Faith or Obedience?

This is a question that is very common: are we saved by faith or are we saved by obedience? This is a very troubling question, and I think it is the wrong question.

If you have heard the gospel of Jesus, and have made a decision to believe that it is true. If you have started to read or listen to the teachings of Jesus in some way, and still believe that what Jesus says is true, do you truly think that the intention of Jesus was for us to say yes to following him and then ignore his teaching?

Salvation, without a doubt, is a gift from God. None of us has earned it. None of us have any hope of earning it. When the Holy Spirit moves among us, and prompts us to believe and trust in Jesus, that is a gift we have not earned.

If you identify yourself as a disciple of Jesus, and if you believe that because you are a disciple of Jesus that you belong to the kingdom of heaven, then your life will be filled with a complete allegiance to your King and Saviour, Jesus Christ. And allegiance to him involves learning his teachings and giving yourself to them in a daily surrender of your will.

When is the last time you found yourself in prayer surrendering yourself to the grace of God? When is the last time you were desperate for God to save you from the corruption of sin?

Jesus said that those who think they can come to him based on what they have done will be cast aside by him. But those who set themselves to learning and obeying his teaching find that they are unworthy and undeserving of his acceptance.

This is where we need to be as followers of Jesus. Not asking whether we are saved by faith or obedience. Rather, desperate to be as close to Jesus as possible because there is no other place we would rather be.

How to Bless in the Name of Jesus

The blessing of Jesus is not dependant on our situation. It is not dependant on material possessions, or power, or prestige. It infiltrates these things and transforms them from the inside.

Some of us get so caught up in looking a hundred miles away for how God is working, that we fail to see what God is doing right in front of us.

If you read the gospels, you will see that Jesus called some people to drop what they were doing and follow him. We might read that and think that in order to follow Jesus we need to stop what we are doing. We need to give up our current situation and go out into the mission field.

The first disciples were the ones called by Jesus away form their vocations in order to be his apprentices and to be enabled to show others the way of Jesus. Not everyone, however, is called by Jesus to do that. Most people are called by Jesus to have their current situations transformed by his presence.

Jesus is calling us to keep doing what we are already doing, but in a different way. The way we are sent by Jesus to bless others is through what we are already doing. Bless your co-workers. Bless your employer. Bless your customers. Be the presence of Jesus by doing the work you are doing in the way Jesus is leading and sending you.

Building the Kingdom

We tend to talk about building the kingdom and expanding the kingdom. I use that language fairly often, and I don’t disagree with it. But, there is a sense of understanding the kingdom as something we first and primarily receive and enter into.

The kingdom is also the place from which we are sent.

Of course there are things to do along the way. But it is the way in which we do them that communicates the gospel. Anyone can bring humanitarian aid to a city, and it will be received with gratitude.

But, when someone comes in the name of Jesus, and brings needed help, the benefit is not only the help; it is ultimately the presence of Jesus that they experience through us being there with them.

In 1 Peter 2, we read that those who trust in Jesus are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s possession. As a result of being a citizen of the kingdom of God, we are sent to show others the goodness of God. We are sent to shine the light of truth into the darkness.

Peter writes in chapter 3, “Be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude.”

The work of the kingdom is not about a checklist. It is about a transformation. We are sent on a mission of transformation and citizenship.

This is wonderful because it means that whatever we do, whatever we have in front of us, can be received into the kingdom of God and transformed by the Spirit of God to be used to bless others.

To be sent by Jesus is to enter into our local and personal activities in a way that is given character and shape and direction by Jesus. It is not a list of things to accomplish, but a way in which we do everything.

Mammon or God

Mammon is a genuine rival to God. We must choose one or the other: Mammon or God.1

The crass heresy of the prosperity doctrines and the “health and wealth gospel” is the bastard child of corrupted calling.

There are two economies—a “calling economy” as well as a “commercial economy”—and for followers of Christ the former, not the latter, is supreme.2

Yesterday I was driving and listening to a song called “When I lost my heard to you” by Hillsong. “You have my heart… hallelujah… I found your love when I lost my heart to you.”

Such simple words, but such a deep prayer. There is nothing more precious than the fact that God, our Creator, has my heart. He knows me deeply and is shaping me in ways I cannot fathom.

If I listen closely enough, and am attentive to God’s voice in my heart, I will become aware of what he is doing in my heart and what he is doing in the hearts of others. This is a bonus reward, as I need not require awareness of God’s work. I only need to trust him and the word he has given us in Scripture and in the life of Jesus. Being aware of God’s work is like a boost to my faith, and normally comes when my faith is at its weakest point; when I need a very personal reminder of God’s faithfulness.

But these words, “you have my heart” are not true when I am chasing mammon. Either I find success in being known by God and being accepted by God, or I search for success by working hard for mammon.

Hallelujah, God has not left me to chase after mammon. He has my heart and I have his acceptance. That is enough for me.

  1. Mammon, as define by Os Guinness, refers to money when it assumes an inordinate place in our lives until it becomes a personal, spiritual, god-like force that rules us. []
  2. Guinness, The Call, p.  134-35 []

What Is God’s Calling For My Life?

Note: this is a summary of a sermon I preached from Jeremiah 1. You can listen to it on the Bergen Church website.

If you have begun to follow Jesus and trust in him, you might be asking yourself, “what has God called me to do?” It’s a good question.

The typical next step when asking this question is to take a spiritual gifts or personality test to determine how God has wired you. Maybe that’s helpful, but more often than not we need to forget about those things while we think about what God has called us to. It is hard to shake this way of thinking, but we need to think less about our role in our society and more about our relationship and identity in Jesus.

Os Guinness, in his book titled The Call, defines calling as “the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion, dynamism, and direction lived out as a response to His summons and service.” (p. 29)

He explains that there are two levels to being called by God. The first level is a general calling that is the same for all people. It is a calling by God, to fellowship with God and to live entirely for God. It is the call from Jesus to follow him and to live according to his way. It is the call to learn the teachings of Jesus and to depend on the Spirit of Jesus as we journey through life.

God is asking all people to answer his call, to live a life of complete devotion to following Jesus, and to leave the outcomes to God. Oswald Chambers says it this way: “the one aim of the call of God is the satisfaction of God, not a call to do something for him.”

Our primary call is to be in fellowship with our Creator.

But there is a second level of calling, which is more specific. The second level of calling is about what the first calling of God looks like on a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly basis.

It is, in considering who God is as completely sovereign, thinking, speaking, living, and acting entirely for God in everything we do and everywhere we go.

When we submit ourselves to the primary call to follow Jesus and be devoted to satisfaction in God, we will soon discover that the second level of calling moves forward in a way that is almost indiscernible at first, except by reflecting on the past.

Os Guinness explains that answering the call of God is “by its very nature a stepping forward to responsibility… We have heard the call, and we acknowledge and assume our responsibility. We are responsible to God, and our calling is where we exercise that responsibility.”

A stepping forward to responsibility. Hebrews 1 says, “Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son.”

The word of God has come to us, and we are called by God to proclaim the gospel. We have a responsibility to respond. We are witnesses to the greatest and most important truth ever proclaimed, and we have a responsibility to pass on that truth.

Each of us is called by God in a general sense to be devoted to following in the way of Jesus. But each one of us is also called in a very specific way. But it is not completely about what we do. It is about living in such a way that bears witness to the power of Jesus and the life of Jesus.

So, regardless of what you find yourself doing, ask God, how can I invite others into this fellowship I am enjoying with you? And then look for opportunities to bless others with the presence of Jesus.

Practice What You Preach

You have heard the saying. Practice what you preach! We say it to someone we are judging as hypocritical. Someone who is telling people to behave a certain way, even though the person doing the telling does not behave that way.

I was thinking about that this morning while working on my sermon for this coming Sunday. I often think, when I’m preparing a message, “is this something I am practicing in my life?”

I ask that question not because I think I should only preach about things I’ve mastered. If I did that, I would not have much to offer in terms of content for messages.

But, I ask that question because the content needs to be something people can practice. The content needs to be approachable. The hearers need to be able to pick it up and observe it, play with it, experiment with it.

The saying, practice what you preach, should maybe be re-written: preach what can be practiced. The content of my sermon needs to direct people to a way of living that has more to do with a posture, an attitude, a daily acknowledgment that none of us can actually practice what we preach.

That leads me to the point I’m trying to get to. If I am supposed to preach what can be practiced, my preaching needs to be more about our dependance on the grace of God and less on our performance.

Of course, the life of a follower of Jesus includes obedience. But, biblical hypocrisy is not about failure to perform. It’s about claiming to be righteous based on our performance. Failure to practice what we preach happens not when we fail to measure up to the message. Rather, it happens when we preach about a righteousness that can be earned.

Preaching what can be practiced is about preaching a message of righteousness through trusting in the sacrifice and resurrection life of Jesus.