Hebrews 4:1-16 The Sabbath Rest For God’s people

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First century Roman culture was a culture of despair.  Some historians would refer to it as a culture of suicide.  It was violent, it was bloody, it was dangerous, it was oppressive, it was full of death and disease.  On top of that the religious establishment had created such religious oppression that people lived in bondage.  Most had given up any thought that they could ever stand right before a holy God.  It was into that context that Jesus uttered the words, “Come unto Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  About three decades later, the writer of Hebrews would give a message to people on the threshold of bloody persecution.  The message was not a message of health, wealth and prosperity.  It was a message that in the midst of the pain, you can enter His rest.  So here we are two thousand years later.  I think we all get this.  Sometimes the world can be very, very painful, hurtful, heartbreaking, confusing, devastating.  In the midst of all of that, what Jesus offers us is rest.  That’s what we want to talk right now.  If you have a Bible, turn to Hebrews, Chapter 4.   
 
One of the terms that we’ve seen a lot in the book of Hebrews is the word therefore.  You know the old adage: Whenever you see the word ‘therefore’ you stop to see what it’s there for.  And it basically reminds us that all of these truths are connected.  You can’t take any one passage in Hebrews and pull it out of its contextfor one truth leads to another truth leads to another truth and it’s all connected together.  It’s good that we keep remembering that.  Chapter 3 was all about the cost of unbelief, which then leads us to Chapter 4 verse 1: 
 
Therefore (in light of that, the cost of unbelief), then let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, anyone of you may have seemed to have come short of it. (*NASB, Hebrews 4:1)
 
So what’s the fear?  The fear is that even though there’s still a promise of rest, it wasn’t just about people thousands of years ago entering a land.  It wasn’t just about people in the first century.  It’s every bit as true for us today.  There is a promise of rest.  The word promise is really an important word in the book of Hebrews.  As a matter of fact, no New Testament book uses the term more than the book of Hebrews.  What do you say to a group of people that are on the threshold of bloody persecution?  You remind them, there’s a promise.  There is a promise that, in the midst of the storm, I will give you rest now, and a glorious future to come.  But the concern is that they won’t believe it.  It’s interesting that he says, anyone of you may seem to have come short of it.  This basically confirms what we talked in the last chapter—that when the writer is looking at the first readers, his audience, he’s identifying them primarily as believers but he’s not convinced they’re all believers.  There is no New Testament writer who could know that everyone who will receive this letter is a believer.  So there seem to be some who perhaps don’t believe.  Maybe they’re giving lip service; maybe they’re just going with the flow, but he says, “But it may seems like you’re coming up short.  You don’t really believe it.”  So that’s our audience—primarily believers—but the writer is not convinced that everybody believes, and that’s part of his concern here.  Verse 2: 
 
For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united (mixed in) by faith in those who heard.   
 
So the children of Israel heard good news.  We talked about this last time.  The good news was that God will give you the Promised Land—a land flowing with milk and honey.  But the truth was not mixed with faith; therefore it did not profit them.  They did not believe.  The writer is saying, in the same way we have good news.  We, too, have an offer of rest that we can enter into—a promise of rest.  But that promise has to be mixed with faith if we are going to profit from it.  It is a reminder that even though Jesus died for the sins of the world, the message is not universalism.  It’s not, “Everybody’s in!” The truth has to be mixed with faith.  There’s God’s part and there’s our part—that’s always the way it is.  God’s part is He has done the work, and He offers rest.  Our part is we have to believe, mixed with faith, in order for that truth to profit us.  Verse 3:  
 
 For we who have believed (the writer puts himself in there) enter that rest, just as He has said, “AS I SWORE IN MY WRATH, THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST,” although His works were finished from the foundation of the world.
 
So what is he talking about there?  He’s saying we who have believed enter into this rest.  When David said to the children of Israel in Psalm 95 that with belief they can enter God’s rest—My rest —God says, there’s a reminder that even though they were in the land, David was concerned that they would not enter into His rest.  In other words, the land wasn’t the point.  The land was a picture; the land was a shadow.  Are we saying today that in order to enter into God’s rest, we have to all fly to Israel and enter the land?  And we all understand, “Of course not!”  So the land was a picture, a metaphor.  David comes along with Psalm 95, They’re in the land—David’s king over the land; he’s reigning over the land—but his concern is they still won’t enter His rest because the rest isn’t just the land; it’s just a picture, a metaphor.  So what is it?  It’s God saying, “My rest,” which goes all the way back to Genesis 2:2 where it says the rest of God started all the way back at the foundation of the world.  In Genesis 2:2, we’re told that “on the seventh day God rested.”  He quotes that in verse 4:
 
 For He has said somewhere concerning the seventh day: “AND GOD RESTED ON THE SEVENTH DAY FROM ALL HIS WORKS”; and again in this passage, “THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST.” (VS. 4-5) 
 
So here’s what he’s saying: On the seventh day of creation, God rested.  Why did God rest?  Was He worn out?  Had he had a really hard week?  God didn’t rest because He was tired; He rested because the work was done.  The text says that when God had completed His work, He rested.  Then He placed Adam and Eve in His rest.  This is essentially what defined paradise.  God had done the work; once it was completed He rested, He didn’t begin another work and rest cycle. He rested from creative work once and for all. Adam and Eve entered into that state of rest.  This is what God has always wanted for people made in His image.  But as you know the story, Adam and Eve sin; chaos enters the world, yet God still promises rest—“to enter into My rest.”  Was it the land? Was it a day? The land was just a metaphor, just a picture.  David comes along hundreds of years later and he still desires for the people by faith to enter God’s rest.  It wasn’t just the land; it wasn’t a day. It was something far more than that.  Now one of the interesting parts of Genesis 2:2: When God rested is not on day 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6—each one of those days ends with, “There was morning and there was evening.”  But on the seventh day, when God rested, you don’t read those words because the rest of God was not a day of the week.  It was not one day of the week.  It was a state.  God had now completed the work; it was a state of rest, and He wanted people made in His image to enter into that rest daily.  So the Jewish promised land is a shadow, the Jewish Sabbath day of the week is a shadow, but God’s rest is something far more than that.  Verse 6:
 
Therefore, since it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience,”  
 
So today there remains a rest for us to enter into, but we do so by faith.  We talked about this: Disbelief leads to disobedience!  Whenever I don’t believe God tells the truth, then I do it my way.  Whenever I don’t believe that God’s going to meet some need in my life, I do it my way.  Disbelief always leads to disobedience; that’s the concern of the writer. So verse 7:
He again fixes a certain day
Okay, there it is!  He again fixes a certain day—a day of rest.  What day is that?  Well, it’s today!  Oh, it’s Sunday.  Last time I said, “It’s today,” and they said, “Oh, it’s Saturday.”  This has been a longstanding debate: Is it Saturday or is it Sunday?  Are we still under the Sabbath of the old covenant?  Or is Sunday, the new covenant Sabbath?  Answer:  “Neither…Neither!”  This has nothing to do with whether or not you mow your lawn on Saturday or Sunday; it has nothing to do with whether or not a business is open or closed on a Saturday or Sunday; it has nothing to do with whether you have worked the fields on a Saturday or Sunday; it has nothing to do with whether you took a nature walk or went to church on a certain day!  The Sabbath rest today is today!  Ask me on Tuesday; I’ll say, “It’s today!”  Ask me on Friday, I’ll say, “It’s today!”  It’s not a holy day of the week; that was just a metaphor; it’s just a shadow.  It’s not a holy piece of ground or “the holy land” (Zec 2:12); it was just a metaphor—a shadow.  Ultimately it is a state to enter into the rest of God.  That’s what he’s saying: “What day is it?”  “It’s today!”  Verse 7:   
 
He again fixes a certain day, (what day?) “Today,” saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, “TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS.” For if Joshua had given them rest, He (God) would not have spoken of another day after that. (Vs. 7-8) 
 
So Joshua is the Hebrew version of the name Jesus.  So Jesus is the Greek version.  The Hebrew version of the exact same name is Joshua, and it reminds us that Joshua in the Old Testament was a type or a picture of the Messiah to come, a picture of the Jesus to come.  So what did Joshua do?  Joshua led them into the land of promise.  They claimed the land.  They observed weekly holy days. But God still promised that day of rest was yet to come.  So what he’s saying is, “If entering and possessing the land was the rest, then there would be no reason to say there’s still another day of rest coming, unless the land was merely a metaphor, a picture.  Just like the day of the week is a shadow of the ultimate fulfillment to come.  Verse 9: 
 
So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.  
 
Now that phrase Sabbath rest is actually one word in Greek.  It’s not found anywhere else—this is the only place it is found. It doesn’t say that there is a Sabbath day; it says there is a Sabbath rest.  So what is the Sabbath rest that remains for the people of God today?  It’s not a piece of land; it’s not a day of the week; those were just shadows; they were just pictures.  What is it?  Verse 10: 
 
 For the one who has entered His rest (how did he do that?) has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His.  
 
There it is right there—verse 10!  This is the main theme of the gospel all throughout the New Testament.  Who is it that enters into God’s rest by faith? Not God’s work and rest cycle, but God’s rest.  It’s the one who ceases from his or her works and enters into God’s rest.  On what day? Today. So what is the Sabbath about today?  It’s about not working.  What does that mean?  It has nothing to do whether or not you mow your lawn on a Sunday.  It has nothing to do with whether or not your business is open or closed on a Saturday.  It has nothing to do with whether or not you are working the fields on a Sunday.  It has nothing to do with that.  Sunday is not the new covenant Sabbath.  It has nothing to do with that.  What does it have to do with?  The idea of works is used consistently throughout the New Testament as defining those things we’re doing to somehow try to merit favor with God—efforts of self-righteousness, religious activity, things we’re trying to do to make ourselves good enough for God. The world is full of religion.  Religion taps into our desire to be our own god.  I want to do it myself; I want to make myself righteous; I want to make myself spiritual; I want to measure up on the basis of my own efforts.  But religion is oppressive; religion is damaging; religion is full of hopelessness and despair because every day you are reminded that you’re actually just a loser that will never measure up to the standard before a holy God.   
 
We know from the book of Hebrews what the work is that God completed—the fulfillment of a promise that at a point in time, the Creator God of the universe took on human flesh.  He blazed a trail of salvation by conquering sin and death once and for all.  As the ultimate High Priest, He offered Himself as the ultimate sacrifice for sin to make propitiation for sin.  Chapter 1 said to make purification for sin.  He was buried; He rose again; He returned to the Father and what did He do?  We learned this in Chapter 1: He sat down.  The priest was never allowed to sit because their job was never done, because it was only a foreshadowing of the promise of One who would ultimately pay the price for sin.  Jesus uttered on the cross, “It is finished!”  When He rose from the dead, He returned to the Father and the great High Priest sat down!  Mission accomplished; paid in full!  What did He do at the right hand of the Father?  He rested.  He created the rest of God that God has always wanted for people made in His image.  How do we enter into that rest?  By faith!  We cease from our own self-righteous works.  We give up our own attempts to merit favor with God through religious activity, and in brokenness and humility we acknowledge the only hope we have is what Jesus did for us.  We enter into the finished work of Christ.  This is a consistent message throughout the New Testament.  We’re going to throw a couple of verses on the screen just to remind ourselves of this message: 
 
But to the one who does not work but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness. (*NASB, Romans 4:5)  
 
This is the theme of the New Testament.  This is verse 10.  There is a Sabbath rest.  “Is it a piece of ground?”  “No, it’s not!”  “Is it a day of the week?”  “No, it’s not!”  Those were just shadows or pictures.  But ultimately Sabbath rest is when we rest from our own attempts at self-righteousness and we simply rest in what God has done for us through Jesus.  Sometimes people will say to me, “How come you don’t keep the Sabbath?”  Answer: “I keep it every day.” What a shame just to keep one day of the week. Ask me on Tuesday, I’ll say, “It’s today!”  I rest in the finished work of Jesus on the cross today.  Ask me on Friday, I’ll say, “It’s today!”  I rest in the finished work of Jesus on the cross.  It has nothing to do with mowing your lawn, opening your business, or working in the field.  It has to do with resting in what Jesus has done for us on the cross.  There is a Sabbath rest.  Verse 11: 
 
Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall through following the same example of disobedience.  
 
Now clearly rest is not automatic.  It’s not even automatic for believers.  That’s why he says, “…be diligent; work really hard at resting.”  There are those who have never trusted Christ.  They need to believe this is true.  Perhaps they’ve been used and abused and beat up by religion and need to hear, “That’s not what it’s about.”  But it’s also possible for those of us who have trusted Christ to still be miserable because we don’trest in the finished work of Jesus on the cross.  The enemy comes along and he whispers in your ear, “You’re a loser; you’re a failure; you’ll never measure up. Who do you think you are that God just hands out some kind of a salvation as a gift? You’ve got to be kidding me.  God probably is so annoyed that you’re in His presence because you’re a loser.”  How many lies does the enemy whisper in our ears and we’re anxious; we’re fearful; we’re hopeless, and we’re despairing because we are not diligent to rest.   
 
Can I come to the end of a day where I’ve blown it, biffed it, and disappointed God and myself again and still be at rest?  Answer:  “Yes!” …resting in the finished work of Jesus on the cross.  I need to be diligent to rest because when I rest, when I think that way, when I remember what’s true, that is the most likely scenario where I’m going to be repentant, where I’m going to confess, where I’m going to do it differently tomorrow—because I remember again who I am in Christ!  Verse 12: 
 
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able  to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. (Vs. 12-13)   
 
In other words, Him with whom we will be accountable.  So the Bible is not just words on a page. It’s a living, breathing book.  It’s the God-breathed Word of God.  God takes His words with His Spirit and He penetrates and He judges and He sorts out, and He presents us naked. That’s literally what it says—naked before a Holy God—the One to Whom we will give an account.  For some people that is an absolutely terrifying thought.  For some people they will avoid the book because the book terrifies them because it penetrates and it judges; and it discerns and it sorts out; and it presents us naked before a Holy God.  But for those of us who believe, it is where we find the truth. 
It’s where we find grace and mercy.  It’s where we find relief from the bondage of religion and enter into the rest of God.  It’s where we find guidance; it’s where we find life.  When we understand the truth about God’s rest, I am not terrified to be presented naked before a holy God because I know I stand in the rest—the finished work of Jesus on the cross.  It’s the living, active Word of God that gives me life, that gives me hope, that gives me a future, that gives me what I need to rest in my most difficult moments in life.  Verse 14: 
 
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens (meaning back to the Father to be seated), Jesus the Son of God (that’s His humanity and His deity), let us hold fast our confession (our statement of faith, what we believe).  For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.  Therefore let us draw near with confidence (boldly) to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Vs. 14-16)   
 
When we go through the most difficult moments of life, we cry out not to a god who is so abstract and disconnected we have no sense that he understands what we are going through.  That’s not who He is.  It’s the One who actually took on human flesh.  As remarkable as that may seem, the God of the universe actually became one of us—and He walked on this earth.  He knows our struggle; He knows our pain; He knows our trials and our temptations; This is the God who loves me; this is the God who saved me; this is the God who’s experienced the struggle and the pain that I’m going through.  I come boldly and confidently into the presence of God, and in my hour of need I find grace and mercy.  I find what I need to get me through another day! 
 
There is a Sabbath rest.  It’s not a day of the week; it’s not a piece of ground.  It’s a Person.  It’s a Person who did for me what I could not do for myself—and He offers it freely as a gift!  If mixed with faith, I believe and enter into His rest.  
 
He’s just inviting you, by faith, to enter that rest, to experience the forgiveness of sin, and to experience a relationship with God.  I would invite you this morning, to enter into that rest.  What day is the Sabbath rest? It’s today!  Why would you wait?  Why would you wait until tomorrow?  Why wouldn’t you enter that rest today?  
 
Our Father, it’s really just so hard to comprehend that the God of the universe actually took on human flesh to make a way of salvation, to conquer sin and death once and for all,  to make payment for sin, and to simply offer it freely as a gift.  Lord, we’ve been reminded that truth has to be mixed with faith.  We have to choose to believe that’s true to enter into Your rest.  Lord, may today be our day of Sabbath rest. In Jesus’ name, Amen. 
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Faith That Works

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USELESS FAITH

James 2:14-26

If you have genuinely experienced the life-changing power of God’s grace, if you have been radically changed and transformed, if you have the nature of Christ and the Spirit of Christ within you, how can that not make you a generous person?  Is it possible that even though you know the right answers to the questions, you’ve actually never experienced true saving faith?  And a faith that isn’t a saving faith is a faith that is useless.  That’s the argument that James makes in James chapter 2.

Now James is a very practical book, perhaps the most straight-up practical book in the New Testament.  The author James is not the Peter, James, and John; it’s James, the half-brother of Jesus.  This book’s written less than twenty years after the resurrection of Christ, so a very early book.  He’s writing to dispersed Jews—Jews that consider themselves to be Christians, but because of the persecution in Jerusalem they have fled and been dispersed around the Mediterranean.  But James has a concern that even though they consider themselves to be Christians, for many of them there’s simply no evidence that they have experienced a life-changing encounter with Jesus.  They say the right things but there are no works that seem consistent with a life that has been changed by Jesus.

Just because you say you are a Christian, just because you may know the right answer to some quiz questions, doesn’t mean you’ve actually experienced true life change.

So in Chapter 1, James talks about the need to be “doers of the word and not merely hearers only.”  The Bible’s not an encyclopedia.  The deal is not that someday when you die God gives a quiz and if you get eighty percent, you’re in.  It’s not all about information; it’s about: This is how life is to be lived, and it begins with a powerful encounter with the resurrected Christ.  He ends chapter 1 by saying, “For example, it should affect the way you talk.  It should affect a compassion for orphans and widows in need.”   In a 1st Century culture, those were the two most vulnerable categories of people.  You should genuinely care about those in need, and number three:  to remain unstained from the world—in other words to pursue a lifestyle of holiness.  So that’s being a doer of the word, not merely a hearer.

Chapter 2 moves into a discussion about partiality, that if you treat someone with money differently than someone who is poor, you’re guilty of partiality, which is completely contrary to the message of grace.  He doesn’t say that’s bad behavior; he says that’s sin.  As a matter of fact he says, “It’s every bit as much sin as murder or adultery.”  That then creates the context for the discussion that we want to have starting in verse 14:

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? (*NASB, James 2:14)

 

Now it’s very important to understand the question is not whether salvation is by faith alone.  The discussion is not:  Is it faith alone?  Is it works alone?  Or is it faith and works?  That’s not the discussion.  As a matter of fact, that is a settled issue.  The New Testament could not be clearer that it is faith alone, not by works.  The issue James is discussing is the nature of saving faith.  There’s no question it’s by faith alone, but the faith that saves is a faith that works.  The Bible does not teach that salvation is basically an intellectual assent of three or four bullet points and, on the basis of my assent to that, I get my ticket to heaven and slip it in my back pocket.  The New Testament teaching is that salvation is a radical transformation.  It is rebirth.  You are a new creation in Christ.  You actually have a new nature and it’s the nature of Christ.  You actually have the very Spirit of Jesus dwelling within you.  It is complete and it is radical.  If that’s true, then it’s far more than an intellectual assent.  It is life changing and there should be evidence of a changed life.  If all there is that twenty years ago I said a prayer, put my ticket to heaven in my back pocket, and “I’m good,” and other than that you live no differently than the rest of the world, you have reason to question whether you have actually experienced a saving faith.  That’s why James says, “Can that faith save him?  Can a faith that has no works save?”  That’s the question at hand.

Verse 15:

If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? (Vs. 15-16)

So there’s our illustration:  Somebody is in need of food.  Somebody is in need of shelter.  Rather than having a heart of generosity, there’s merely pious language.  Go in peace, be warmed and be filled.  But the question is, “What use is that?”  And the answer is, “It is no use.”  It does nothing to meet the needs of these people.  A true, radical transformation produces a heart of generosity.  There is within us the compassion for people in need just like Jesus demonstrated when He walked on the earth.  Verse 17:

Even so…verse 16 is the illustration…faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself…

 

In other words faith that demonstrates no real life change.

To experience the resurrected Christ, something deep within me changes.  I have a new conviction of sin; I have a passion for righteousness and holiness; I have a desire to be generous.  I want to know God; I want to know God’s Word; I want to know God’s people; I want to give my life to the things that matter.  If there’s simply no life change, that is a faith that is dead, and it is not a saving faith.  James anticipates an objection and he records that in verse 18:

But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works”; (Vs. 18a)

Now verse 18 is much debated.  The debate is about where the quotation marks go.  In the Greek text there are no quotation marks, and so it’s up to the interpreter to decide how much of that verse is the voice of the objector.  I believe only the opening line is the objector.  All the scholars agree that it’s the voice of the objector saying, “Now wait a minute”, (and by the way this is perfect for our 21st century post-modern crowd).  The objection is, “Now wait a minute, you have your deal; I have mine.  You do it your way; I’ll do it mine.  Some have faith; some have works; it all works itself out.”  That’s basically what the objector is saying.  So then James is responding:

       “…show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”                                        (Vs. 18b)

How do you demonstrate that you have truly experienced a saving faith if there are no works?  James is saying, “You have no reason to believe that you have experienced a life-changing encounter with Jesus if there are no works.  You simply have no evidence of that.”  But James is also saying, “I’ll show you I’ve been radically changed; it’s evident in the way I live my life.”

Now the purpose of this text is not for everyone to walk back out the doors thoroughly insecure, now wondering, “Am I really saved?”  It isn’t that complicated.  Look at your life: If you can demonstrate, “I have been radically changed,” “I have a passion for holiness,” “I have a heart of compassion,” “I want to know God,” “I want to know what God says,” “I want to be generous,” “I want to walk in holiness,” “I have conviction of sin,” there’s evidence that I have been radically changed by the power of Jesus.  But if you were to be completely honest and say, “You know when I look at my life, I know the right answers to the quiz questions, but other than that I see no real difference between my life and the unsaved people around me,” you have reason to believe perhaps you haven’t really experienced saving faith.  Verse 19:

You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.

 

In referring that God is One, remember these are dispersed Jews and at the core of Judaism was the belief of one God.  It’s a reference to the Shema from Deuteronomy that says, “Our God is One God.”  All of the religions of the ancient world were polytheistic—had multiple gods.  There was one religion and that was Judaism where there is one and only one God.  So this is at the core of their belief system and James is saying, “You believe that.  Good for you!  So do the demons!”  They get it! There is one God and this God is powerful and it makes them tremble.  So let’s put this in 21st Century language.  Most of the people who identify themselves as Christians would say, “Well, I believe like the Christmas story; I believe that, you know, God became flesh; Jesus was born in a manger from a Virgin Mary.”  Well, good for you!  The demons believe that too!  “Well, but I believe the Easter story.  I believe that Jesus died on a cross.  I believe that He was buried.  I believe He rose again.”  Good for you!  The demons believe that too!  I would suggest there’s not a demon out there that denies the Christmas story or the Easter story; they know that’s what happened.  They get it.  They believe it and they tremble!  But clearly that doesn’t make them Christian.

You have to move from intellectual assent to what the Bible would call believing or trusting.  It’s a step of faith—that I actually trust that Jesus did this for me.  It includes repentance: I’m no longer pursuing self-righteousness but trusting in what Jesus did for me.  And it is a faith that results in a radical transformation, and that radical transformation should be evident in changes in your life, your purpose, your mission, your conviction of sin.  You are a new creation in Christ, and at the center of that should be a heart of generosity.  That’s who Jesus is and, if we now have the nature of Christ, it should be evident in our desire to help those in need.

 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?  You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.  In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?  (Vs. 20-25)

Two illustrations:  If you were to take those verses, pull them out of context and isolate them, it’s very confusing. That seems completely contrary to what Paul teaches in Romans.  But this is a reminder why we do not take verses out of context and isolate them.  They are very much given in a context and that’s where they have to be understood.  So to start with, let’s remind ourselves that when Paul was making an argument that salvation is by faith alone, who did he use as the poster child to make his point?  Answer is Romans chapter 4: Abraham. He quotes Genesis 15:6: “Abraham believed and it was reckoned as righteousness.”  He wasn’t circumcised until two chapters later.  The discussion here in James is thirty years later when Abraham offered Isaac.  The argument that James is making is not that Abraham was justified on the basis of works, but rather that the Bible states he was justified on the basis of faith.  But to demonstrate that faith was a saving faith, it was followed by works.  Specifically thirty years later, in his greatest moment of faith, he was willing to offer Isaac, his only son, on an altar in obedience to God.  So the question would be: “Okay, the text says that Abraham was justified by faith.  How do we know that’s a true statement?”  Answer:  “His works demonstrated that he was truly, radically changed, justified by the power of God.”

It’s the same argument with Rahab.  Somewhere along the way, Rahab the prostitute believed.  We don’t know when that was.  We only know that when the spies went in to Jericho, she risked her own life to protect them, to care for them, and to deliver them.  What we know is that Rahab did not just have an intellectual assent.  She believed; she was radically changed; the evidence is that she actually risked her life in order to act on that faith and to deliver the spies.  The story of Rahab is a fascinating one.  Her faith was so great that she would live among the Jewish people and she would actually be a woman through whom the seed of the Messiah would travel.  If you look in Matthew chapter 1 in the genealogy of Christ, there listed is Rahab the harlot—a radical transformation.  His point is true: saving faith works.  He closes the chapter with verse 26:

For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.  

It’s a rather graphic illustration, but if you’ve been to a funeral, there’s a body in a casket.  Without the spirit there is no life; it has no potential to do anything.  Faith without works is like a body without spirit; it is simply dead.

So what do we do with this text?  First of all, this is not a text by which we judge everyone else’s salvation.  That’s always the danger in a text like that.  Perhaps you’re sitting there thinking, “Well, I’m thinking about Joe,”—“Joe’s out”—“and Sally”—“Sally’s out.” Or even my spouse.  That’s a very dangerous thing to do.  You don’t know that.  What you do know is yourself and your own heart, and that is the point of the text. Okay, good for you. You know the right answers: You know the right answers on the quiz; you know what to say when God asks you the Kennedy question.  That doesn’t mean you’ve experienced a saving faith.  A faith that saves is a faith that works (not faith plus works).  If you’ve truly experienced a radical transformation by the power of Jesus, Paul says to the Corinthians that salvation is on the basis of God’s grace and that grace is so radical that if you’ve truly experienced God’s grace, it will make you a generous person.  Specifically he says, “Jesus, who was rich for your sake, He became poor in order that through His poverty you might become rich.”   

 

The True Church not an Institution

one-true-church
• The New Testament teaches that the attributes of the true church are soteriological (determined by faith in Jesus) and not institutional.

• The church is one because the atonement that Christ made on the cross has “brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us.” (Eph. 2:14, 15).

• So, the barrier which separates fellow believers according to class, race and sex has been removed by Christ’s death on the cross. The risen Lord is therefore the exalted Head of “a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17) which is His “one body” (Eph. 1:16, 19-23; 2:14).

• The community of believers in Christ is the fellowship of “who have been called by God to be his own holy people. He made you holy by means of Christ Jesus, just as he did for all people everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord” (1 Cor. 1:2). So, the “saints” are those who have put their trust in Christ as Saviour, who have been born again by the Spirit, who have been reconciled to God and to each other and whom God has separated from the world to be His people (2 Thess. 2:13, 14; 2 Tim. 1:9, 10).

• The church is catholic (i.e. universal) because Christ has made atonement (payment) on the cross for the sins of the whole world and because this good news is now being proclaimed “to every nation, tribe, language and people” (Rev. 14:6).

• So, the universal church of God consists of all believers in Christ throughout the world. These are they who have received forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ’s name (Acts 10:43) and who have been born again into the family and kingdom of God (John 1:12, 13; 3:1-8). Local congregations are but the local manifestations of the one universal church of Christ.

• The church is apostolic because its faith and life are grounded solely on the testimony of the apostles whom Christ sovereignly appointed to witness and proclaim His saving work (Luke 6:13; Acts 1:2, 21, 22; John 14:26; 15:26f; 17:20).

• The New Testament has preserved for the church the content of the apostles’ teaching concerning Christ, His redemptive work on the cross, His triumphant resurrection from the dead, and His ascension to heaven where He was exalted by the Father to sit at His right hand.

• Just as the church was founded upon the apostles’ witness, so it is nourished and grows by continuing in the apostles’ teaching (Acts 2:42). The strongest condemnation rests upon anyone who would corrupt the purity of the apostolic Gospel (Gal. 1:6-9).The apostles’ interpretation of the Gospel is the final norm of sound teaching (2 Ti. 1:13-14; Tit. 1:3, 9).This is “the faith that was once (for all) entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3), and insofar as the Christian Church upholds the true Gospel as proclaimed by the apostles, it is “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15).This commitment to the apostolic witness alone will safeguard the unity, holiness of the church.

Roman Catholicism

• Rome interprets the attributes of the church in institutional terms. Unity means lockstep conformity and submission to the demands and teachings of the hierarchical Roman structure.

The Reformers

• The Reformers denied Rome’s claim that its organization constituted the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church because they had discovered a vital truth in the New Testament—that the attributes of the church are not institutional but soteriological.

• Therefore, according to the New Testament and the Reformers, Christ’s true church is the community of all who have put their trust in Him. The marks by which we may know the true church are: it believes and faithfully proclaims the pure and unadulterated Gospel as recorded in the Scriptures by the Lord’s chosen apostles, and it faithfully administers baptism and the Lord’s Supper (by which the gospel is portrayed).

Sectarian Claims

• Certain religious institutions claim to be Christ’s only true church to the exclusion of other Christian groups, which are regarded as apostate Babylon. In attempts to find scriptural support for such self-commending claims, appeal is made to certain isolated proof-texts upon which dubious interpretations are imposed. For example, Roman Catholicism appeals to Matthew 16:18 (“And I tell you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church”) in an effort to establish its supremacy.

• Some religious groups make the name of their denomination the mark of the true church (e.g.“The Church of Christ”).

• Sectarianism is contrary to the principles of the Bible by denying the unity, holiness, catholicity and apostolicity of the Christian Church as depicted in the New Testament Scriptures. It denies the unity of all who believe in Christ for the forgiveness of sins and that all believers have a common Father in heaven and share a common new life in the Spirit constituting them members of one family. Thus does sectarianism bring division into the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 3:16, 17).

• It denies the holiness of the church because it ignores the fact that the imperfections in belief and practice seen in the different segments of the Christian community are covered by the blood of Christ. It usually claims perfection for the doctrines it promulgates referring to them as “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” According to them all other denominations are steeped in darkness and error.

• It denies the apostolicity of the church by its claims to have light and knowledge in advance of the rest of Christendom and sometimes even of the chosen apostles of Christ to whom were revealed all the truth the church needs to know this side of eternity. This advance light and knowledge is usually based on an extra-biblical authority.

Seventh-day Adventism

• In many respects the Adventist understanding of the church is very much like that of Roman Catholicism.

The True Church and Remnant

• Adventism regards itself not merely as “a church” but as “the church.” It claims that its denomination is the only true church on earth today. All other denominations it denounces as Babylon.Therefore, according to Adventism, it is the only legitimate visible church in the entire world. As stated above, such claims are only made by sectarian cults of which the Roman Catholic denomination is the greatest.

• Adventism not only claims to be the only true church on earth today, it also claims to be God’s remnant—His end-time church. The two main proof texts for this claim are Revelation 12:17 and 19:10. Based on these two texts it states that the true end-time church—the remnant—must observe all ten commandments and have a prophet. Accordingly, Adventism claims that it alone qualifies as “the remnant church.”

Adventism’s 1844 Theology

• The above claims by Adventism are also based on its unique interpretation of its cardinal text of Scripture—Daniel 8:14. Mrs. E. G.White, Adventism’s end-time prophetess, states: “The scripture which above all others had been both the foundation and the central pillar of the advent faith was the decla ration:‘Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed.’ Daniel 8:14” (GC 409).

What can be said of Adventism’s 1844 theology? Just as Christianity stands or falls on the resurrection event (1 Cor. 15:1-4), so Adventism stands or falls on the “1844 event.” If there were no resurrection, there would be nothing salvage- able in Christianity. If no event of redemptive significance occurred in heaven on October 22, 1844, there is nothing salvageable in Adventism.

• Adventism is adamant that God had revealed the true meaning of Daniel 8:14 to its pioneers and Mrs. White and that He has entrusted it to the Adventist denomination as His end- time message to Christendom and the world. This is the basis of Adventism’s triumphant self-image:“a special people with a special message for a special time” (to quote a popular Adventist slogan).

• Not only, however, is there no biblical data—a clear ‘Thus saith the Lord’—to support the 1844 date and Adventism’s explanation for the Great Disappointment debacle, the 1844 theology is contrary to the New Testament Gospel.

• Christ’s finished work of atonement (redemption) on the cross and His once-and-for-all entrance into the heaven itself—Heb. 9:24 to sit down at the Father’s right hand exclude a redemptive event beginning on October 22, 1844 (such as the ‘final’ atonement, the blotting out of sins started from 1844, the transfer of sin onto Satan, justification ‘full and complete’, the latter rain, the final seal of God, etc).

• In proclaiming such an event and exhorting people to place their faith in it, Adventists are preaching “another gospel” (Gal. 1:6-8)—a gospel with features not found in the writings of the New Testament apostles.

• At best, Adventism’s 1844 theology can only rest on an extra-biblical authority—that of its prophetess, Mrs. White. Raymond F. Cottrell, one of Adventism’s leading scholars, frankly admitted this. (See his paper submitted to the Glacier View Sanctuary Review Committee, August 10-15, 1980, entitled, A Hermeneutic for Predictive Prophecy, esp. pp. 28-30).

• So, in promulgating their 1844 theology, Adventists go beyond the apostolic witness as recorded in the New Testament. It cannot therefore claim to be a church based on the apostolic teaching of the Gospel.

• The remnant motif first appears in the Old Testament in reference to the minority in Israel who had not bowed the knee to Baal (1 Kings 19:18).

• But the New Testament apostles employed the remnant motif to describe the New Testament community. (Acts 15:14- 18; Rom. 9:27-29; 11:1-5). Therefore, in the light of the New Testament, the Christian Church or Body of Christ IS the remnant since its inception on the day of Pentecost and will remain so until the last day when Christ will come again.

• The pioneers of Adventism developed their 1844 and end- time-remnant doctrines on the assumption that the last days did not arrive until 1798 (1844 era).

• But the apostles declared that they were already living in the time of the end and that the Gospel they were preaching was God’s end-time message for the world (Acts 2:17; Heb. 1:1, 2; 9:26; 1 Pet. 1:20; Rev. 1:1

• Therefore, Adventism’s claim that the last days arrived when it arrived on the scene in 1844 is way off the mark by about 1800 years! No, the last days arrived when Jesus arrived on the public scene 2000 years ago. This is the witness of His apostles.

• To now go beyond what the apostles preached and wrote is cultic. Adventism has officially denied what the New Testament says in this regard in order to maintain its unique 1844 theology and all that goes with it.

Conclusion

• In view of the above, what arrogance is manifested in Adventism’s claim to be the remnant church while not possessing that which alone makes a person part of God’s remnant—the true Gospel of Christ as promulgated by the New Testament apostles. Faith alone in this Gospel made the Gentiles part of the end-time remnant.

• The Jews had the Ten Commandments, observed the Sabbath and boasted the possession of more than one prophet (outdoing Adventism on this point).Yet they were excluded as a nation from the remnant because they rejected the Gospel concerning Christ and His saving work.

• Therefore, when weighed in the balances of the apostolic witness of the Gospel as recorded in the New Testament, Adventism is found wanting. Not only does it not have the true Gospel, the three or more divergent theological strands within Adventism (conservative, progressives, liberal, Sequeiran SDA gospels preached in the church) constitute nothing less than Babylonian confusion.

• And then it has the audacity to label all other Christian denominations Babylon!

• Adventism does not therefore qualify as the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church” as per the attributes stated in the Bible.

(Adapted: The True Church not an institution by Christ Badenhorst (appeared on Proclamation Sept/Oct 2006)