BELIEVE on HIM would NOT PERISH but have everlasting life! I really don’t think any of us fully comprehend the MAGNITUDE of that GIFT!
Today, I just wanted to discuss a topic that remains on my heart, the topic of FAITH vs WORKS. I think this is one of the most confusing messages in Christianity and one that has tripped up Christians since the time of the Apostles. The Apostle Paul says that we are SAVED by GRACE through FAITH and NOT BY WORKS so that NO MAN can boast because SALVATION is a FREE GIFT from GOD! We cannot work our way into salvation, that’s not possible. But then the Apostle James, who was also Jesus’ younger half brother, says “Faith without works is dead”.
Okay, now we’re really confused. If we’re saved by faith, then why do we have to have “works”? I just wanted to talk about this a little bit, because it’s can be a very confusing thing to understand. It was confusing to people in Jesus’ day, and still confuses many of us Christians today. I’m not going to say that I have the perfect understanding, but just felt led to share in-case this is something with which any of you may struggle.
Here are my thoughts on this topic. Please pray for discernment, seek the Lord for wisdom, and read His Word to aid in understanding. All wisdom comes from God. We can have our own feelings about a matter, but if our feelings aren’t backed by something concrete or substantial, then they’re just that…feelings. This kind of reminds me of the whole monetary system. The way that the monetary system was originally built was with the intention that fiat paper money would be backed by gold. If the paper money was not backed by something with real value, then it’s only as valuable as the paper on which it was printed. Our ideas and opinions regarding God and His Ways follow a similar pattern. We can “feel” a certain way about a matter, but if our “feelings” are not backed by the Word of God, then they’re just that…feelings. The Word of God adds value, the Word of God adds truth and substance. Our feelings are temporary, carnal, but the Word of God is eternal. This is why we are told that we are to trust in the Lord with all our heart and lean NOT on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). God reveals His TRUE nature and character in His Word. God’s Word reveals that God is both Righteous AND Merciful.
What does God’s Word tell us about this battle between faith and works? Well, Scripture tells us that the thief who was on the Cross with Jesus, who had absolutely NO TIME to do ANY good work was SAVED that day..simply by recognizing his own sin (repentance), realizing that he was in need of a Savior, and by calling on the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Luke 23: 39 One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” 40 But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” 43 And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, TODAY you shall be with Me in Paradise.”
The thief who hung on the Cross with Jesus, who recognized his own sin, who realized that his sentence was FAIR, and then who called upon the Name of the Lord, was SAVED that very day. That man had absolutely no time to do one single good work to substantiate to PEOPLE ,the recognition in his heart that he had done wrong, and yet he was saved! Unlike humans, Jesus knows our hearts and can therefore know if repentance is true or fake. Jesus can tell whether or not a person truly regrets his or her sin.
The thief on the Cross was a type of Prodigal son. He had squandered the life given him by God with sin and evil deeds, but at the last minute, he truly repented of his sin in his heart, recognized that Jesus was the Savior of mankind, and was saved by Jesus. He believed in his heart that Jesus was the Son of God, the Savior of the world and confessed with his mouth that Jesus was Lord, and he was saved.
Through this example, we clearly see that works are NOT a requirement for salvation; however, repentance for sin and recognition of our sinfulness is a requirement and part of the Faith component. That doesn’t sit well with some people who have “worked” all their lives for God, but this is the story of the Prodigal son whose own brother, having worked for his father all of his life, was jealous when his wayward younger brother returned and the Father rejoiced and called for a great celebration. The Bible tells us that all of Heaven REJOICES when a single sinner REPENTS and comes to Jesus! Like the angels in Heaven, we should also REJOICE! HALLELUJAH!
Jesus the Christ DIED to save sinners like you and me. Jesus DIED to save the thief on the Cross, He DIED to save the drug addict, the alcoholic, the liar, the murderer, the rapist, the adulterer and the homosexual. He did this because of HIS GREAT LOVE for HIS CREATION! Jesus calls ALL SINNERS to the repentance that leads to life (2 Corinthians 7:10).
God offers the sinner GRACE (God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense) through the shed blood of His Son Jesus Christ. Our Good Works cannot save us. As a matter of fact, our good works are so puny before a Holy God, that He calls them “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). This doesn’t mean that God considers the good works of a Believer which are prepared for us beforehand by God Himself, as “filthy or dirty. What this actually means is that IF we think our good works are in any way going to make us righteous outside of a relationship with our Creator God (Jesus), then we are sorely mistaken. There are some verses in the Old Testament book of Haggai that really paint this picture. Honestly, up until a couple of days ago, I didn’t fully comprehend the meaning of these verses; however, Holy Spirit showed me the meaning, and it was eye-opening.
Haggai 2:11 “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Ask now the priests for a ruling: 12 If a man carries holy meat in the fold of his garment, and touches bread with this fold, or cooked food, wine, oil, or any other food, will it become holy?’” And the priests answered, “No.” 13 Then Haggai said, “If one who is unclean from a corpse touches any of these, will the latter become unclean?” And the priests answered, “It will become unclean.” 14 Then Haggai said, “‘So is this people. And so is this nation before Me,’ declares the Lord, ‘and so is every work of their hands; and what they offer there is unclean.
Even though these verses were spoken to Israel about a specific situation and a specific time, the Bible is the LIVING and Breathing Word of God, and therefore applies just as much to us TODAY as it did to Israel in the days of Haggai. Come, let us reason together. The book of Romans tells us that our flesh is dead because of our sinful human nature. This “dead flesh condition” applies to all of humanity who have ever been born since the fall of Adam. Sin is embedded in our flesh, and there’s nothing we ourselves can do about it. As a matter of fact, because of the fall of mankind, our human spirit is also dead (separated from God) UNTIL we receive Jesus the Christ, who quickens our spirits to LIFE through His Holy Spirit who dwells within every believer.
Haggai reasons that even in the natural, if something clean touches anything unclean, like a dead body, then that which WAS considered clean is immediately considered unclean. The opposite is also true in that something unclean and disgusting cannot be made clean when it touches something clean and nice. Imagine having a tasty loaf of freshly baked bread neatly placed in the rear of your vehicle. Then, for some unknown reason, your friend, who is sitting in the passenger seat of your car, suddenly sees a dead squirrel on the side of the road and requests you stop immediately. Perhaps your friend has a volunteer road crew job and feels somehow obligated to clean up the side of the road. As you stop the car, your friend then takes it upon himself to pick up the roadkill and place it in the rear of your car right next to that beautiful, fragrant loaf of freshly baked bread. In-fact, your crazy friend somehow decides that it would be an even better idea to save some space in the car and place the dead squirrel directly on TOP of the freshly baked bread. What do you think happened to the bread? Yuk, it’s now disgusting and nobody in their right mind would even think of eating it, not even your crazy friend! LOL, okay, that was a pretty extreme example, but In all seriousness, what Haggai was saying is that our sinful human nature is something ugly and unclean before the Lord. Let’s face it, since the Fall of man in the Garden of Eden, EVERYONE who is born into the race of Adam (all human beings) are unclean before the Lord UNTIL we are cleansed with the blood of Jesus. Though our sins be as scarlet, they will be white as snow (Isaiah 1:18). When we try to Justify ourselves before a Holy God using our good works, we can’t because our good works will naturally come into contact with our unclean minds, spirits, and bodies, and then the works also become unclean, like filthy rags. But, once we are CLEANSED with the blood of Jesus, THEN we can do the Good works that God has prepared for us before the beginning of time. God will only recognize our “good works” AFTER we’ve been cleansed! We do “good works” not to be “more saved” because Jesus already saved and cleansed us, but instead we do them because it’s pleasing to our God to complete the race that HE has set before us.
In Ephesians 2, the apostle Paul makes it very clear that our Good Works cannot save us, or even come close. We are saved by Grace through Faith (Ephesians 2:8).
Salvation comes through faith alone and is the FREE gift of God so that no man can boast. However, we also know that Jesus prepared good works for His SAVED children beforehand so that we could walk in them. James tells us that faith without works is dead. What does that mean? Let’s look at one of the most faithful people from the Bible, Abraham. Scripture tells us that Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness (Galatians 3:6).
However, we also know that Abraham’s FAITH resulted in ACTION. BECAUSE Abraham BELIEVED God, he literally packed up his entire family, gave up many of his possessions and home, and moved to a strange land where God told him to go. Abraham STEPPED OUT in FAITH. The apostle James who says “I’ll show you my faith BY my works”, is painting a picture of what should be our natural reaction to faith. If we say we BELIEVE GOD and we NEVER follow it up with any kind of action, than do we REALLY BELIEVE GOD? Jesus prepared Good Works for all of His Children before the foundation of the earth so that we would walk in them. These Good works do not save us because Jesus already did that at the Cross. I think it’s really about the condition of our hearts. Even if we don’t pick up and DO something right away, it should be an ever-increasing desire of the Christian to please and serve God as the Holy Spirit tugs at our hearts. Our works should be an overflow in RESPONSE to God’s FOUNTAIN of Love, NOT done to “earn” God’s love and definitely NOT to earn salvation. God already loved us enough to die for us. We need not earn His Love, but who doesn’t respond to someone who loves them that much? He who knew NO SIN literally BECAME SIN so that we could become the RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD. I think if we really, really understood what that death penalty would look like for each of us after we depart from this earth, we would all be SHOCKED and we would be on the floor crying tears of relief and joy and praising the Name of Jesus, who was willing to set aside HIS GLORY and take on our humiliating and disgusting sin and then die a horrible death on the cross to pay the penalty that we would otherwise have to pay ourselves.
“Good works” with no faith, with no belief in Jesus cannot please God because they will come into direct contact with our sinful human nature, thus causing what may have been originally “good works” to become “filthy rags”. Scripture tells us that attempted self-justification through works is not possible and even calls them “dead works”.
Once Jesus cleanses us from our sin, then and only then will our works themselves remain CLEAN. Works that are done from a heart-condition that DESIRES to please God, not for salvation, but because we APPRECIATE what God did for us, these good works ARE pleasing to God.
We cannot earn our salvation, but once SAVED by GRACE (God’s riches at Christ’s expense), once cleansed by HIS BLOOD, THEN we can please God with our good works. If our faith is true and genuine, then we should DESIRE to work for God. In-fact, the Holy Spirit will prompt us to do the Good Works that God prepared for us. What might a “good work” look like? Because God pre-planned and pre-ordained for each person the good works that we would “walk in” before the foundation of the world, each person’s “good work” will look different from another. It could be something as simple as blessing a neighbor, a family member, or even saying a prayer for a loved one. It could also be something as elaborate as leaving one’s home and moving forward in faith (like Abraham) perhaps to a mission field, a ministry, or something like that. God made us stones and not bricks, so God prepared for each of us good works that are as individualized as each of us. No “good work” that is done in FAITH (in Jesus the Christ), through the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit, is too small or insignificant to our God, particularly since He’s the One who prepared them for us in the first place.
Not that we should necessarily focus on this, but Jesus also tells us that there are additional “rewards” for walking in the Good works that God has prepared for us.
Bema Seat Judgment
The Bema seat judgement is really, the “doctrine of rewards”. The word “bema” generally refers to a raised area where the alter would be. We should not look at the judgment seat of Christ as God judging our sins, but rather as God rewarding us for our lives. At the judgment seat of Christ, believers are rewarded based on how faithfully we served Christ (1 Corinthians 9:4-27; 2 Timothy 2:5). Some of the things we might be judged on are how well we obeyed the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), how victorious we were over sin (Romans 6:1-4), and how well we controlled our tongues (James 3:1-9). The various crowns are described in 2 Timothy 4:8, James 1:12, 1 Peter 5:4, and Revelation 2:10. James 1:12 is a good summary of how we should think about the judgment seat of Christ: “Blessed is the man (or woman) who perseveres under trial, because they have stood the test and will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”
While salvation is a GIFT, there are rewards given for faithfulness in the Christian life and loss of rewards for unfaithfulness.
Of course we should serve the Lord out of love and for God’s glory as we follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, but the fact still remains that the Bible promises us rewards. God GIVES us salvation. It is a FREE GIFT through faith, but He rewards us for completing the good works that He prepared for us. God graciously supplies the means by which we may serve Him. God has prepared the Good works for each Believer to walk in(Phil. 2:12-13), but the decision to serve, and the diligence employed in doing so, is our responsibility and our contribution and God sees this as rewardable. Jesus directly addresses the idea of Heavenly rewards in His Sermon on the Mount and links them to our attitude and motive for serving. The desire to serve should come from the heart, as we follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, not to attain Righteousness, Salvation, or any fleshly reward.
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. 2 So when you give to the needy, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be praised by men. Truly I tell you, they already have their full reward.…
5 “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 6 But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
16: When you fast, do not be somber like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they already have their full reward. 17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face 18 so that your fasting will NOT be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
In the book of Revelation, Jesus tells us that He comes with His Recompense (compensation for services rendered or damages incurred).
Let us REJOICE today! Jesus WON the Battle for us! We do NOT have to earn our own salvation, nor is it even possible! Not only that, but because of God’s GREAT LOVE for His Creation, He has prepared good works for us to walk in once we are SAVED and CLEANSED that will not only please God but will also earn us ETERNAL REWARDS in Heaven! God’s Holy Spirit will lead each of us to the Good works that God has prepared for us! God tells us in His Word that Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it even entered into the heart of man the things that GOD has PREPARED for those who LOVE HIM and are called according to HIS PURPOSES (1 Corinthians 2:9)!!!