But the Lord continually shows loyal love to his faithful followers,
and is faithful to their descendants,
to those who keep his covenant,
who are careful to obey his commands.
When I was first saved the preacher who baptized me also gave me a Bible and told me to read the New Testament and then the Old Testament. I was able to read through most of the New Testament in just a short while, and as you might imagine I was profoundly affected. As I read I realized that my sins were forgiven and that I was truly born again and though Jesus had done His part I must, with His help, do my part. I was struggling with the sin that was still in my life and that the old man was not going down without a fight. My struggle with that old man wasn’t easy and to be very honest for years I lost more battles than I won. Yet, because the Lord loves me so much, He patiently waited on me to grow strong and to depend on His help. I knew there were things I had to do in my life, but in my early walk I didn’t understand how much my Father in Heaven wanted me to succeed or how far He would go to make sure I did. I thought His love for me depended on what I was accomplishing, however his love for me depended on nothing I’d done, He loved me even before I turned and cried out to Him. But, in those early days I believed the Lord demanded perfect righteousness when in fact he demands an all-consuming commitment to become righteous.
I am now beginning to see that our definition of righteousness is not God’s definition of righteousness. Scripture describes Noah as, “a righteous man,blameless in his time; Noah walked with God.” Job was “was blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil.” Zacharias and Elizabeth “were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.” Even so, Paul wrote, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” How is it possible that those people were blameless and righteous, yet they were also sinners who fell short? Was it only because they believed? Certainly that was part of it we know they all had faith, but in each of those stories we also see they were committed to walking with God and keeping His commandments. Abraham was declared righteous because of his faith yet he was justified by what he did. Faith and following the Lord go hand in hand. Those I mentioned weren’t sinless and none were perfect, however they were all committed and faithful. When I was first saved, I entered into a covenant with my Creator. Those men and women who the Bible says are blameless were also in a covenant, and it was their covenant as well as their God that they chose to be faithful to.
In the infancy of my Christianity, and even now, I listened to and read the works many different preachers who spoke from a wide variety of viewpoints. I’ve read or heard views from Baptists, Pentecostals, Methodists, Reformed, Wesleyan, Nazarene and many others. One teacher will say that we only need faith to be saved. Often those same teachers will say that if we only have faith Jesus will do the rest. They make it seem as if all our lusts, pride, and selfishness will just miraculously disappear and we’ll never backslide if we believe in just the right way. Others teach the need for both belief and holiness, and it seems that a failure in faith or a failure in striving for holiness could endanger our salvation. The first teacher says you can’t earn anything by doing the things that please the Lord and the second says you can’t be saved without working to please the Lord. Both teachers have their proof verses and long explanations, and quite honestly any person who is able to look at both views with an open mind will find both teachers to be quite convincing. But, I’ve found a couple of problems with both views.
First, I see extreme legalism in both views. The first preacher uses the Word to show what you do not need to do and he finds “legal” reasons why we have no need to do them. The second finds many reasons why we must do this or that and they can show you his “legal” reasons as easily as the first. Most people won’t agree that the first preacher is legalistic, we’ve been trained by him to think only those who tell us what we must do are legalists. But legalism is legalism whether you are looking for loopholes to not do something or commands that say you must do something.
The second thing I find wrong is that both views deny that they want you earn anything, but they both do. One view wants you to earn salvation by believing while the other wants you to earn it by believing and working. That will confuse some of you because it difficult to see how we can earn something just by believing while it’s easy to see how we can work and earn something. Both philosophies teach that if you do something you will get or earn salvation, we either believe and earn salvation or believe and work and earn salvation. Both views often ignore that no person who does not faithfully love God will be saved.
In the end both teachings can, and have, produced many converts who fail to love God and who don’t serve Him out of love only. A sermon by that great Alliance Missionary preacher Paris Reidhead, that speaks about Christian Humanism, illustrates what I’m saying.
“Now in order to understand the implications of that in the twentieth century, we must go back 150 years, to a conflict that attacked Christianity. Just after the great revivals in America with Finney, the Spirit of God having been marvelously outpoured onto certain portions of our country, there came an open attack on our faith in Europe under the higher critics. Darwin had postulated his theory of evolution, certain philosophers had adapted it to their philosophies, and theologians had applied it to the Scripture. About 1850 you could mark the opening of a frontal attack upon the Word of God. Satan had always been insidiously attacking it. But now it was open season on the Book, open season on the Church, and Voltaire in France could declare that he would live to see the Bible become a relic, placed only in museums; that it would be utterly destroyed by the arguments that he was so forcefully presenting against it.
Well, what was the effect of this? The philosophy of the day became humanism. And you could define humanism this way, humanism is a philosophical statement that declares the end of all being is the happiness of man. The reason for existence is man’s happiness. Now according to humanism, salvation is simply a matter of getting all the happiness you can out of life. If you’re influenced by someone like Nietzche who says that the only true satisfaction in life is power and that the power is its own justification, and that after all the world is a jungle. And it is therefore up to the man to be happy, to become powerful, and become powerful by any means he can use. For it is only in this position of ascendancy or as we saw in the worship of Molech that one can be happy. This would produce in due course a Hitler who would take the philosophy of Nietzche as his working operating principle and guide and would say of his people that they were destined to rule the world. Therefore any means that they could to achieve this was then salvation.”
The problem doesn’t come from the conflict between faith and “works”, the problem comes from why we do what we do. A “me”- centric Christianity is not Christianity at all, as Mr. Reidhead pointed out it is humanism. This is not the relationship with the Lord that Jesus and the New Testament teachers ever taught us to have. Coming to Christ to be saved is where every Christian starts in their relationship with Jesus, but the relationship can’t stay there. If we believe or work only for our own benefit, to be saved, we’ve missed the point.
The Lord does love us and, again, we have done nothing to deserve that love. But look again at what the Psalmist said. “…the Lord continually shows loyal love to his faithful followers… to those who keep his covenant.” Though he loves us all He only continues to extend His love to those who choose to make the effort to obey Him and to follow Him. This principle is found all through scripture, it’s an eternal principle. We can see that principle in the second commandment which says, “…I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” Moving forward to the New Testament we find that Jesus didn’t change that principle, in fact he confirmed it’s eternal nature. “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.”
When we think of our side of our relationship with our Creator the first thing that should come to our mind is obedience and faithfulness to Him. That might seem shocking because the first thing you might think should come to mind is faith. However, if you believe you are in a relationship with the Lord, then you must already believe that He exists, and you must already have faith that His death and resurrection was for the atonement of sin. Christians understand that we have all sinned and that there is a penalty for our sin. We know salvation is only because of Jesus’ blood that was shed on the cross and we know only Jesus can grant forgiveness of sin. Jesus paid the debt for our sin, but our debts are only paid if we believe in whom He is and what He did. We must have faith to be saved. Faith is how the relationship begins, how we begin our covenant with Him, after that we must think about how we stay in relationship with Him.
- Psalm 103:17-18 New English Translation (NET)
- Genesis 6:9 NASB
- Job 1:1 NASB
- Luke 1:6 NASB
- Romans 3:23 NASB
- Paris Reidhead, “Ten Shekels and a Shirt”
- Psalm 103:17-18 New English Translation (NET)
- Exodus 20:5 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
- John 15:10 (NASB)