Sunday, January 25, 2009

It’s about faithfulness

by John D Ramsey

Soon after I started blogging, one post quickly jumped ahead of the others in new visits. In “Ora et labora,” I wrote of Dad’s lifetime of faithfulness. The post was about Dad, but it pleased Mom greatly. Today another old post has exceeded “Ora et labora” in visits. I do not think that Dad will mind being eclipsed by “Faith and faithfulness.”

It seems that many people wonder the difference between faith and faithfulness and Google has been kind enough to refer them to my dissertation. I remember last summer this topic was on my mind, but I struggled to address it until we went to see Othello in Southmoreland Park near the Plaza and the Nelson. Othello swears by his wife, Desdemona, saying, “My life upon her faith!” In the ancient Greek language, there is no distinction between faith and faithfulness. The same word expresses both concepts, which begs the question whether there are two concepts or only one. It seems that in Shakespeare’s day he used faith and faithfulness interchangeably. The thought that faith and faithfulness are somehow disassociated appears to be a thoroughly modern contrivance.

A dear friend explained that we know the difference between faith and faithfulness based upon the context in Scripture. Yet such an approach prejudices the question of whether there is a difference! Are we saved by faith, or are we saved by faithfulness? Modern evangelical Christianity uses “saved by faith” like it is a Staples Easy Button. Yet the writer of Hebrews tells us, “Christ is faithful as a son over God's house. And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast.” Hebrews 3:6 (NIV) A few verses later he writes, “We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.” Hebrews 3:14 (NIV) Clearly, the writer of Hebrews believed that we are saved by faithfulness.

Likewise, James, the brother of Jesus, asserted that true faith manifests itself in righteous deeds. James tells us that Abraham did not find favor with God by sitting in his tent. He gained God’s favor through hard obedience. The obedience validated the faith.

Moreover, the words of the Savior demand faithfulness. In the book of Revelation, Jesus says,

To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.

Revelation 2:7 (NIV)

He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.

Revelation 2:11 (NIV)

To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.

Revelation 2:17 (NIV)

To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations —
‘He will rule them with an iron scepter;
he will dash them to pieces like pottery’ —

just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give him the morning star.

Revelation 2:26-28 (NIV)

He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels.

Revelation 3:5 (NIV)

I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name.

Revelation 3:11-12 (NIV)

To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.

Revelation 3:21 (NIV)

He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

Revelation 21:6-8 (NIV)

What is the saving faithfulness of which Jesus was speaking when he spoke of “him who overcomes?”

Now have come the salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God,
and the authority of his Christ.
For the accuser of our brothers,
who accuses them before our God day and night,
has been hurled down.

They overcame him
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
as to shrink from death.

Revelation 12:10-11 (NIV)

Dad contributed “Word of testimony” to this blog wherein he discusses the Greek root of the word translated, “testimony.” In English, it transliterates to “martyr.” “Word of testimony” is in ninth place in number of readers in this blog. You will not hurt my feelings if you make Dad's posts more popular than mine.

Many evangelical Christians teach that salvation is a free gift – they interpret this to mean that it is given without cost or responsibility to the recipient. Yet the word translated “free gift” carries no such connotation. Rather charisma, in the Greek, carries the connotation of unmerited favor. We cannot earn it, but if we truly receive God’s grace, it will change us thoroughly and forever. Saving faith always includes repentance, or a change of direction. Salvation is not something we did at some arbitrary point in our lives. Salvation is repentance before God and acceptance of his marvelous gift. Salvation surrenders our lives to Jesus Christ. Saving faith demonstrates faithfulness, not because we manage to earn our place in glory, but because finishing the journey validates our commitment at the start.

Jesus said, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” Mark 8:35 (NIV)

Near his conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus implored the crowd, saying,

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”

Matthew 7:15-23 (NIV)

Earlier this week, I wrote about Hananiah, a false prophet who taught restoration without repentance and faith in wishful thinking rather than faith in God and His Word. Within Christendom there are many similar wolves in sheep’s clothing who are flippant with their false assurances. Yet before gambling your eternal destiny on someone else’s eloquence and circular reasoning, ask yourself three questions?
1. How does the “blood of the Lamb” factor into my salvation?
2. How does my “word of testimony” factor into my salvation?
3. Do I love my life too much too die for my faith?
If these questions are unsettling to you, then read the other posts I have mentioned. If you want, contact me. I would be happy to answer questions and suggest Scripture passages for you to read.

“Come now, let us reason together,”
says the LORD.
Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.”
Isaiah 1:18 (NIV)

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