Maintaining Faith

By Jared Allen

 

The idea of works-based Christianity is one that has plagued the Church since the beginning of the Christian movement. People have a natural tendency to point to this act or that work to obtain the forgiveness of sin. However, I would argue that the more prevalent tendency is to teach works-based maintenance of salvation rather than a works-based reception of salvation.

               Sure, there have always been those rituals or traditions that different sects within Christendom have clung to as if they were a necessity to receiving God’s grace. Yet all of them are relatively easy to dismiss as prerequisites for salvation. For example, many have pointed to baptism as one such entry rite. This simply cannot be the case. There are numerous examples showing baptism as a post-conversion act taken by those who have already expressed faith in Jesus and received God grace. Actually, to say that baptism is a requirement for salvation would suggest that Jesus himself was either ignorant of this prerequisite, or an outright liar. Think about it, as Jesus hung on the cross between two criminals, one of them expressed faith in Jesus, to which Jesus declared, “Truly I tell you, you will be with me today in paradise.” (Luke 23:43, CSB) If baptism were in fact a prerequisite to salvation, how could Jesus make such a promise to this man?

               So, while works-based entry to the Christian faith has always been, and always will be a problem, the more common issue seems to be a works-based maintenance of salvation. It’s almost as if we say, “salvation is a free gift of God, but you need to follow these rules, or you aren’t really saved.” While most of us wouldn’t actually say this, practically, our actions reflect it.

               And many well-intentioned preachers have compacted the problem from the pulpit. I know this is something I have done without realizing it. How many times have we heard a sermon that says, if you are really a follower of Jesus you will ______ (you fill in the blank). Like I said, it’s not as if we want to lead people astray or build up some impossible standard that people can’t live up to. But this kind of preaching inevitably leads people to feel discouraged and disgruntled, and often makes them feel as if they need to walk away from the Church.

               Paul himself deals with this issue in the book of Galatians. The central theme of the letter is the importance of keeping the Gospel of Jesus the only Gospel we preach. In other words, don’t add to or take away from the free gift of grace offered by Jesus. Paul says it this way, “I am amazed that you are so quickly turning away from him who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are troubling you and trying to distort the gospel of Christ.” (Galatians 1:6-7) He then goes on to explain that nothing can truly change the gospel and even goes so far as to describe an incident where he had to rebuke Peter for showing priority to those who held to certain religious rites.

               So, does this mean that a person can live however they want and be followers of Jesus?

               While the answer to this question is too complicated to completely unpack here, the simple answer is yes. The Bible refers to a person of faith as a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17, 6:15) and says that God changes our desires by giving us a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26). It appears that we can, in fact, do whatever we want, but part of receiving God’s grace means that He will give us a desire to follow after Him that will naturally result in fundamentally different lives.

               So, is there anything that we must do to maintain salvation? Absolutely not! But should we be pleading with God to change our hearts so that they reflect His desires? Yes.

               What we should be advocating for is that those who have received God’s grace of Salvation in Christ begin to question what it means for God to change their hearts. Paul goes on in Galatians to say that Jesus has become His life. He has turned from any works-based salvation, and maintenance of salvation. Instead, Paul says, “what matters is faith working through love.” (Galatians 5:6)

               Believers have an awesome privilege to be used by God. Any works that are done by the person of faith are simply an overflow of the love that we have experienced. Any activity (Baptism, evangelism, Bible study, prayer, etc.) must be seen as a response to the grace God has already granted us rather than some way to “prove” our faith.

But thank God, he has chosen to use as ambassadors of His grace through which he displays His love, grace, mercy, and so much more.



Living in Tension

Living in Tension

By Jared Allen
 
          Tension.  Nobody likes tension. If you are like me, you hear tension and think of those uncomfortably confrontations that arise at work, between friends, or sometimes even between family members.  I think of those moments that I know there is going to be a disagreement that may lead to an argument or at least some uncomfortable interactions for a while. 

            It turns out that there is another kind of tension though.  A kind that doesn’t need to be uncomfortable (although it may be that way sometimes).  A kind of tension that is actually healthy.  A kind of tension that I actually think Christians should, and actually need to, cling to in order to be everything that God has called them to be.  To fulfill the great commission and make disciples of all nations.  And, perhaps I’m mistaken, but I would guess that most Christians want to be all God wants them to be. 

            So, what is this tension?  How do we find it?  How do we hold on to it?

            Well, I think the first thing we must do is to realize that sometimes when we face “option A” and “option B,” we need to look for an “option C.” Here’s what I mean.  Some people will naturally tend to look at God’s grace, kindness, and mercy.  But there are others who tend to look at God’s righteousness, his holiness, and his perfect justice.  Is either party right or wrong?  Of course not!  They both recognize attributes of God, but they only select the God they want, and are, in a way, recognizing the God they would prefer instead recognizing God as HE is. 

            But I think we need to see God as neither one extreme nor the other, but that he is actually both. 

            While I don’t want to get into deep theological debate, nor do I have time to fully develop the idea here, maybe an example that people struggle with more frequently is the idea of “divine election.”  The idea that either God “chooses” who will be saved, OR we have free will to “choose” whether or not we will accept Him. Again, I would like to answer yes to both sides of this debate. The Bible makes it clear that God “chooses” and that humans are responsible for the decisions they make. 

            While this idea of living in the tension isn’t universal, I think we need to at least consider it.  We need to live in the tension and recognize that God is merciful but he’s also just.  He’s the God who created the whole universe and the God that is in every seemingly miniscule detail.

            When we recognize this truth, we have a chance to do what God has called us to.  To live in the tension.  To be Jesus’ hands and feet.  To show people his love but call them to repentance.  To live according to the law even though not bound by it.  To pursue holiness not out of compulsion, but out of grace. 

            This is a tension that we, the church, need.



Challenging Tradition

Challenging Tradition

By Jared Allen

 

             When I was a child, my family primarily celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve.  And in my house Christmas was no small thing.  We CELEBRATED!  As a matter of fact, we have continued many of the traditions my parents began when my three brothers and I were little. For example, my dad always read the Christmas story from Luke 2:1-20 before we opened any gifts.  My brothers and I would all crowd around dad and his bible, often jockeying for the “best spot” on dad’s lap. 

            This tradition, although it may seem small, has stuck with me.  Every year on Christmas Eve, Dad still gets out his bible and reads this familiar story.  While some of the surrounding details have changed, the tradition still reminds us that we need to look at Jesus, the greatest gift ever given, before we even think about opening the gifts under the tree.  And now I’m watching a whole new generation gather around Grandpa, the man I know as Dad, and hear about the Savior coming into the world. 

            As I reflect upon this simple tradition as an adult, I realize this is something many, if not all, of us need.  It seems that if something is “traditional” we label it as outdated and unimportant.  And this isn’t just something that’s happening “out there”, it’s also something that’s happening within the Church.    However, this certainly shouldn’t be the case.  Changing music styles, preaching styles, length of services, doctrinal stances and statements, or any other items, just because they are “traditional” or “old” isn’t the right way to approach things.  I wouldn’t replace this childhood tradition for anything, not to mention that it is far from unimportant. 

            Does this mean that we should never deviate from tradition?  Are we to blindly hold to the status quo without asking any questions?

            NO!  As a pastor of an evangelical church, I would be a blind fool if I was to answer in the affirmative.  If the Reformation taught us anything, it is that the Church, at the very least needs to reflect on its traditions. And even before that, the New Testament is chock-full of examples where people rebelled against the religious establishment. In fact, Jesus himself was seen as a religious rebel.

            That said, there is a reason that the establishment is the establishment.  Our task isn’t to throw out all tradition, rather, it is to determine the nature of each individual tradition.  We need to judge them based on a few simple criteria. 

First, is the tradition biblical?  The Bible supersedes all.  If there is a clear biblical mandate on the issue, we fall in line (see Mark 7:1-13). 

Second, is the traditions beneficial for me?  There are those who practice certain traditions that are to their own detriment.  Simply following a tradition at one’s own expense is not noble, it’s foolish.  Some may say, “well the Bible doesn’t say NOT to do it.”  This doesn’t mean that we throw caution to the wind and enjoy.  Instead we need to reflect and determine the real effect of our actions; even on ourselves (1 Corinthians 6:12).

            Third, is the tradition beneficial for those around me?  Tradition at the expense of anyone’s personal growth should be avoided.  Our traditions MUST reflect a desire to help others (see 1 Corinthians 10:23-24).

            While these three simple questions are certainly not exhaustive, they at least give us the framework for challenging our traditions, both at Christmas time and those of the Church. 

            I would also like to remind everyone to approach these traditions with grace.  There will inevitably be those traditions that need changing.  An attempt to do so will result in numerous challenges, possibly even hurt feelings.  So be gentle, and don’t try to do it alone.  God gave us a family (biological and church) that loves us and desires good for us.  With their help and God’s grace, we just may begin traditions that honor God for generations. 



^