Thursday, October 28, 2010

Afraid of Works?
Justification by faith alone is the foundation of our faith and lifts up the labor of Christ upon the cross as complete and exclusive. No human works, regardless how sacrificial and passionate, can be added to that scarlet sacrifice. Works do not add to the cross, but those who have been cleansed by that atoning flow are moved to do works that both minister to the earthly needs of mankind, and works that share the good news of that cross and resurrection. All works that come from a believer must be redemptive and are aimed at drawing sinners to the Risen Christ.
But sometimes in our quest to remain orthodox and not have anyone accuse us of teaching a salvation by works, we treat humanitarian works gingerly and without the abandonment and sacrifice they should have. The teachings of Jesus are replete with exhortations of humanitarian endeavors, and some even, when taken alone, seem to elevate works above that which we actually believe. The Good Samaritan is a parable taught in response to a question of how someone can inherit eternal life. And when the rich young ruler asks the same question about the path to eternal life, Jesus speaks of ministering to the poor sacrificing your own personal wealth. The parable of the goats and sheep center on a list of humanitarian works as the identifying mark of a goat or a sheep.
And therein lies the sacred redemptive truths as they are lived out and revealed in the lives of believing followers of the Lord Jesus. Let us face it, we are not called to be just a systematic theology with legs. We are called to a life that translates the life of Christ through human acts, and along with the message of the gospel, lifts up Jesus and allows the Spirit to draw sinners to Him, through us. When works are employed in conjunction with the gospel, they are a powerful, redemptive force. Too often we have relegated works to an elective status, and as a shallow residual rather than an important part of the evangelistic process. Or we have a list of "don'ts" that we use as a template to identify true believers. And because liberal theologians make works themselves redemptive, we sometimes are reticent to give ourselves wholly to humanitarian efforts. They have become a kind of hobby.
Part of any revival among us must include a new and more vibrant dedication to meeting the earthly needs of sinners which reveal, on a practical level, the love of God, but more importantly can become a bridge that leads to Christ and His gospel. There must always be a doctrinal line between faith and works, but we cannot allow that line to become a wall that keeps us from ministering to needy sinners. Oh how the church has drifted over the decades. But until we humble ourselves and take an honest look at ourselves in the mirror of the Word and the reflection of the life of Jesus Christ we will continue to drift. In a way we have so often used orthodox doctrine to shield us from a deep assessment of just how Christ can be lived out among lost sinners.
Even a mention of the word “humanitarian” seems to arouse feelings that say “Beware, liberalism approaches!” There is a veiled and sophisticated deception in that scenario. Those of us who believe and teach the true gospel of Jesus Christ should be the most aggressive humanitarians on earth. The entire world lies in the wicked one, and billions are in desperate need of common necessaries. And so often we act like doctrinal Scrooges that are satisfied with store houses of theology while others are in want of basic earthly needs. I hope that the Spirit revives a hunger for deeds of compassion that genuinely come from the heart and are overtures of redemption as well. Feeding a hungry stomach can never save anyone, however it often build a bridge of love that can lead to the Author of love itself.

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.

Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes, thank you for this good sermon. Thanks for bringing up this topic.
We must aim our works at pleasing the Lord, not aiming them at man per se. We know the Lord loves and grieves for those in distress of any kind of need, and so as motivated by His heart of compassion, we labor together WITH Him in addressing suffering.

I like to say, "works of Christlike compassion," or "Christian charity," because "humanitarian" of course means putting man pre-eminent, which is the unregenerates' offense to God. But I know what you mean by saying "humanitarian."

Another aspect which you did not mention, of "humanitarian" works that are taught by Jesus, in addition to compassion toward the unredeemed, are works of help toward our suffering brothers and sisters. These, too, are quite the witness and evangelistic media, becasue they are a wonder to the world as it sees how the brethren sacrificially love one another.

My opinion is that we in the US can do a much better job of loving our suffering brothers and sisters in other lands. It will not only begin to weaken the selfishness of greed, consumerism, and comfort which largely grips us in this American culture, but it will reveal the truth of the Body of Christ to them and to their unredeemed neighbors.