Occasionally I am asked to write a booklet or an article for distribution by our national denomination. It is almost always an exercise in frustration since all such productions must go through what is called DR (Doctrinal Review).
The frustration comes from the penchant of the anonymous reviewers to attack any hint of works-righteousness - the belief that people “earn heaven” by good works, or can make-up for their sins by doing good (penance). I for one, have never questioned the gospel that mankind is saved only by grace through faith ALONE. The Scriptures make the nature of salvation crystal clear: Titus 3:5-7, Philippians 3:9, Romans 3:20, Ephesians 2:8-10. So DR inevitably flags any reference to Christian behavior as inappropriate and demands every chapter, every paragraph, every reference to God be about how Christians are saved, not how Christians are to live because they are saved.
But the Bible also says those who are saved will demonstrate their saving faith by their works. This too is crystal clear.
- “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.” Matthew 7:16,17
- “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10
- “Someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.” James 2:18
- And of course, James 1:27, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
Laughingly, I think much of the New Testament would fail DR in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod because the apostles constantly challenged Christians to put their faith in practice and promised blessings for faithful behavior. DR would always require Paul and James to explicitly remind people that only by God’s spirit, empowered by God’s Word and Sacraments are Christians able to do anything “good,” and even then, their works are imperfect and nothing but “filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6) Students of the Bible know the apostles rarely go to such pains to explain proper motivation and the reasons for the behavior they urge. Faithful Christians know “without faith it is impossible to please God (with so-called “good works”). Hebrews 11:6
This penchant for keeping the Christian faith, theological and scholarly has the potential of keeping God’s love from ever being experienced and observed. It is dangerous when the Christian faith becomes something only to be studied and understood rather than lived and demonstrated.
A few weeks ago I referenced C.S. Lewis’ work, “The Screwtape Letters” in a message I gave during Sunday worship. Screwtape is a fictional character Dr. Lewis created to speculate what advice a seasoned devil would give to a novice devil (named Wormwood) to help him succeed in defeating Christians on earth. Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:
- “A moderated religion is as good for us as no religion at all—and more amusing.”
- “Prosperity knits a man to the world. He feels that he is finding his place in it, while really it is finding its place in him.”
- “It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out...”
- “The humans are always putting up claims to ownership which sound equally funny in Heaven and in Hell and we must keep them doing so.”
- “Surely you know that if a man can’t be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighborhood looking for the church that ‘suits’ him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches… The search for a ‘suitable’ church makes the man a critic where the Enemy wants him to be a pupil.”
- “Make full use of the fact that up to a certain point, fatigue makes women talk more and men talk less. Much secret resentment, even between lovers, can be raised from this.”
- “Indeed the safest road to hell is the gradual one — the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”
- “Suspicion often creates what it suspects.”
- “Pilate was merciful till it became risky.”
- “He (God) wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand.”
Notice that in his work, Lewis imagines devils using inappropriate Christian behaviors and assumptions to undermine the Christian faith. If that is true, proper Christian behavior can conversely reinforce and support right belief. The greatest threats to the forces of evil were believed by C.S. Lewis to be those occasions when Christians PRACTICED THE TRUE FAITH IN LIFE.
- "It is, no doubt, impossible to prevent his praying for his mother, but we have means of rendering the prayers innocuous. Make sure they are always very 'spiritual', that he is always concerned with the state of her soul and never with her rheumatism."
- “The busier they (Christians) are, the more likely they will get tired and cranky with each other. We can have lots of fun when that happens. Keep them busy, and they don't take time to talk to each other. Even better, keep them too busy to listen to each other. We know things are going our way when other people become an interruption to them. Just keep reminding them that their tasks are much more important than people!”
- “When they have really learned to love their neighbors as themselves, they will be allowed to love themselves as their neighbors.”
The greatest threat to evil is a Christian who puts their faith in practice which nonbelievers can see and consider. For this reason Jesus took time in His Sermon on the Mount to say,
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” (Matthew 5:13-15)
It reminds me of the famous quote by Edmund Burke, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." I might add, “It helps evil to prosper when pastors and religious leaders make the Christian faith something to be studied and understood with little said about how Christians ought to live.”
God didn’t send Jesus into the world to correct false teaching as much as He sent Him to demonstrate His love for us through our Savior’s life, death and resurrection. Thank God for that.
The Scripture: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” Matthew 5:24–27
- Did both people in Jesus story “know” the truth?
- What was the difference between them?
- Does faithfulness guarantee you will avoid hardship and storms? If not, why bother?
Survey: In your experience has too little or too much emphasis been placed on knowing the truth or living the faith?
A. Too much on theology and not practice.
B. Too much on practice and not theology.
C. I’ve experienced a good balance.
(Please leave a note to explain your response to the benefit of others.)
Click here to take the survey and take a moment to leave a thought or opinion.
If you were unable to attend services last weekend and would like to listen to or watch the message, it is available on our website. Growing Deeper, a Bible study written to accompany the message series, is also available to download.
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Gracious Lord I know truth matters. I believe and trust that I am saved only by what Jesus has done on the cross and the victory He achieved by His resurrection. Keep me in the true faith dear Lord until the day I die. Help me understand also the value of my Christian witness through the life I live as a witness to others. I will never be perfect, but even by my humility and constant reliance on You alone, others will be given opportunity to come to know you. Help me to understand what the apostle meant when he wrote; “You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” (2 Corinthians 3:3) In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.
- A great way to “Be SomeONE” is through forming or joining a Small Group to study Scripture and do life together. We’ll help you take the first steps on this part of your LIFEjourney at our next Small Group Networking Night on Sunday, October 5.
- Get involved at Serve St. Louis with your family or small group on October 11. Make the metro area a better place to live. Find out the details.
- Want to learn how to be a better parent for every stage and age of your kids? Attend The Courage to Parent Workshops. Our next one is Monday, September 29—Setting Boundaries.
Stephen Hower, Pastor
Challenging the status quo to awaken an appreciation for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Phil. 3:13,14 (and to lower my golf score)
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