Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Faith or Works?

A discussion on this subject will often come up in an attempt to witness about the gospel and surprisingly enough not only from cult members. Many other people feel they must do things to 'be good' or earn the right 'to go to heaven'. Indeed, there are some apparent indications in Scripture that on first reading would indicate that works are necessary for salvation and we must be able to answer these questions satisfactorily.

There will be those who are deeply religious that would also bring this question up because they would feel that they are saved by their good works of prayer and worship and even 'going to church'.

Sometimes these people will just be trying to justify themselves or testing us but even so in similar circumstances Jesus gave a sensible and reasoned answer (see Luke 10:25 and 29) and we should seek to do the same.

JAMES 2

The main verses used to seek to win this argument are found in James 2:24-26 and read in the NASB,

"You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead."

These verses of course need to be compared with such ones as Romans 3:20,

"... because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight…"

And Romans 3:28,

"For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law."

Is there a contradiction here? Do we really need to work in order to be justified and be saved? If this was the case then it would go against the great declaration of Paul in Ephesians 2:8-10,

"For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."

Notice in these verses that Paul repeats three times that it can be nothing to do with works, otherwise we would be able to boast before God.

Which is it? Are we justified by faith or by works? It is a fundamental Christian belief that we are justified by faith and that this is a once and for all act. "Therefore having been justified by faith…" Romans 5:1

This, therefore, cannot be as a result of ongoing works and, in any case, how many works must we do in order to reach the state of justification? Nowhere are we told that and if this were the way to salvation it would seem very unfair that we never knew how much we had to do to reach the goal.

JUSTIFICATION

The meaning of the word justification - that God declares a sinner righteous and treats them as such - also shows that work is impossible to achieve the state of justification - we can never atone for our own sin, an essential part of being justified. Therefore, this has to be by faith because we will never be righteous in ourselves.

Having said that, it still leaves us with the problem of explaining satisfactorily to our listener the verses in James that appear to teach that we are justified by works. It actually is not a problem when you look at the context.

James 2:1 indicates that James is writing to those who already have faith in the Lord Jesus - it was not something they were working towards.

He then starts his main argument on this issue in verse 14 where he asks, what use is it if someone says he has faith but no works?

At this point James does not begin to refer to that faith (which Christians already have) in relationship to God but in relationship to fellow Christians. The ones mentioned are in need (verse 15) but, James says, you do not give them what they need (verse 16) - what use is that? Faith must be expressed.

Verse 17 sums this up by showing that such faith (that you already have), that is not also expressed by works, is dead.

Indeed, as verse 18 goes on to say, how can you show your faith without works? Belief in God (verse 19) is fine but the demons believe too; the point is that faith that is not expressed by works is useless and is no better that that which the demons have (verse 20).

Abraham was justified by works when he offered Isaac (verse 21) and his faith was perfected by his works (verse 22).

Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness (verse 23) and so you see that a man is justified by works, and not just by faith alone. Rahab was justified by works (verse 25) and so remember faith without works is dead (verse 26).

If you have faith, it will be expressed. In other words, works are the "fruit" of Salvation and not the means to Salvation. William Fenner said,

"Good works are a good sign of faith but a rotten basis for faith".

James is examining two kinds of faith: one that leads to godly works and one that does not. One is true, and the other is false. One is dead, the other alive; hence, "faith without works is dead." - James 2:20.

This is consistent with the passages above from Romans and Ephesians. Notice especially Ephesians 2:10 that shows clearly after we are saved there are good works for us to walk in that God has prepared but these are not works that are leading us to salvation and justification.
We are saved not by works but once saved there are good works to express what has happened to us.

We cannot work to our salvation but we must work out our salvation - see Philippians 2:12.

Is the Doctrine of 144,000 Possible?

Jewish scholars tell us that as many as 20% of first century Israel may have accepted Jesus as the Messiah. We know that three thousand came to the Lord on the Feast of Pentecost (Acts 2:4) and shortly afterwards another 5,000 men plus any women and children became believers (Acts 4:4). Acts 6:7 then records that a large number of priests became obedient to Christ.

Many years later when Paul came back from his third missionary journey, probably around 60 AD, we read that the number of true Christians had already grown to tens of thousands - see Acts 21:20. The Greek word used in this verse is murias, which according to The New Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, literally means;

"a ten-thousand; a myriad or indefinite number; an innumerable multitude; an unlimited number" (p.419).

See Luke 12:1, Acts 19:19 and Jude 14 for examples of the use of this word.

If there were already so many believers in 60 AD, there would be no places left between the 1870s and 1930s when the Jehovah's Witnesses say that the number of the 144,000 was made up. It would mean that even if we were only talking about 30,000 believers in 60 AD (and there would have been many more than that) only 60 people per year could have been saved up to 1935 - that is ridiculous and would mean that the sovereign power of God was severely restricted.

Surely then, the evangelical Biblical evidence shows that the teaching that there are only 144,000 believers who will be with Jesus, in heaven, is not true. This of course also means that one of the central teachings of the Jehovah's Witnesses is false.

ANOTHER WAY OF LOOKING AT IT

There is also another way of looking at it as a former Witness, Phil Mawson wrote a number of year's ago:

The Jehovah's Witnesses believe that only 144,000 people are in the New Covenant. What does the Bible say?

Galatians 4:22-31 mentions how Abraham had two sons, one by Hagar the bondwoman and another by Sarah the free woman. These sons being Ishmael and Isaac respectively. Verse 24 states clearly that these two women,

"stand as symbolic drama, for these women mean two covenants." New World Translation, Watchtower Bible & Tract Society.

Verses 24 & 25 tell us that Hagar symbolises the Old Law Covenant from Sinai, while in verses 26 & 27 Sarah stands for the New Covenant and the Jerusalem above our [i.e. the Christian's] mother. In verse 27, Paul quotes from Isaiah 54:1 where Jehovah God is married to the nation of Israel via the Law Covenant. Compare also Jeremiah 3:14, 31:32.

Thus the barren or desolate woman which represents the New Covenant, has "many more children" [NKJV] or "more numerous" [NWT] than the woman who has the husband. The latter representing the old Law Covenant between Israel and Jehovah.

It is evident that this old Law Covenant brought forth millions of children from the time of Moses to John the Baptist - Matthew 11:13. And we read here that the New Covenant would bring forth many more than this; yes they would be "more numerous" as the NWT puts it. The New Covenant would comprise Jews and Gentiles, without any distinction, see Romans 3:22. Thus, it can be easily and Scripturally demonstrated that the New Covenant is made with millions of persons, and not just 144,000 as is taught by the Watchtower Society of Jehovah's Witnesses.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

President Hinckley Makes his mark - Again

Whether its being picked for the team, winning prizes at school or getting the promotion we feel is long overdue, we love to be noticed. You might say it is in our nature and that kudos is something we understand instinctively even if we can’t quite define the word.

Lamech, fifth from the star-crossed Cain, boasted to his no doubt long-suffering wives Adah and Zillah:

Listen to me; wives of Lamech, hear my words.
I have killed a man for wounding me,
A young man for injuring me.
If Cain is avenged seven times,
Then Lamech seventy times
(Genesis 4:23-24)

I am sure that when they married Mr Right they had no idea his first name was “Always”, but Lamech made his mark and they probably never heard the end of it. I can just see him leaning against the bar at his local inn telling those good old boys all about it. We all love a good story, especially when its us telling it.

At the Tower of Babel we discover that working together in a common cause can have its own rewards. Enlightened self-interest is what some call it:

Come let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves… (Genesis 11:4)

The urge to be noticed, considered, thought well of, celebrated, renowned, honoured, acclaimed, esteemed has been strong since those days. And when others take centre stage where we once knew celebrity it doesn’t go down well:

When the men were returning home after David had killed the Philistine, the women came out from all the towns of Israel to meet King Saul with singing and dancing, with joyful songs and with tambourines and lutes. As they danced, they sang:

‘Saul has slain his thousands,
and David his tens of thousands.’

Saul was very angry; this refrain galled him
(1 Samuel 18:6-8)

When it comes to reputation the green-eyed monster is never far away.

Which does make me wonder about the way Mormons are so expert at celebrating themselves. Of course they may, like the citizens of Babel, feel they have much to celebrate at the moment. On 3 November 2006 Gordon B Hinckley became the oldest man ever to lead the Mormon Church. On that day he was 96 years and 133 days old, beating the previous record holder, David O McKay, by one day – and counting. This on top of his being the first career Mormon, the most travelled Mormon president in history, and being responsible for the largest temple building programme since Joseph Smith first took a walk in the woods to think things through.

It is interesting to note, as an aside, that a church that was started by a young man in the full flush of youth and subsequently continued under the watchful eyes of a middle-aged man of vigour and ambition is being led increasingly by nonagenarians. It seems that the god who could only make his will known through a ‘simple farm boy’ free of the heavy baggage that accumulates with experience can now only speak to old men who appear to know the ways of this world all-too-well.

From the much publicised and photographed meeting between Hinckley and George W Bush in Salt Lake City recently, to the occasional cosy chats with Larry King. From a stream of self-promotional press releases, to the tabards worn by official Mormon ‘helpers’ in litter-picks and relief aid projects around the world, emblazoned with the legend “LDS Helping Hands”, the Mormon Church seems quite comfortable with the idea of making a name for itself. Their right hand could not be accused of not knowing what their left hand is doing (Matthew 6:3).

In the words of another prominent religious leader of whom it was said:

He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
Nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
A man of sorrows and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
He was despised, and we esteemed him not

In the words he used on a mountain somewhere in Galilee:

I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full (Matthew 6:2)

So congratulations Mr Hinckley on your longevity, your achievements, and your reputation, kudos to you. Enjoy your reward.

Ephesians 2:9