Commentary on "Faith"
Day 3: Monday, April 6, 2009
I have a couple of thoughts to add to what the writer says in today's lesson. He is right in saying that exactly how God imparts saving faith is a mystery. However, Scripture has given us clues -- clues that point to "Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith" (Hebrews 12:2), so that he alone gets the credit and the glory.
First, the New Testament is clear that God chooses those whom He will call:
Second, God alone enables us to come to Jesus in faith. Jesus said to his disciples, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day" (John 6:44). Earlier he remarks, "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out" (John 6:37).
Scripture in the Life of the Believer
Regarding the role of the Scriptures in the life of the believer, I keep on coming back to John 8:31, where Jesus says, "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine." One wonderful example of continuing in and submitting to Jesus' word is Mary Magdalene, who sat at the feet of Jesus and listened. When Martha (who was busy, worried, and upset) objected, Jesus said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her" (John 10:41-42). Not that Jesus condones laziness (Paul instructs the church: "Whoever will not work shall not eat"); rather, the life of faith is simply listening to Jesus and submitting to His word -- no trying to handle things on our own strength.
Practical Righteousness by Faith
The author mentions James 2:18-19. Seventh-day Adventists often try to use James' statements to justify a doctrine of righteousness or perfection being attained by works or external effort. The statement "You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone" (James 2:24) seems to condone a justification by external actions, which would contradict Paul's teaching that "to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness" (Romans 4:5). As Gary Inrig says, Paul and James are standing back to back, fighting for the same truth and against different heresies. Paul is addressing folks who rely on works for salvation (rather than trusting God), and James is addressing folks whose actions prove they don't have faith in the first place. "Belief determines behavior," as the adage goes, and faith in Jesus indeed has the effect of transforming our lives.
James gives the example of Abraham offering up his son Isaac in obedience to God. Abraham was not attempting to perfect himself by a law of works when he sacrificed his son Isaac; rather, he was simply trusting and obeying God. Rahab, James' other example, also demonstrated a belief in and a fear of the true God when she hid the spies from Israel, rather than an attempt to measure up to some external legalistic standard. Both James and Paul are condoning simple faith in God, which will be displayed in our behavior as a trust in God and an obedience to Him, and not to some external code of behavior, as Paul says: "by observing the law no one will be justified" (Galatians 2:16).
If God convicts you of ways you fall short in faith or obedience, your focus of effort should not be toward changing yourself by your own strength. Rather, listen to Jesus' word and abide in Him. He has said that "apart from Me you can do nothing." Conversely, "he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit" (John 15:5). And life in Jesus is not burdensome. He says
Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).
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