Saturday, September 5, 2015

Faith and Parachutes, Part 1

Random fact for the day: Parachute prototypes have been around since the 1400s, but the backpack-style parachute that we know today was only invented in 1906. It was first used solely for entertainment; but military leaders found a variety of applications for the invention during World Wars I and II. Today we have come full-circle – parachutes are still used by the military, but most are worn by thrill-seekers who are dumb enough to choose to jump out of perfectly functional airplanes.

Why talk about parachutes, other than to rant and disclose my irrational fear of heights? Well, in my last post, we talked about sin, morality and airplanes.  Specifically; how Church of God theology on salvation teaches that if true Christians just try hard enough, pull up on the throttle enough using willpower and the "tool" of the Holy Spirit, they can pull themselves out of the death spiral in which sinful humanity finds itself. Unfortunately, pulling up using these methods doesn't get anyone off the airplane; it only prolongs their journey before hitting the ground.

Today I’d like to talk a little more about how to get off that airplane – by placing your faith for salvation in Jesus alone.  Faith in Christ is like the parachute that gets you off the plane. But you have to know how the parachute works to avoid disastrous results.  If you attend a COG, chances are good that you've been misinformed about what "so-called Christianity" teaches on this subject. I noticed that UCG, COGWA and LCG all wrote on the "faith and works" portion of James 2 this summer. One particular quote really stuck with me:

“Just agreeing with a set of facts about who Jesus is, and what Jesus has done, and what it means to believe in Him, that's not the same thing as being saved.  The devil believes everything there is to believe about Jesus—he's not saved.”

Oh wait, my mistake.  That wasn’t from a COG. That was from a sermon my deceived  Protestant pastor gave a few weeks ago. The term “saved” was probably a good clue this didn’t come from a COG publication. This was the COG quote:

“As the apostle James points out, belief is pointless unless it is backed up by action and obedience: 'You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe —and tremble' (James 2:19). If we think that belief is all we need for salvation, we are sorely mistaken. As James tells us, the demonic spirits fully believe in the existence of the one true God. They further know that Jesus is the Son of God raised from the dead. But the demons’ belief in this regard doesn’t mean they are saved!” ("Is Belief All That's Required For Salvation," The Good News, United Church of God, May-June 2015).
How disappointing. I would have expected a bigger difference between what a "so-called" Christian pastor and a minister in God's true church would have to say about James 2:19. With that thought in mind, are you sure you understand what mainstream Christianity teaches about salvation to reject it as false doctrine?


Maybe we can clear up some misunderstandings about by first exploring what salvation by grace through faith doesn’t mean:

(James 2:19) You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe - and tremble!

  • Faith in Christ is not simply believing that He existed. It will not help you any more than the knowledge that  parachutes exist will help you survive a freefall.  Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Pharisees, Judas and many others knew that Jesus truly existed.  As do the demons, as James so aptly explains.

(Luke 4:41) And demons also came out of many, crying out and saying, "You are the Christ, the Son of God!". And He, rebuking them, did not allow them to speak, for they knew that He was the Christ.

  • Faith in Christ is not simply knowing facts about Jesus, or even believing that He was the Son of God. Knowing Jesus was born in Bethlehem and lived to be 33 years old will not help you any more than knowing that a parachute is 25 feet in diameter and made of gray silk will keep you from plummeting to the ground. 

(Matthew 7:21) Not everyone who says to Me, "Lord, Lord," shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven."
  • Faith in Christ is not the same thing as just saying His name. Scriptures that allude to “calling on Christ’s name” poetically express the simplicity of accepting Christ’s sacrifice for salvation; how it depends wholly on divine effort instead of man’s.  The name itself is not magic – simply uttering syllables will not save you any more than pronouncing the word “parachute”  will keep you from hitting the ground after a skydive.

(Ephesians 2:8-9) For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that is not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.
  • Faith in Christ for salvation is not the same thing as believing your past sins were forgiven when you accepted His sacrifice; but that you must maintain your right standing before God through things like obedience, repentance and good works. Doing so indicates you've placed your faith in your actions, not in the parachute.  Thrashing and flapping all the way down doesn’t demonstrate faith in the parachute – it puts you at risk for tangling or breaking the cords; a mistake that’s just as deadly as the others I’ve listed.

I figured you'd have trouble with that last one. We'll talk about James 2 and the role works in part 2 of this series. But make no mistake. Misplaced trust in works as a component of salvation is no small matter. In the tragically misunderstood book of Galatians, Paul refers to just such a message as a different gospel (1:6), "no gospel at all" (1:7, NIV) and calls curses upon anyone who would teach such a gospel (Galatians 1:9). Why so serious? Did years of strict Phariseeism finally cause him to snap?

A few chapters later, Paul warns us that anyone who tries to be justified by the law is cut off from Christ (Galatians 5:4). That includes those who teach you need to maintain your justification before God with good works in order to inherit eternal life.

(Galatians 5:4, ESV) You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace." 

Severed. That's not how you want your parachute cords to be.

What is salvation by grace, through faith? Placing your faith in Christ is just that – trusting that your sins are forgiven through Christ’s shed blood alone. Renouncing any trust in, any reliance on your own efforts to increase your standing with God. Believing that you will inherit eternal life only because of what Jesus did, not what you’ve done. Faith is putting the parachute on your back, jumping, pulling the cord and trusting in the chute and only the chute to get you safely to the ground

(John 6:28-29) Then they said to Him, "What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?". Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent." 

With this background established, in my next post we will take an in-depth look at James 2. Until then, if you have questions about whether the book of Galatians simply discusses circumcision, please visit:

Confusing the Covenants
The Plain Truth About Peter's Hypocrisy
Galatians: Holy Days or Pagan Days?
Response to Galatians: Holy Days or Pagan Days?
Faith: What It Ain't
What Does the New Testament Teach About Law and Grace
Some Difficult Scriptures

It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; )
Acts 17:11

1 comment:

xHWA said...

You didn't mention anything about the central role of sitting idle without any works at all every Saturday. Works without works is dead?