A Stroll throught the UPCI Articles of Faith – Divine Healing

Divine Healing

This is the first (and possibly last) of posts that look to take a stroll through the United Pentecostal Church International’s (UPCI) Articles of Faith for comment.  The AoF on the subject of divine healing was one that I felt strongly should be addressed.  This is what the UPCI Articles of Faith have to say with respect to divine healing of the body:

The vicarious suffering of the Lord Jesus Christ paid not only for the salvation of our souls but also for the healing of our bodies. “With his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). Matthew 8:17 reads, “Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sickness.” (See also I Peter 2:24). We see from this that divine healing for the body is in the atonement. (emphasis added).

The emphasis on divine healing of the physical body based on this passage in Isaiah is not only a twisting of the passage but creates a doctrine of divine healing and expectation in the heart of individuals that is both unwarranted and dangerous in its consequences. This doctrine of divine healing puts the UPCI squarely in the camp of the traditional Word of Faith and charismatic movements with all of the negative results that follow.

Is it accurate to state that divine healing for the body is in the atonement?

The short answer is no.

One of the most amazing passages in all of scripture, Isaiah 53:4-6, 10-11, states:

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. … Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.

If we look at the context, it is quite clear that spiritual healing is what was obtained by Christ through the events leading up to and including his crucifixion. It was the relationship between sinful man and holy God that was healed through the atonement, not a specific promise of physical healing of sick bodies today.

The context defines man’s problem (and it is not physical sickness).  Man has “gone astray” and turned “to his own way”. We have “iniquity” and “guilt” before God that must be addressed. Therefore, the Lord laid on Christ “the iniquity of us all” and made his soul “an offering for guilt” and “he shall bear their iniquities” and cause “many to be accounted righteous” (justification).

What an amazing passage regarding Christ’s atoning work on the cross. But are we to read into this passage that his wounds are for are physical healing? That would be a mistake. Again, the context makes clear that his “wounds” were “for our transgressions” and “for our iniquities” and the “chastisement” has “brought us peace”. Peace with whom? Peace with the one from whom like sheep we have gone astray and turned to our own way – his atonement has brought us peace with God.

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 5:1.

But wait a minute, when Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law who was sick with fever, healed other sick people and cast out demons, Matthew wrote that, “This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.’” (Matthew 8:17). Isn’t Matthew applying the Isaiah passage to divine healing of the body?

Well, let’s take a step back and look at the context and understand the mission of Christ. Did Christ come to heal and perform other miracles or did he come to make atonement for the sins of the people and fulfill Isaiah 53? He came to make atonement for people’s sins and everything needs to be viewed and understood within that context. The next chapter (9:5-6), Matthew records the healing of a paralytic and Jesus explains the purpose behind his miracles. “For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk?’ But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’ – he then said to the paralytic –’Rise, pick up your bed and go home.’”

Jesus was attempting to point to his authority to forgive sin and the mission upon which he was set. Jesus healed and performed miracles within the context of his mission as outlined in Isaiah 53 and that was to accomplish the atonement for sins and cause many to be counted righteous. His healing of the paralytic was not with the primary and sole purpose to make that man’s life easier but to point to who he was, his authority and his mission.

It is also worth noting that the invocation of this Isaiah passage in Matthew occurred long before the actual fulfillment of Isaiah 53 in terms of his sacrificial death and atonement. So how do we understand the purchase of our healing (as I have heard it described) on the cross when Matthew is using the passage prior to the atoning work of Christ on the cross being completed? Again, Matthew’s point is that the healings and miracles performed by Jesus pointed to his authority to forgive sins and authority to fulfill the mission that was laid before him, which was to reconcile us with God.

Peter confirms that Isaiah was pointing to our spiritual healing and being reconciled to God in the context of being healed by his wounds: He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (I Peter 2:24-25).  How have we been healed according to Peter – we were like straying sheep but have not returned to the Shepherd of our souls.  This is not a promise of divine healing of our physical bodies being purchased within the atoning work of Christ on the cross.

Sickness, disease and death are the reality and consequences of sin having entered the world. While through the atonement Christ paid for the consequences of our sin, not all the benefits have yet to be realized. The position of the UPCI and other Word of Faith and charismatic movements is one of what is described as an over-realized eschatology. An over-realized eschatology is a system of belief that pulls too much of future promises into the present fallen and broken world. It is a belief that all of the benefits of heaven are not only available to us here on earth but that it is the will of God that all of heaven be fully realized here on earth. Thus, as there will be no sickness in heaven, if we have enough faith there should be no sickness among believers here on earth. This is the heart of the health and wealth gospel preached throughout the charismatic movement. But based on this reasoning, if the atonement purchased life and a glorified body, why does the movement not also preach that we should never physically die on this earth?

What does the NT say with respect to sickness/suffering?

This view of divine healing is not taught and certainly was not experienced among the New Testament church. It is not the view of scripture that faithful Christians should always experience perfect health. Despite our new state in Christ we continue to live in our fallen bodies, sin continues to reside and battle within us and we ultimately experience death. Nowhere is it taught that there is a reversal of these consequences in this current life on earth for the believer. To the contrary, there are examples of powerful, faithful Christians in the New Testament that struggled with physical maladies and were seemingly not healed in this life.

When Paul wrote to the Galatians about his “bodily ailment”, his “condition” – “You know it was because of bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, and through my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 4:13-14). In II Corinthians 12:7-8 Paul wrote of his thorn in the flesh and how he asked God to remove the thorn three times but God simply replied that his grace was sufficient, for his strength was made perfect in weakness. Much has been debated and speculated concerning the subject of the thorn. Some argued that Paul was speaking of his opponents. Others seeing that he spoke of a thorn in the “flesh” believe that it was a bodily ailment that Paul suffered from – and possibly the same illness that Paul wrote the Galatians concerning. The point is that Paul – the great Apostle to the Gentiles – clearly suffered from some physical ailment in his life and it was not the will of God for that thorn to be removed.

In writing to the Philippians, Paul mentioned how Epaphroditus – his “brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier” – was ill. “Indeed he was ill, near to death.” Philippians 2:25-7.

Timothy was encouraged to no longer drink water but to use a little wine “for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.” I Timothy 5:23. Paul called Timothy his “true child in the faith”, yet he suffered from frequent ailments.

In II Timothy 4:20, Paul wrote of Trophimus who was ill and left behind at Miletus.

If we were to look at the Old Testament we will find that Elisha died from illness and what would the Word of Faith movement say concerning Job?

The New Testament makes frequent mention of the suffering of Christians – this suffering is tied to our spiritual growth but it also certainly means that physical suffering is whether through illness or persecution awaits the believer. Paul wrote to encourage the Corinthians to “not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (II Corinthians 4:16-18).

This hardly sounds like the message offered by those promising divine physical healing within the atonement.

What about other passages regarding healing?

In the Book of Acts we certainly have a number of examples of Peter and Paul praying for the sick and their miraculous recovery. Yet, as discussed above, there are many times that we encounter both Paul and his companions in the faith suffering with physical ailments. We know that Paul prayed for himself. Certainly he prayed for Timothy and his other fellow soldiers, yet it appears their illnesses were not miraculously removed. Was this something that was occurring with less frequency as time went on and the gospel spread and the church was becoming more established?

A passage in the Letter from James is frequently cited with respect to the divine healing being promised for sick who pray.  James wrote, “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven.” (James 5:13-15).

Certainly, when one is sick, as whenever anyone is suffering, we are compelled to pray. It is interesting to note the connection between illness and sin in this particular passage and the confessing of faults to one another in the proceeding verses as well as suffering and persecution in the preceding verses. What seems to be contemplated here is spiritual weakness and not necessarily physical illness. The Greek term translated here as sick  is often used in reference to weakness or without strength, including being weak in faith. The entire context of this portion of James is truly addressing the suffering that comes through persecution. James speaks of the suffering and patience that believers must endure much like the prophets of old who spoke in the name of the Lord. He is encouraging believers to remain steadfast in the faith, much like Job. In verse 13, he speaks of those who are suffering to pray and those who are cheerful to sing praise – potentially all with the aim of deriving strength from the hope that Christ has placed within them.

Concerning the use of the Greek word here in James, it is also worth noting that there are three Greek words utilized in the New Testament that can be translated as healing. In the passage in James, the word is sozo, which emphasizes the healing of the entire man – soul, spirit and body – and the word is frequently associated with and translated as saved, rescued or delivered. Another word is therapeuo, from which we derive the word therapy, and this word is primarily translated as to cure through various means of healing. Finally, the third Greek word is iaomai and it is also usually translated as heal in the context of an instantaneous, miraculous healing.

The context and the Greek would seem to indicate that James is not truly focused on physical healing of illness, while it cannot be excluded from the meaning, but is instead focused on those who are spiritually weak as a result of persecution and suffering seeking out the elders of the church, those who are spiritually strong, for prayer and strength and encouragement. And if, in their spiritual weakness in enduring suffering, they have sinned, those sins can be forgiven them as well. James continues that we should confess our faults one to another and pray for one another that we may be healed – that we may be strengthened and restored in our relationship with God. As James, a few verses later writes, “if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19-20).

Understood in its context, this passage in James is more properly focused on strengthening those that are spiritually weak and enduring suffering and may have stumbled as a result. It is about bringing strength, forgiving sins and healing one’s spiritual relationship with God that would appear to be the thrust of James’ argument. It is not simply a magical promise that God will heal me physically if I just find a righteous person to pray over me with enough faith.

Can God heal? Absolutely. Should we pray for the sick? Always. Does God’s word promise us heaven on earth in the form of divine healing for our physical illnesses as guaranteed through the atonement? No.

What are the implications of this doctrine of divine healing in the atonement?

The implications of this doctrine of divine healing as purchased through the atonement are very dangerous. The doctrine provides false assurances and a false hope based on promises of things that are not provided for now. When the healing doesn’t come in the form in which the seeker asks, he naturally must ask why? Why is God not healing me of this sickness?

The first question that comes to mind is ‘maybe I lack faith.’ The faith preachers assert that you must have enough faith in order to both receive and maintain your healing. The excuse is given that God’s power to heal is always present but a lack of healing could be a result of a lack of faith on your part. It is also possible that we might have just enough faith to start the healing but if we don’t maintain that level of faith, sickness will creep back into our bodies, thus promoting a cycle of doubt and condemnation.

This is simply nonsense. When Jesus would inquire of people with respect to their faith, it was not on the basis of ‘do you have faith to receive?’ but do you have faith in God’s ability to heal.

Matthew 9:28-29: When he entered the house, the blind men came to him, and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes Lord.” Then he touched their eyes saying, “According to your faith [in the ability of Jesus] be it done to you.”

The type of faith that Christ seeks is the one that simply believes and has confidence and trust in him and in his promises. Why would God require a greater level of faith to receive a healing than is somehow required in order for us to be saved? It has nothing to do with faith enough to receive but simply faith in God’s ability. When we make it about faith enough for us to receive, we make it all about us, what great levels of faith we can conjure up rather than about God. This gets to an error that exists with respect to the nature of faith – something we will need to address in another post.

A second question that comes to mind is, ‘maybe I’m not saved.’ This is a crushing message that places great distress on an already suffering individual. Why am I not healed? Is it because I’m not really saved? If the message is one of divine healing being purchased for me in the atonement, if I am not being healed, maybe I am still lost? Maybe the atonement is not really for me.  Maybe, relying on James 5, I have sin in my life causing this illness? Based on their interpretation of James 5, it seems only logical that one would question whether illness is a result of some secret sin in the life of the believer causing them to believe that they are not “right with God.” This leads to someone already dealing possibly with a serious illness to know begin to experience condemnation and to question God’s love for them and their very salvation.

When the message is that physical healing is so interwoven into the message of salvation, the logical consequence is the presence of sickness is a lack of salvation. When the loved one (a wife and mother or a child) is not healed of cancer despite prayers for their healing, the message of divine healing in the atonement leads to the inevitable question as to whether the atonement was really in effect in the loved one’s life in the first place. This is simply a lie and a perversion of the scripture that leads people to question both the truthfulness and goodness of God in their lives. Thus, we know the origin of this lie and it is not from a proper understanding of scripture but a torturing of promises of God.

Illness is never a reason to question your salvation. Illness is, unfortunately, a normal part of living in this broken and fallen world and being trapped in a fallen and broken physical body. We have the promise of healing – both a physical healing of our bodies with a new glorified body at the time of the resurrection and a physical healing of the physical world through the creation of a new heaven and a new earth. We continue to exist in a world subject to the curse and though we are new spiritual creations in God with a heavenly citizenship we remain living here on earth and continue to experience the brokenness of life here.

I have personally known people who lost loved ones to illness who firmly believed that God would heal their loved one – they did all they could to conjure up and maintain a level of faith that God not only could but that he would heal their loved one and created such a level of expectation as though that would somehow be the difference maker in that situation. And when they lost that loved one – as devastating as it was to lose a loved one so early, who left small children behind – their underlying faith in God was also so devastated that they seem to have walked away from the faith. Others I know have simply been plagued by physical issues for most of their adult lives and have questioned whether they simply don’t have enough faith to be healed or whether they are being punished by God for some sin in their lives.

The fact of the matter is that physical healing in this lifetime is not apparently always God’s will. When your foundational thinking is that physical healing is promised now to believers and that it was purchased in the atonement and you are not healed of some illness, the only logical result must be that it is somehow your fault.

This is a devastating and dangerous doctrine that is not based on the scripture and causes such spiritual harm in lives of people already suffering physically. They are suffering with illness and instead of being comforted with the reassuring words of the true promises that we have in scripture they are lead to question whether they have sufficient faith, whether they are being punished by God and whether they are actually saved by God in the first place.

While this doctrine is very prevalent in much of the charismatic world, it finds its way into the Oneness Pentecostal movement as well. In a movement that emphasizes physical manifestations of the Spirit’s work, this doctrine finds a natural home in the UPCI. In an organization that stresses man-centeredness and works, it is also natural that feelings of condemnation and judgment are often associated with illness and are only heightened when healing does not seem to immediately come.

I have heard a minister declare that when he became ill – he refused to accept it, he spoke against it (as thought speaking to remove the mountain), and eventually he was healed (I am sure with the help of doctor prescribed medications). Yet, the minister can’t read without his reading glasses. Not to sound disrespectful, but I wonder has he prayed concerning the imperfections of his eye sight.  Or maybe he just considered the poor eye sight as a function of getting older and a body that will eventually break down.

 

 

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Faith and Works – Part 2

In continuing to look at the relationship between faith and works, I wanted to spend some time touching on the United Pentecostal Church International (UPCI) and Oneness Pentecostalism problem as it relates to this subject.  The vast majority of Christendom holds to the view that we are justified by faith – we are saved by grace through faith, not by works that we do.  Baptism is viewed as an ordinance – something that is very important in the life of a believer but not something that causes, brings about or merits our salvation in any way.  We are baptized because we are saved, not in order to be saved.

The UPCI view is that until a person is baptized in the name of Jesus, their sins are not forgiven.  But how does this view stand up to the seemingly overwhelming scriptural evidence that our sins are forgiven (we are declared just or right and at peace with God) when we turn to God in faith – that we are justified by faith?

In his book, The New Birth, Bernard addresses the question of grace, faith and works.  He does provide a cursory summary of several primary passages on the subject of justification by faith referring to Habakkuk 2:4, Romans and Galatians and states the following:

The bottom line is this: no one can be justified by observing the law of Moses or by doing good works.  Instead, the only way to salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ and His sacrifice for us.  Having established this, we must next determine what true faith in Christ is and how to have it.  (pages 35-6).

Bernard then cites to B.B. Warfield, “Justification by Faith does not mean, then, salvation by believing things instead of doing right.  It means pleading the merits of Christ before the throne of grace instead of our own merits.”  (citing from essay Justification by Faith, Out of Date?, Benjamin B. Warfield, 1911).  As we will see, Bernard is attempting to build the UPCI case in support of the idea that baptism and speaking in tongues are necessary to justification and completing the process of the new birth.

Bernard interestingly, citing to Warfield and the Reformed camp, seeks to argue that justification by faith does not mean just believing but also “doing right”.  Warfield’s point is not that the sinner must both believe and “do right” or be obedient in order to be justified as Bernard seems to allude.  Warfield argues that we are justified by works but not by any of our works.  Warfield writes, “It is justification by Christ’s works.”

Warfield cannot be any clearer in his meaning:

There is no justification for sinful men except by faith.  The works of sinful man will, of course, be as sinful as he is, and nothing but condemnation can be built on them.  Where can he get works upon which he can found his hope of justification, except from Another? … Can God pronounce him righteous except on the ground of works that are righteous?  Where can a sinful man get works that are righteous?  Surely, not from himself; for, is he not a sinner, and all his works as sinful as he is?  He must go out of himself, then, to find works which he can offer to God as righteous.  And where will he find such works except in Christ?  Or how will he make them his own except by faith in Christ? … If we are to be justified at all, it must be on the ground of the merits of Another, whose merits can be made ours by faith.  And that is the reason why God sent his Only Begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish but have everlasting life.  If we do not believe in him, obviously we must perish.  But if we believe in him, we shall not perish but have everlasting life.  That is just Justification by Faith.  Justification by Faith is nothing other than obtaining everlasting life by believing in Christ.  (Emphasis added)

Bernard would argue that it is by faith and our obedience to baptism that brings about our remission of sins.  We should recall that Bernard and the UPCI are strongly in the Arminian camp and believers in the concept of prevenient grace.  Bernard does note that faith “is the means by which man accepts and receives God’s saving grace.”  (page 34).  Bernard acknowledges that faith is a gift from God as well and that no one would have faith in God unless God would grant it.

As far as faith is concerned, Bernard cites to Webster’s Dictionary, The Amplified Bible, and Vine’s An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words to provide some definitions of faith.  He also cites to Charles Erdman who described faith as meaning far more than a “mere asset to dogmas, or the repetition of a creed” but describes a relationship with Christ in which the believer will trust in and be obedient to Christ and that the love for Christ brings about a trust and obedience that will lead to purity and holiness and a life of unselfish service.  He cites theologian Donald Bloesch as presenting a definition of faith as “a radical commitment of the whole man to the living Christ, a commitment that entails knowledge, trust, and obedience.”  (page 41).

From this definition provided by Bloesch, Bernard seems to identify three components of saving faith as meaning more than simply mental knowledge or assent.  These key components Bernard identifies as knowledge, assent, and appropriation.

Clearly, to have faith one must have a certain degree of knowledge or understanding of what it is that one is being called to place their trust in and a certain degree of acceptance or assent to the truth.  I must have had an understanding of my sin and the state of my relationship to God, a degree of knowledge of the gospel, as well as an acceptance of those facts.  I must have understood my need and recognized God’s ability to meet that need and I must have accepted these things a true.  These concepts Bernard would associate with knowledge and assent.  Paul wrote in Romans 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” Hearing the word of Christ brings life to faith God has put in our hearts and we respond to this new understanding in faith  to the word.

Bernard then comes to the third component of saving faith – appropriation.  “In other words, there must be a practical application of truth.  … Saving faith in Jesus Christ, then, involves more than mentally acknowledging Him as the Savior.  We must appropriate this truth and make it the guiding principal of our lives.  We do this by obeying the gospel of Jesus, by identifying with Him….”  (page 42).  Appropriation, according to Bernard, is appropriating the gospel to my life by being baptized and receiving the Spirit with evidence of speaking in other tongues.

Bernard cites to a number of passages to support that true faith is accompanied by obedience.  As we have previously discussed, it would seem that according to both Paul and James that saving faith will bring about a change in our lives –we will live out that faith through obedience to the word of God and the evidence of spiritual fruit in our lives.  It would seem impossible that one who is truly grafted into the vine would not produce fruit as evidence of their relationship to God.

Here is where Bernard’s reasoning goes off the rails and flies in the face of his quote of Warfield at the beginning of this chapter.  The UPCI and Bernard don’t see obedience as something that naturally flows out of our being in Christ but as something that we must bring to the table in order to find our way into Christ.  Bernard sees an “essential link between obedience and salvation.”  (page 44).  Yes; saving faith produces obedience, good works, spiritual fruit in the life of a justified and sanctified believer.  But no; my justification is based on the perfect work, life and obedience of Christ and his death on the cross alone.  My obedience – however pathetic my attempts– are not the basis for my salvation.  My obedience flows out of my being in Christ and the Spirit of Christ being in me producing the changes in my life that flow out of the grace that I have received through faith.

Bernard repeatedly cites to passages such as, “If a man love me, he will keep my words.”  (John 14:23) to support the position that my obedience is the basis for my being accepted by God.  Yes; a true believer will keep his words but it was by the obedience of Christ that I stand justified before God.  If my obedience/works are the basis for my salvation, then I am in serious trouble.

Bernard states, “Someone who really believes God’s Word will obey it.  God’s Word teaches baptism, so the Bible believer will be baptized.  God’s Word promises the gift of the Spirit, so the true believer will expect, see, and receive this gift.”  (pages 45-46).  Further, he notes, “we are saved by grace through faith. We rely on God’s work and not our own works to bring salvation.  However, this does not relieve us of our responsibility to respond to God, to obey Him and to act upon our faith.”  (page 49).  Bernard’s statements are contradictory – according to him, our salvation is not based on our own works but we are responsible to obey him to bring about our salvation.

On the subject of faith and water baptism, Bernard states that faith in God will lead to water baptism.  With respect to repentance and water baptism, Bernard states that they “are not works in the sense of things man does to assist in earning his salvation, but they are saving works of God.”  (page 55).  “Saving faith expresses itself in our obedience to Christ’s gospel and by our identification with Him. … The gospel of Jesus Christ is His death, burial, and resurrection (I Corinthians 15:1-4).  We apply the gospel to our lives – we identify with Christ and His saving work – by repentance, water baptism in the name of Jesus, and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost.”  (emphasis in orig., page 61).

Saving faith manifests itself in obedience, among other ways, in the life of a believer.  Yet, because the gospel of the UPCI requires baptism in the name of Jesus to effectuate the remission of sins, they must justify this position in light of the clear teaching of scripture that our justification is by faith.  Implicit in the idea of true faith – being convinced of the promises of God and trusting in Christ and repenting of one’s sins – is the notion of bringing oneself into a state of obeying the gospel of Christ.

Obedience is no longer the evidence of a life in Christ.  My obedience is my faith leading to my justification.  An additional problem if obedience and faith are simply interchangeable, why just stop with baptism and speaking with other tongues.  Isn’t my entire Christian walk, my salvation continually held in a tenuous state dependent on my obedience, my works and deeds to keep me within the good graces of my God.  Bernard speaks of grace and faith and not our works but the works of God but in reality it always comes back to our working to bring about our salvation.  The dangerous aspect of this so-called gospel is that in the end, if one labors, he is paid what he deserves but we need to rely on faith in the work of Christ.

Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.  And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.  Romans 4:4-5.

 

Faith and Works – Part 1

 Can that faith save him?  James 2:14

In speaking with a UPCI minister once about my newly discovered understanding of justification and sanctification in the scripture, particularly in looking at Romans 3 and 4, one of the immediate responses was, “but you can’t just ignore works….”

On the one hand, when you come from a legalistic mindset that emphasizes man’s performance and meriting the favor of God by doing certain things, it is only natural that you are going to feel that something is terribly wrong with the idea that God forgives me of my sins when I, in my repentant state, turn to God in faith.  Surely that can’t be all.  Yes and no.  Yes, that is all that it takes for God to declare me righteous.  It isn’t about anything that I have done or could do – it is all about what Christ did on the cross and, in his sovereign prerogative, he placed within me the gift of faith and granted me the opportunity to repent.  End of story – and the beginning of the story.

On the other hand, the New Testament does talk about works, obedience, good deeds, and spiritual fruit.  So how does this all fit together?

In Romans 3:38 Paul states, “we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”  In James 2:24, James states, “You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone.”  How do we reconcile these two passages?  Are Paul and James simply contradicting one another?  This would seem contrary to our understanding of the divine inspiration of scripture.  Or should we simply look a little more closely at the context in which both men are writing and see if we can harmonize these passages?

Both James and Paul must be viewed in their context.  They are both addressing different issues relating to the subject of salvation but as we will see they are coming at that subject with very different points.

As we are already aware, Paul is addressing justification from the context of redemption.  We are at peace with God as a result of our being justified by grace through faith.  We are saved not as a result of our works or any law keeping but because of our faith in God.  One cannot work their way to heaven or merit God’s favor but the remission of sins is purely a gift of God through the grace of God.  Paul is addressing how it is one moves from being an unregenerate sinner into the church of God and it is through justification by faith.

As we look at the context of James, he is writing to the church and is addressing some very specific issues that he is seeing in the church.  He is not addressing justification from the standpoint of getting “into the church” but he is addressing those that claim to be a part of the church and having been justified by faith.  The problem that James is addressing is those who claim to be believers but that proclamation of faith yields no further fruit.  He addresses situations that he sees in the church that reflect a lack to true faith that would have led to justification in the first place.

James is drawing a line between those who have make an intellectual assent (a form of faith in that it is an intellectual acknowledgement of God) and those that possess true saving faith that results in spiritual fruit, such as obedience, in the life of a person that is truly trusting in Christ.

His point is that true saving faith results in a life of obedience to God – not that we live perfect lives and never make mistakes and fall – but there should be a manifest change in our lives if the Spirit of God is truly living in our hearts.

James writes of true religion being a faith in which professed believers are not merely hearers of the word but doers of the word.  To be a hearer of the word only is to deceive yourself for we must be doers of what we hear.  We must be obedient to the word of God in our lives.  James speaks of true and pure religion being that which produces fruit in the life of the believer.  It will change the way a man speaks and the things which concern man.  He will be concerned with the poor and seek to remain unstained from the world.  (James 1:19-27).  A man will not show partiality among the believers but will seek to fulfill the royal law, which is to love ones neighbors as oneself.  (James 2:1-9).

After showing that faith and religion should produce a change in the life of a professed believer, James asks, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?  Can that faith save him?  If a brother or a sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warm and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?  So also faith by itself, if it does not have works is dead.”  (James 2:14-17).

The point of James:  How can you say that you have true saving faith in your heart if your life and behavior does not demonstrate that faith with consistent works of faith?  Your behavior should reflect your profession of faith.  The answer to James’ question, “Can that faith save him?” is No.  A faith that is not accompanied by any fruit cannot be true faith.

“I will show you my faith by my works.”  (James 2:18).  Works – not in the legalistic sense of meriting anything from God or somehow earning God’s favor by our actions – demonstrate the faith that is in our hearts.  Our works reveal that faith that is within us and, thus, vindicates our profession of faith.  James points out that the devils believe in God and they shudder.  The point here isn’t that faith alone is insufficient to save because even the devils believe – the point being made by James is that the devils don’t have a faith that can restore their relationship and status with God because it does not and will not bring about a conformity on the part of the devil to the image of Christ.  Their faith does not produce obedience.  Their faith is not a saving faith.

John Calvin stated, “He says that faith is dead, being by itself, that is, when destitute of good works.  Hence we conclude that it is indeed no faith, for when dead, it does not properly retain the name.”  Thus, absent a demonstration of faith, there is truly no evidence that there ever was true faith to begin with.

Abraham

James offers some examples and first cites to Abraham.  In verses 20-24 he states, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?  You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’ – and he was called a friend of God.  You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.’

Certainly this is a challenging text but if one looks closely at what is being stated by James, we see this comports perfectly with the notion that we are focusing on the evidence of faith in one’s life justifying or vindicating their profession of faith, not resulting in their justification/salvation by works.

We know, according to Paul and a reading of Genesis 15, that it was when Abraham believed God that his faith was counted to him as righteousness.  Abraham was justified before God – he was declared righteous when he believed God.  It was before the performance of any works, including circumcision and years before even the birth of Isaac.  (See Romans 4:1-3).  Nevertheless, Abraham’s claim to faith was justified or vindicated in the sight of man when he obeyed God, left his country and his family, was circumcised, and even when he offered up Isaac on the altar in obedience to God.  When he was obedient to God, Abraham was demonstrating that his claim to faith was true and a reality.

When James cites to Abraham’s offering Isaac up on the altar, from Genesis 22, we know what Abraham had already believed God and was justified.  God was examining Abraham’s heart by asking for his obedience and through his obedience, Abraham’s faith was justified or vindicated.

Abraham’s obedience was not the grounds for his justification in the sense of salvation.  As James points out “and the scripture was fulfilled” – Abraham’s living out his faith through obedience was fulfilling or revealing that his profession of utter and complete faith in God was a true profession of faith.

Paul stresses that faith along brings about our justification but James shows that a faith that can save/justify us is one that will bring about evidence that faith is truly present in the heart.  James is stressing the expression of faith.  As James asked the question, “show me your faith apart from deeds” he looks to Abraham and says that Abraham’s profession of faith was demonstrably true – he was shown to be righteous – by his actions.

            Rehab

James cites to another Old Testament example in the prostitute, Rehab, of Jericho.  “And in the same way was not also Rehab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?”  (James 2:25).

James compares the manner of Father Abraham’s justification with that of the prostitute Rehab.  Rehab hid and protected the two spies from Israel sent to spy out Jericho for its eventual destruction.  Abraham’s faith was revealed in his willingness to offer the son of promise, Isaac, on the alter.  Rehab’s faith was revealed in the fact that she hid the spies when the men of Jericho came looking for them.  This was a demonstration of the faith that was present within her.  It was as clear a demonstration of faith in God as Abraham’s willingness to offer up Isaac.  Hebrews 11:31 mentions Rehab as one of the heroes of faith and that it was her faith that motivated her actions in hiding the spies.

Afterwards, her words to the spies confirm the faith-based motivation of her actions:  “I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you.  … And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.  Now then, please swear to me by the LORD that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a sure sign that you will save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.”  (Joshua 2:9-13).

Summary

There is no contradiction between Paul and James on the subjects of faith and works.  To the contrary, Paul wrote many times on the subject of works or obedience or what he might call the fruit of the Spirit that results from a true profession of faith in God.  In Romans 1:5, Paul ties faith with obedience.

Paul wrote to the Philippians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”  So we have been saved by grace through faith – it is not of our own doing and it is not the result of works so no one can be arrogant concerning their salvation.  In the very next sentence, Paul continues, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  (Philippians 2:8-10).

Paul further exhorted in Titus (2:7, 14, 3:1, 8, 14):

“Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity….”

“…who gave himself to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”

“Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work….”

“The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed God may be careful to devote themselves to good works.  These things are excellent and profitable for people.”

“And lot our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help in cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.

These are only a few examples from Paul out of Titus alone that stress the importance of living out our faith.  Other passages include:  2 Cor 9:8, Col 1:10, 2 Thess 1:11, 2:17, I Tim 2:10, 5:10, 5:25, 6:18, 2 Tim 2:21, 3:17.

Certainly, Jesus himself taught over and over the necessity of living out our faith and obedience.  Our justification by faith and call to good works are complementary and never in contradiction to one another so long as they are viewed in their proper context and in light of the larger understanding of the nature of man without Christ and with Christ.  As we have previously discussed, can one who is dead in his trespasses and in rebellion to God truly perform good works to somehow earn the forgiveness of sins.  Or is our obedience simply another outflow that results from the change that God has worked within in our hearts?  Paul and James would seem to agree that faith brings about an internal change that brings about an external change through a life lived demonstrating the faith that is now within us.

Thoughts on Justification – Part 6 – God’s Promises are Realized through Faith

God’s Promises are always realized through Faith

 Paul puts the proverbial bow on his teaching on justification with the concluding paragraphs of chapter 4 of Romans by stressing that the promises of God have always rested on faith and not on any works or adherence to law. 

 “For the promises to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.”  (Romans 4:13).  As has been noted, the law of Moses certainly did not arrive on the scene for hundreds of years – so how could the promises, according to Paul, have come through the law or law keeping?  Was it other good works that brought about these promises to Abraham?  No.  Paul again makes clear that the promises rest on and are realized through faith.  Paul makes clear in verses 14-15 that if it rested on law keeping than faith matters nothing and, ultimately, the promises are all void.  The purpose of the law was to show us our need for God and to cause us to turn to him in faith. 

 “That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring – not only to the adherent of the law [the Jew] but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham [the Gentile and the entire world]….”  (Romans 4:16).  Paul looks to the covenant that God made with Abraham and within that covenant was a promise that he would be a father of many nations and that the nations would be blessed.  The promises that God made to Abraham and his seed [Christ] were that all the families of the earth were to be blessed.  It is pure legalism that Paul is fighting against when he is engaging those who claim that in order to be brought into the Christian faith and find acceptance with God one must first enter through certain old covenant keeping acts, such as circumcision.  Paul stresses that our acceptance with God depends on faith alone in order that all the promises of God may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all the world. 

 Our finding acceptance with God does not depend on our being baptized to bring about the forgiveness of our sins – particularly baptism in a particular mode of baptism.  Our acceptance with God and his forgiving our sins does not depend on keeping certain standards of dress or hair or how much you pray or give.   

 Our walk of faith is enough of a battle.  We do not need to lay additional legalistic burdens on ourselves that we are unlikely to be able to fulfill.  We have been given the Spirit of God in our hearts and are in the process of being conformed to the image of the Son.  Paul described it as being a new man with new desires yet trapped or incarcerated in this fallen, broken humanity waiting the ultimate fulfillment of his release.  We have received great promises and the earnest of those promises is the Spirit in our lives.   Our citizenship is in heaven yet we remain in this fallen world where there is sickness and death.  We are in a battle of faith.

 But, with Abraham as our example, Paul notes that he struggled in his battle of faith.  There was no unbelief present in Abraham concerning the promises of God but a struggle in his desire to see those promises fulfilled in his life.  God, while not always fulfilling all of those promises immediately, was always granting to Abraham that which he needed so that his faith would grow stronger and stronger in the promises so that even at death, when all of the promises were not fulfilled, Abraham could pass those promises to Isaac and then from Isaac to Jacob.  Faith is not something that we are given by God in order to somehow supernaturally change our present circumstances – biblical faith is being fully convinced that God is able to perform what he has promised.  Abraham was the father of those who had faith – the heroes of faith described in Hebrews 11 were those who did not receive the promises yet remained unmovable in their being convinced that God was able and would fulfill the promises that he made.

 Thus, we wait for certain promises – we have faith.  Paul states that Abraham was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.  That is why his faith was ‘counted to him as righteousness.’”  (Romans 4:21). 

 “But the words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also.  It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”  (Romans 4:23-25).
Continue reading "Thoughts on Justification – Part 6 – God’s Promises are Realized through Faith"

Getting Out…

I spent years in the UPC teaching Sunday school and even, in my resigned state, sat on the local church’s board of trustees for about a decade.  I was not who I believed God had saved me to be and I did feel confused and lost (not necessarily from a salvific point of view – just not knowing where I was or what I was doing).  The youth pastor who brought me to Christ and taught me nearly weekly bible studies during my senior year of high school had long ago left the UPC and was now pastoring two non-denominational churches.  I began listening to him online and his expositional studies of scripture.

I began attempting to understand where the UPC stood among all the other denominations with respect to the theology it espouses.  Even the most basic understanding of the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism was a foreign concept to me.  The UPC call themselves ‘Apostolic’ as they of course, declare that they are the true church proclaiming the gospel message as it was proclaimed by the Apostles in the Book of Acts.  I believe that the vast majority of members of UPC churches are generally ignorant of the roots the organization has within the Wesley-Arminianism tradition and how that differs from other understandings of the teaching of scripture.  In the UPC mindset, because they are truly ‘apostolic’ there is no need for any understanding beyond this – they are the restored church of the apostolic age.  They are the culmination of God’s progressive restoration of the church reclaiming that which was lost shortly after the apostolic period.

I also began praying earnestly that God would truly speak to me and direct me through His word – that he would help me set aside every presupposition that I might have as I open and read His word.  I didn’t want to read my understanding into the scripture but to simply let God’s word speak to me what it had to say.  I was at a pivotal point of frustration and almost anger – I was frustrated and angry at the church in general.  Here I was, just wanting to know the Lord, wanting to know what his word had for me and in looking out at the world of churches felt almost resentful because of the confusion I was experience.

I started rereading Acts as this is where the OP place their theological emphasis.  Those same old passages that bothered me in the past still stood out only stronger.  Again, the UPC emphasizes Acts 2:38 as the concise statement of the gospel as proclaimed by the Apostles.  Yet the message proclaimed by Peter in chapter 2 differs to the message that he proclaimed in the very next chapter and also differs from the message of salvation proclaimed by Paul to the Philippian jailer.  How to make sense of this?  Those passages dealing with individuals receiving the Holy Spirit where individuals speak in tongues – do these experiences accurately reflect what people experience and consider normative today in Pentecostal churches?

I came to reread Romans and that is when it happened – it was as though I had been reading God’s word in a dark room by candle light for 20 years and suddenly someone threw back the curtains and light filled the room and I saw in the scripture things I had never seen before – as though they were previously hidden.  (I appreciate that they weren’t hidden but I was reading these words through my presuppositions and, therefore, didn’t allow the word to speak to me).  I had read about justification by faith before but what that truly meant was somewhat lost on me.  As I began reading the fourth chapter, it was as though my eyes were opened:

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”  Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness.  How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

I began to appreciate what it meant to be justified.  I finally understood what grace truly was in the context of salvation.  I saw faith in a new light.  But then all the questions came such as where does baptism fit into the picture?  Why does Acts 2:38 say what it says?  What does all this mean for me?    I felt compelled to follow where the scripture led me but there was the element of concern: I’ve been taught the gospel according to the UPC all these years as the true and full gospel message.  What if I’m wrong?  What if the UPC is correct as they have so authoritatively taught all these years?

Additionally, I spent time rereading not only what the UPC teaches, such as books by David Bernard, but works written by those who hold different views such as Calvinists and others.  It is important to take the time to examine the basis for the faith you proclaim and to do so you must take the time to understand the theological positions of those held by others and to evaluate each of the respective sides understanding of scripture and the basis for their position (the method of interpretation employed).

Upon coming to terms with the fact that the UPC is in error with respect to the gospel that they proclaim but, more importantly, with a more accurate understanding of complete work of Christ on the cross and what it means to be called and justified by grace through faith, I feel more at liberty, reassured and complete in Christ than I ever have in the past.  I have a sense of “peace with God” that I’ve never appreciated before and recognize an ability to “rejoice in hope of the glory of God” regardless as to what happens.

When that sense of peace and hope came I began to realize the sense of bondage that resulted from the gospel as taught by the UPC.  The continual sense that my salvation was tenuous and dependent on my performance propagated feelings of condemnation and that I was never going to be good enough to warrant God’s love in my life.

The man-centered emphasis within the UPC misses the point of faith, grace, justification, the cross, atonement, baptism, holiness and even sin.  They truly do major on the minors and in so doing miss the point.  This results in people generally falling into one of two camps – (1) there are those Christians who base their relationship with God on their performance day-by-day and end up as unhappy, ineffectual or simply anemic Christians because they recognize that they will never measure up on their own, or (2) there are those deluded individuals who have a form of their own righteousness that they contend is pleasing to God because they perceive themselves as doing a good job at keeping his commandments.

It is my aim to not be judgmental with respect to the state of anyone’s salvation or their relationship with God.  Only God knows the hearts of men and God knows who his sheep are regardless of where they may attend church.  Some of my comments may be critical but my intent is to hopefully help those that are God’s sheep to more clearly hear His voice and what He has to say in His word.  We need to allow His word to speak to us and appreciate that our perception of the scripture is frequently clouded by our traditions and presuppositions.

It is not my intent to convince anyone to leave one church and move to another – it is my intent to challenge the ideas as presented by organizations such as the UPC.  You shouldn’t fear challenges to your fundamental doctrinal beliefs if those beliefs are rooted in scripture.  If you find that the beliefs you hold may in fact be based on a distorted view of scripture and you hold a high-view of scripture, I would expect that it would be your desire to bring your thinking, your faith, your life in line with the teaching of scripture.  I also believe that when you do, what you will find is a greater appreciation and experience of the righteousness, peace and joy of the Holy Spirit in your life than you thought possible.