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Works Alone

“I don’t have to get my healing from sin myself – Jesus got it for me.”

This is a quote from Pastor David Crank. It seems harmless at first look, but after listening to Pastor Crank for a few minutes, I believe he meant that now and forevermore Jesus has “healed” him from all sin without him doing any more than saying a single prayer. This is the most common view of Christian salvation today. Too bad you cannot find it in a bible.

Crank and his wife Nicole are the pastors of the two Faith Churches in St. Louis and soon to be in West Palm Beach. They are disciples of Joel Osteen. And Mr. Crank stated this on their weekly program a few weeks ago. He talked about himself and his charity and how “we” must help others for us to be acceptable “in Christ.” That by giving to others we will ourselves prosper. This is a traditional offering of what religious scholars generally call the Social Gospel. He spoke at length of his charity towards others with stories of his exploits in Haiti and other places; and he spoke about several personal experiences and told a few anecdotal stories. That is how it goes today.

His view is that coming to Jesus is about what you can do and how much you can give to others. And giving to others certainly has its place. However by giving to others, I suspect he means his followers should be giving to his family and their churches. That is what is meant by every single one of these godly folks. They don’t teach the truth, but that does not stop them for one minute from taking your money. And being a good Christian is all about making sure you are giving enough (however much that may be). These folks travel in style and want for nothing. The same cannot be said about those to whom they “give.”

There is evidence of great prosperity over at the Faith Church. For those who know something about the scriptures that serves to tell you pretty much all that you need to know. Modern Christianity in the words of most of this garden variety of highly religious men and women is really about how much you give to them. But then I may be poisoned by drinking for far too long at the wellspring of the Word of God.

Don’t misunderstand: I am not discouraging charitable works. Both the OT and NT clearly tell us that you must have both faith and works that demonstrate your faith – if you are missing one or the other you are useless and misaligned and altogether good for nothing. Do we need to read the story of that Samaritan man again? Charity (or love) is the unsolicited giving to others in order to sustain them or to assist them without any thought for ourselves. That is what the much misused Greek word agape means in its many occurrences within the NT.

Now as I understand it, personally choosing what details we will allow in either our faith or for our works can be deadly. Jesus, who is God, instructed us all in what we should do for one another, and how to exercise charity toward mankind in general as we each have means. We are to follow his example in everything. But following what he gave on charity while ignoring what he gave on how to become a believer and what to do once we are a Christian just won’t work out. Having charity towards others is not all he said that we must do. Not by a long shot.

Jesus built one church, yet he was not in the contracting business and never built a building. Nor did he travel in style unless you consider it stylish to eat dust walking miles a day, or liken riding on a donkey to be like riding in a Bentley. And Jesus never kept a cut for himself. But Judas did.

The emphasis should be about following the God given instructions and not about putting someone up on a dais or in a high seat over a congregation where they do not belong. No congregation in NT times did their charitable acts like many churches do today; the Christians helped other Christians and their neighbors. And the scriptures are silent about whether or not any of them took the collection and built anything with it. Today most brethren sanction buildings by stating the scriptures tell us we can meet our needs with the church’s treasury – and that is true. However, there is a wide difference between needs and desires.

So as with a lot of other “churches,” it strikes me that it is just slightly possible that the charity of Christ might not actually be a very big part of the business model over at Faith Church. But then I’m sure that Pastor Crank always provides a good accounting for what he does. As with Joel Osteen, I suspect Mr. and Mrs. Crank pull down a nice seven figure “endowment.” It ought to come to mind that next to government, religion is the greatest tax free haven – ever. Why do you think the Catholics have so much gold and so many great art treasures and the Mormons (just to name two denominations – one the oldest and another of the latest) have so much real estate? Do you suppose such things are accidental? Like the rest of those gifts that never stop giving – greed never sleeps.

The point is that this kind of behavior has nothing at all to do with anyone’s salvation – not then and not now. You first have to be a Christian, which means that you have to follow the pattern given by Christ. Part of that pattern is about helping others. You must then be obedient with part of that meaning you must display both your faith and do some work. You cannot have one without the other.

You can never save your soul through acts of charity alone, no matter how hard you try. If you are not a Christian, you can work night and day and the sum total of what you do may be of some note here, but it won’t pay off for you in eternity.

And if you miss the mark – the god of this world will be making your reservations for eternity without your consent. So faith without the right things to evidence it is useless, lost and lonely. It will accomplish only what is visible.

Jesus also said when we give, that our left hand should not know what our right hand is doing. It ought to be done in secret without fanfare or flourish. It doesn’t say a thing about mega-churches and big demonstrations about how much so-and-so gave or stories about what they did and for whom. So faith without charity is wasted.

I believe that the letter attributed to the disciple James laid this out quite clearly:

“My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ and say to the poor man, ‘You stand there,’ or, ‘Sit here at my feet,’ have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?

Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?

If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy: Mercy triumphs over judgment.

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?  Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.

Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?” (James 2).

The Law in these passages (including where James identified the “royal law”) specifically means the Law of Moses by context. You see, the Jews had set up all sorts of traditions and regulations concerning giving just like some people have done today. That means like the good connivers they were, they made escape clauses so that they would not have to be bothered with keeping God’s instructions. They did that so that they could keep most of what they gave for themselves. Then they also made a big show out of reserving seats for the very same “big givers” and deferred to them. James said that would not work out well for them. If you do not use your means to assist others as God has commanded – you are dead on arrival – you have failed to obey that royal law. And if you think that you can ignore what God said about what to do in order to be pleasing to him: your goose is already cooked and you’re all trussed up and stuffed as the entree on the Devil’s table.

This applies to us all: “Faith without works is dead, being alone.” And forgive me here, but the opposite must also be true. Do all the works you choose without understanding what God has told you to be busy doing, and it will profit you nothing. Make it up if you like, and praise God while you drop it in the basket.

James said something about the demons in Hell believing but then actually doing more than that: he said they trembled in fear of God. Do we fear God? If you have works but are an unbeliever (that is what having no faith means on this side of the abyss), then you will one day find yourself in exactly the same state as those demons: dead, trembling, and spending eternity in Hell where you will forever acknowledge the fact that God is in charge and that you should have paid attention to the details.

The first part of this passage may be well known, but the last sentence (V. 10) is often passed over or receives little notice or study:

“And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:1-10).

Grace is the gift of God – not faith. God’s favor is available for anyone who will take hold of it. But you have to come by your faith (belief) on your own through doing what God has said all must do to be acceptable to him: hear, believe, repent, confess that Jesus is Lord and God, be immersed and be obedient. You must follow the plan and its instructions – Romans chapters six through ten speaks about such things and so do many other scriptures. However instead of taking this for what it plainly says, some would turn it around and make it all about themselves. Did not Paul say some folks would come around who would twist things to their own destruction? We must be obedient and prepared to work and do the works God, who has saved us, has appointed for us all to do.

It seems today that charitable deeds, alone and done out loud and to themselves, have replaced the center of worship and salvation for some – something else that you cannot find anywhere in the scriptures. The Social Gospel is a very precisely defined idea of things that are perceived as godly by men and that many feel are a duty of all churches: to see that all everywhere are fed and cared for. For some believe and teach that without your providing a complete list of all of the works you did while you were here, God will not be very happy. Though seemingly noble, it is something completely unknown to the scriptures and rests on false teaching. But then it is found everywhere particularly between December and April. And it has become an all-in-all for some people and accounts for “salvation” in several denominations. As noted above – those worthy works are the ones that have been identified and are commanded by God – not necessarily the ones we pick. These good works include charity to all who surround us as a duty for individual Christians, and charity towards the disciples as the collective duty within the congregations. But it is never given out the other way around. And works are the demonstration of our faith – not the other way around.

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So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

(James 2:17)

For faith without works is dead just as the body without the soul is dead.

(James 2:26)