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Archive for Works

Do Business Till I Come (part 4)

In the parable in Luke 19, the nobleman (the Lord Jesus has returned) called each servant to give an accounting of the use of his money. In like manner, believers in this age will one day be judged for the way that we have invested the grace gifts given to us for the building of the church of Jesus Christ (Rom. 12:3-7; 1 Cor. 12:1-31; Eph. 4:11-16). Speaking of this very truth, Isaiah said that when the Lord returns, He will bring His reward with Him (Isaiah 40:10; 62:11). Jeremiah, also weighed in, saying that the Lord gives to every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings (Jer. 17:10). Jesus said in the last Bible book, the last chapter that He is coming quickly, and His reward is with Him, to give to everyone according to his work (Rev. 22:12).

I closed yesterday’s post with Paul’s powerful words, “take heed how you build upon it.” Speaking of building on the strong foundation of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:10-11), these words now ring in our ears. Here is the reason. Six building materials are mentioned: gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw. The categories vary in value from gold, which in this case is most valuable, down to straw, which has almost no value at all. We conclude from this that quality matters with God. In whatever way the Holy Spirit has gifted you, or how long you have been given to use it, use it faithfully and to the very best of your ability.

Another obvious difference is that one category of material is noncombustible. Gold, silver, and precious stones will not burn. The other group of wood, hay, and straw will burn, but not to the same degree. Wood will burn to a lesser degree than hay. And last, straw will burn quickly. Each person’s work will be exposed to the fire of God’s judgment.  Every work will be brought into the light to determine whether the work has the quality of gold, silver, precious stone, or wood, hay, or just straw. There are obvious differences in value and reward from the gold quality all the way down to straw. Each one’s work will become clear. For the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. Note that the word “Day,” begins with a capital letter, noting a special Day (1 Cor. 10:13, Rom. 14:10-13).

The words “each one’s work” mean that no believer will bypass this judgment. I do not know if this will be a private judgment between our Lord and His child or if other servants will be privy to another servant’s judgment. But God’s word says that before his own master each will stand or fall (Romans 14:4). This gives us a clue. Zero in on the words “of what sort it is.” Note again that it is the quality of the work that will be judged, not the quantity. This gives great hope to those sheep who are called to the Shepherd late in life. They may feel that they have missed the boat, but this is simply not the case. They will always be given sufficient time to do quality work for the Lord, to fulfill their work of faith for Him. It will be the use of their time and of their spiritual assets that will matter.

If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward (1 Cor. 3:14). That is, if anyone’s work which is built upon the foundation of Christ comes through the flames of God’s judgment, that believer will be rewarded.  Four crowns are mentioned in the New Testament, indicating the quality of ruling in the kingdom. These will be mentioned in a later post.  

Back again to the parable of the nobleman, we find that the last servant is called before the master with no investment gain at all and with a sour attitude. He had hidden his mina away, for he was afraid. He said to the nobleman, “You collect what you did not deposit and reap what you did not sow” (Luke 19:21). The servant denied his master what rightfully belonged to him. As a result, this servant lost everything. His mina was given to the one who had ten minas.

The nobleman said that to everyone who has, more will be given; and from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him (Luke 19:26). Please note, this unfaithful servant, though he lost his reward, remained a servant. The nobleman said to bring “his enemies,” those not wanting to submit to his reign, and kill them. He did not include the servant.

This has clear parallel at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Paul finished the section on rewards by saying, “If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss” (1 Cor. 3:15a). What does it mean to suffer loss? I think it means exactly what it says. The believer will suffer the loss of reward and loss of the quality of reigning with the King in His kingdom (the cities).  Paul does not say that he may suffer loss; he says that he will suffer loss.

Paul quickly added, “But he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:15b). The possibility that a vast reward for a believer’s works may all go up in smoke is very real, but he or she will be saved in the end. This is obviously talking about eternal security and shows once again the immense value of the shed blood of Christ.  These unprofitable “servants” will go into the kingdom and be very happy just to be in the kingdom of their Lord.  But they could have had so much more. Stay safe and stay tuned.

The Judgment Seat of Christ (part 1)

Dr. Mark Cambron, one of my first and best mentors, taught me that repetition is theological mucilage. And he repeated that phrase over and over again. I really had no clue at that time what he meant. But God etched the words in my mind, nonetheless. He repeated it so often that I could never forget it (case in point). Doc knew that one day we would figure it out.

I discovered that mucilage is a thick, gluey substance produced by nearly all plants. It is found in seeds and works like a glue to lock food and water in them, causing them to be more capable of germinating. That wise mentor was teaching that repetition is to learning what mucilage is to plants. It causes truth to stick in the mind and ultimately to become productive. Needless to say, he made his point. Therefore, in my effort to teach the Bible, I have purposely repeated myself. Not because I didn’t think that people heard it or read it the first time but to allow the truth of the seed of the word to stick firmly in the mind. Every Bible truth that I have really learned has come as a result of this method. I unashamedly use it to teach others.

God has set aside a special time that will be used for the purpose of judging the works of believers. That time is called the judgment seat of Christ. “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). The words “good and bad” could not refer to the judgment of personal sins. Sins were judged at Calvary! The “good and bad” here means good works or bad works, works that are profitable to God or unprofitable to God. The things that believers do as they run their race for Christ that either help or hinder. Specifically, the way that we perform our work of faith.  

That is as it should be. Why? Paul said the body grows “by that which every joint supplies” (Ephesians 4:16). From the day of Pentecost to this very day, generation after generation of the church, God’s construction crew, have come along to help build upon the foundation laid by the apostles and prophets. God has equipped every believer to have a part.

Observe carefully again Paul’s warning concerning the use of these gifts.  “But let each one take heed how he builds on it” (1 Corinthians 3:10). Take heed means to be very sensitive about something, to examine closely. We are to take our part in this building process very seriously. Paul began his explanation of this judgment by reminding us of our very firm foundation – Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:11). One of my seminary professors used to say that we are not to build a chicken coop on a foundation built for a skyscraper.

Paul begins his explanation of the judgment seat by mentioning six possible building materials: gold, silver, precious stone, wood, hay, and stubble. These materials vary in the degree of value from gold being the most valuable down to stubble, which has almost no value at all. We conclude from this that God takes note of the quality of work that each believer is doing – from very useful to not useful at all.

Another obvious difference in the building materials is that one category is combustible and the other is not. Gold, silver, and precious stone will not burn, but wood, hay, and stubble will. This gives us the impression that fire is going to be involved in the judgment process. Remember that fire in the Bible is associated with God’s judgment. Fire is used to purify, to purge. The result of the fire is that each one’s work will become clear. Each believer’s work will be brought into sharp focus. The fire of God’s judgment will burn through our works and that which is left becomes the basis for our reward. This emphasizes once again is the quality feature of the building process.

We are to use the gifts that God gives us wisely (1 Corinthians 3:12-13). Either we are making wise investments of our spiritual gifts within the body of Christ, or we are not. God will bring our works to light and expose them. Every believer’s work will be passed through the fire. The quality of our work is not revealed in this life, but it will be made known at a special time when the Lord returns. “The Day will declare it” (1 Corinthians 3:14). Note the capital “D” meaning a special day. One who knows all the facts will be the judge. That’s why we are told not to judge anyone prior to that Day. Another mentor of mine used to say that pie in the sky by and by will not be a good motivator for many – but it is for some. It is the “some” who will profit. Pray this truth sticks. Stay safe and stay tuned.  

 

We Are to Live by Faith

We are to live by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). Abraham left his home in Chaldea to follow the living God by faith. He received his inheritance in Canaan by faith. He lived in a tent his entire life. Not much protection against rain, robbers, or critters – for 175 years.  How would you like to be living in a tent while sheltering in place? He knew his home was not here. Abraham trusted in the promise of God and not what he could see.

Noah also trusted in the unseen when he heard God’s Word and went to work. We know he did because he built an ark. He believed that the rain was coming though he had never seen it. His faith moved him to work. Board by board, for 120 years he proclaimed his work of faith. He was ridiculed and mocked, yet he worked on – by faith. God says that it is impossible to please Him without faith (Hebrews 11:6). You might be thinking, If God would only give me some visible proof, then I would follow Christ. But faith does not need visible proof. Faith does not need sight or touch. God has given us His Word – it is enough. By faith, we are to work to understand what He has said, and then do it – by faith.

Hebrews highlighted several Old Testament saints, giving credibility to their living faith. Each one was given few details, but they put their trust and hope in the teaching that God gave them. That defines the substance of faith. Though many lived and died without seeing the reality behind their faith, they trusted God’s Word, nonetheless. Note the recorded work of faith of these saints. By faith, Abel offered a better sacrifice than Cain. By faith, Enoch was taken away. By faith, Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau. By faith, Jacob blessed Joseph’s sons. By faith, Joseph gave instructions about his bones. By faith, Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter but esteemed the reproaches of Christ greater than the riches of Egypt. By faith, the walls of Jericho fell down. 

Then the long list of those who lived solely for the gospel; Gideon and Barak, Sampson and Jephthah, David and Samuel, and all the prophets. They subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, and turned to flight the armies of aliens. They were imprisoned, tortured, and martyred. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins. They were said to be those of whom this world is not worthy (Hebrews 11:32–38).

The Scripture never gives any details about the saving faith of most of these people, but we know that the root was there because we read of its fruit. All of these testimonies had one common link. Catch this glimpse! Their faith all worked together to get Jesus Christ to Calvary and to the empty tomb. God’s the Genius! Abel pictured Him. Enoch pictured Him. Noah and the ark pictured Him. Abraham’s offering of Isaac pictured Him. Jacob’s ladder pictured Him. Joseph pictured Him. In a remarkable way they all had Jesus Christ as the object of their faith. Amazing! 

Every person listed in Hebrews 11 had a part to play in God’s big grace picture. What about you and me? The list concludes with a challenge. Since we have this long list of examples, let them motivate us to lay aside every hindering burden or any sin that would trip us up and let us run with patience the race set before us keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus(Hebrews 12:1–2). But wait!  

Did I mention that this list is still being written? Our faith work is obviously not to get Christ to Calvary and the empty tomb but to make His gospel known to the world and to prepare for His coming. We are still to bear fruit pleasing to Him. The work will be done more effectively when we lay aside everything that holds us back and the sin that traps us and run with patience the race that is before us. We are to stay on course by fixing our eyes on the prize – Jesus Christ. Amazing! Stay safe and stay tuned.

 

A Faith That Works

The Word of God makes abundantly clear that human works have no part in God’s saving grace. If a single work is added to the work of Christ for salvation, no matter how sincere, grace is nullified, and life will not come (Romans 4:4–5). The obvious reason is that by adding works to grace, we diminish the precious value of the work and worth of Christ’s death and resurrection (Romans 11:6).  However, we are saved by faith in order to work for the God that saved us.

Works do not save, but we are saved to work. Christians are not given God’s life to simply sit in a pew and listen to sermons their entire Christian life. Someone has accurately said, “Christianity is not a spectator sport.” Christians are saved to glorify God within the generation in which they live. To glorify is to “shed light upon.” Said simply, Christians are saved to serve the God who has given them life. Every Christian has a divine destiny to fulfill.

Though we cannot work for our salvation, the faith that saves us will be productive. The very next words after Paul’s declaration that we are saved by grace through faith attest to that fact. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10, NASB). We were created in Christ for the purpose of walking in good works. Notice the small line that jumps out at us. “Which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” God prepared good works for us to accomplish. As we have already learned, “It is God who works in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13).  He works in us, executing that which pleases Him.

James made a heart-stopping point. He said that as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also (James 2:26). Wow! Was James contradicting Paul’s teaching that we are saved by grace alone? Absolutely Not!  

Follow the context of what James was saying. Just prior to writing this section, he had taken believers to task for treating the wealthy differently from how they treated the poor. They ushered rich people down front in their meetings, giving them the best seats, but the poor had to take what was left. James appealed to the believers to reach out to the poor among them (James 2:1–5). In fact, he insinuated that how they treated the poor revealed the kind of faith they had. Dead faith is faith that does not produce (James 2:14).

James illustrated his point by referring to the unbelieving, arrogant Jews who said they had faith in God yet made no attempt to meet the physical needs of the poor. This religious crowd, when approached by believers in desperate need of clothes or food, responded with words like “We’ll pray for you, brother.” They made no attempt to help. They were good with their words, but they were always careful to separate themselves from the Christians in need. The obvious reason is that this self-righteous crowd were not Christians. They said continuously that they believed in “one God,” indicating that they felt the Christians wrongly believed that Jesus Christ is God. Yet their works spoke so loudly that their words concerning their belief in one God fell on deaf ears.

James emphasized that faith that is not productive in some way is not saving faith. The Jews reminded the Christians often – as they do today – that they believed in the Old Testament Shema. “Hear oh Israel, the Lord our God is one God.” They did this so they could biblically counter the Christians claim that Jesus Christ is God in human flesh. James reminded these religious hypocrites that the demons also believed in God, and they trembled (James 2:19). The demons obviously are not saved. To profess belief in one God is good theology, but it is not saving faith. Saving faith must be centered in the gospel and faith must be placed in the right object: the Lord Jesus Christ.

James went on to illustrate his point by saying that in this particular incident the way believers show their faith is by treating the poor fairly (James 2:15–20). Again, James was not teaching that we are given life from God by faith plus works. He was saying that God will work out the salvation that He has placed in us to will and to do of His good pleasure(Philippians 2:13). A living faith in Jesus Christ will be a living, productive faith.

That is exactly what Paul said in Ephesians 2:10. Believers are created in Christ for the purpose of producing good works – not to be saved, but because they are saved. The germinated seed of the gospel will produce God’s life in the believer, and this life should produce fruit. This is at the heart of what James taught. James quickly gives can’t miss illustrations. Stay safe and stay tuned.

 


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