Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Relationship between Faith and Works

This is my personal summary of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong's expository preaching on James 2:14-20 on 28th November 2005

Some people seem to have the right faith but do not have the right deeds. Some people seem to have the right deeds but they claim they have no faith. How many types of faith are there? How many types of deeds are there? Could the same term mean different things?

The Scriptures say that the letter kills but the spirit gives life. This is common to all arenas. Truth is greater than logic. Thought is greater than recording of thoughts. Music is greater than theory. And meaning is greater than language. How much then can words represent what we understand? We often find constrain of expressions to communicate what we mean. With this understanding, we can review the theology of James and Paul regarding faith and works and see that they do not contradict.

Many people replace faith with knowledge, and replace truth with confession. This is wrong. True religiosity goes far beyond the correct knowledge. Right doctrines are just a part of religion. We cannot take religious thoughts as the whole of religion. Because of this mistake, there are many hypocrites in the church. Many people can score very well in religious knowledge but have no faith at all.

To have reason, knowledge and confession but no spirit, to have agreement of doctrine in line with the culture of the age, is not the faith that Paul was talking about. Blaise Pascal said that no one would love God beyond his true knowledge of God. The word ‘know’ in Hebrews is connected with intimate knowledge of the Truth. It is a relationship with the Truth where we have a part with the Truth, which consists in both passive and active righteousness.

Passive righteousness means before God we are no longer sinners so we no longer receive His judgment. Active righteousness means God imputes the righteousness of Christ upon us so that we can now live righteously for Him. Therefore sinners are made righteous by faith and the righteous shall live by faith. God looks at our heart but men can only infer on our faith by looking at the exterior. Hence James was expressing the righteousness reflected before men when he was talking about justification by works.

During Renaissance, there were 3 great artists, Leonardo Da Vinci, Michael Angelo and Raphello. Michael Angelo's art piece was unique as he always painted the nude. He believed that human body expresses unlimited power of life. And he said one very important thing, "I am not painting how men look at you. I am painting how God looks at you." This is the unique contribution of Michael Angelo on how God would see His creatures, that though men look at us covered, God sees us as we are.

True deeds (external) are moved by faith (internal) and founded by faith. Faith is not separate from deeds. Therefore, how can we show our faith without deeds? People cannot see our faith but our deeds can be seen. The analogy is like a clock with internal mechanism to clock the time and external needles to show the time. The internal clock mechanism is like our faith while the needles are the expressions, which are like our deeds. So a new life would produce a new lifestyle.

So James put forth 3 very important arguments:

1. Faith without deeds is a dead faith
2. True faith is shown by true deeds
3. Even Satan has the right theology

There are different theologies about God. Atheism says God should not exist. Theism says God should exist. Pantheism says the entire cosmos is God (New Age Movement). Deism says God creates and then leaves the world to run on its own. Polytheism says there are many gods. Monotheism says there is only one true god.

Of all these theologies, monotheism is the highest theology. It is of supreme faith. Liberal theology believes that history progresses in theology from mysticism (Egypt) to monotheism (Moses) and holds that prophets are the highest evolution of theology. This is not biblical. After the Fall, we live in darkness and our knowledge of God comes from Revelation, not from our own evolution.

Abraham is the father of faith and is rightly the father of monotheism because he worshipped one God though he lived in the midst of a polytheistic nation. Before his time, the world was still monotheistic at large, but slowly degraded into polytheism.

During the time of Moses, polytheism was so rampant and the Israelites could not break the bondage of polytheism. They continued to face judgment and chastisement for many centuries for worshipping idols. Only after the exile to Babylon the Israelites finally became firm monotheists. Monotheism is the highest contribution of Jewish culture.

So we see that the Jews went through so much persecution and correction and judgment before their theology gets firmly established in monotheism. But before we see too highly that this is a great achievement, the Apostle James turned our attention to the fact that the devils are also monotheists and they tremble before God. So achieving such right theology puts us at the same 'faith' level as the devil. This ought to bring us to serious reflection of what Christian faith really means. It is definitely more than mere faith confession, mere belief and agreement in the right doctrines, of which the devils also agree.

The important question is, what is the meaning of God's existence to you? We can have 3 responses.

1. It has nothing to do with me. We simply don't care. This should not be a Christian attitude.

2. It is a threat to me. This is the devil's response. On one hand they believe rightly in God's existence, but on the other hand they shutter with fear because God's existence is a threat to them. The church often times is not even on par with the devil and has no fear of God at all. But this also should not be a Christian attitude. Kiekergaard says that whatever threatens you becomes your hatred. The greatest insult towards someone is to treat him as though he doesn't exist. So the devil hates God on one hand and teaches you to disbelieve him on the other hand.

3. He is my salvation. This is the correct response. God's existence means He has the power to judge me. My existence means I have the freedom to deny Him. But my existence is in the control of His existence. Since He has His grace and mercy, His existence should not become a threat to me, but is in fact my open way out, my salvation.

Kiekergaard is the father of existentialism. Many existentialists are divided into two camps of atheism or theism. Kiekergaard says, “to exist is to be one and alone before God.” This means our existence results in judgment and accountability. But God's existence should not become our threat because He grants grace and mercy. God's existence becomes our hope and our salvation. Therefore I should have faith in Him and glorify Him with my life. AMEN!


At 10:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i am pastor Jason of Word For the world Philippines. I was very blessed by this study and outline. Thank you very much.


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