Obedience is the way of Faith

Now that my good friend and brother, Jim Wagner, is back in the States, I must begin again to write; hopefully he will begin again to read.

“You are saved by grace through faith, and that not of yourselves lest any man should boast.” (Eph. 2:8) These words of the apostle Paul to the Christians in Ephesus are foundational to the Christian Church. They unequivocally and undeniably proclaim justification by grace alone through faith alone. You are not saved – rescued from sin, death, and the power of the devil – by anything you do, but by the pure, unmerited mercy of God who chose you in Christ Jesus before the foundations of the world were laid.

Neither the grace of God nor our faith in Christ is earned or wrought of us in any way. We didn’t choose to believe in Jesus any more than we chose for God to send His Son to save us from our sins and the power of death. God elected us in Christ. That’s good news! That’s gospel!

But the devil comes to kill our faith, steal our hope, and destroy our assurance. So the ancient serpentine foe hisses his objection: “But how do you know God elected you? You still sin. You still lust. You still gossip and defame your neighbor. Sometimes you even enjoy your pet sins. Not only that, but you have a hard life. You can’t pay your bills. You can’t keep a job. Your children have left you. Your parents disowned you. You suffer disease, accidents, and misfortune. Is this what an elect child of the Almighty should look like?”

And the devil’s right; if salvation depended upon you. But it doesn’t. It depends upon God’s mercy (Ro. 9:16). How do you know God elected you? Because you are baptized into the name of Jesus; because the good news of the kingdom is preached to you; because you participate in Christ (1 Cor. 10:16) and eagerly await His return. God is not waiting for you to clean up your act before He blesses you with His gift of mercy and faith, He is pouring His gift on you even while yet you are weak and undeserving. That’s what makes it mercy!

And as for a difficult life of unpaid bills, doctor visits, misfortune and grief, these are evidences that you need a Savior, not evidences that you are not saved. These are reminders – even as Jesus’ own hunger reminded Him – that you do not live by bread alone, but by the word that proceeds from the mouth of God, which is mercy. Life is hard and often unfortunate. But just as bullets whizzing by a soldier’s head are not evidence that the battle is lost but that he is at war, so these trials and tribulations are not evidence that you are lost, but that you are at war.

Stand firm, St. Paul writes to the churches in Thessalonica, and hold to the traditions that you were taught by the apostles. These traditions are the apostolic injunctions to pray, fast, sing hymns and psalms and spiritual songs, participate in the altar of the Lord, and otherwise attach yourself to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. We do not do these thing in order to receive God’s mercy in Christ, but because we have received God’s mercy in Christ.

We are Christians; disciples of Jesus of Nazareth who overcame the tempter by His obedience to the Father. Having been washed, sanctified by Christ Jesus, we too are counted as obedient. Let us not disappoint.

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“Presumption is the Mother of all %#@$-ups”

If you’ve seen the Steven Segal movie “Under Siege 2: Dark Territory” then, like me, you’ve wasted your Saturday afternoon.  However, you’ve also heard one of the best quotable lines in movie history: “Assumption is the mother of all #$@%-ups!”  Too bad such a line can’t be repeated verbatim when it needs to be.  Well shocker of all, the prophet Samuel says something like it to Saul.

Saul had just returned from his mission to destroy the Amalekites who had mistreated and rejected Israel when Israel had come out of Egypt.  Saul’s mission: to devote to destruction everything of the Amalekites; men, women, children, infants, cattle, sheep, and everything else.  But Saul, being the ancestor of the modern day Christian who thinks God is always speaking in hyperbole rather than saying what He actually means (you know, the stuff about making a habit of attending the gathering and obeying your leaders and shepherding the flock according to the word of God rather than according to the fancies of men- stuff like that), doesn’t obey but spares Agag, king of the Amalekites, and the best of the sheep and oxen.

Now, to be fair, Saul’s intentions – like his modern day descendants – are good.  At least he tells himself they’re good. Saul presumes that it would be better, more holy, even greater, an act of unasked-for devotion that instead of destroying everything, like God told him to do through the prophet, he would keep the best and give it to God.  Sounds great, no?  How many people say, “Well, I think God would rather me have family time than go to church,” or “I’m sure God isn’t going to strike me dead because I live with my future spouse before I marry her,” or “Why would God hate me and my ‘sin’ since He’s the one that created me this way?”

But when confronted by Samuel, Saul feels the damnable weight of his screw up and confesses the truth, “I was afraid of the people!”  How many pastors and teachers have not done what the Lord commands because we are afraid of the people?  And like Saul, we presume that instead of rebuking sin and the sinner, God will be happier with us, even pleasantly surprised by our compassion and devotion if we just preach generically so we don’t offend.  So much for annihilating the enemy.  Instead, we’ve become idolaters.

That’s Samuel’s response to Saul’s seeming “gospel-oriented” disobedience.  “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.”  It didn’t matter Saul’s intentions. The bottom line is that he didn’t obey the word of the Lord.  He presumed too much so that Samuel says to him, “Rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.”  In other words, presumption is the mother of all #$@%-ups.  Centuries later the Apostle would echo this: “Do you presume on the riches of [God’s] kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to bring you to repentance?”

God forbid that because of our presumptions we hear from the lips of the prophet what Saul heard, “Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He has also rejected you from being king.”