The doctrine of Sola Fide states basically that we are saved by faith or belief in Jesus Christ alone and not by any of our meritorious works. But it’s not true that we’re saved by faith alone for the simple reason that we’re not saved by faith. We’re saved by faithfulness to our Lord Jesus Christ because this is the gospel that Jesus Himself preached:
“Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season?” (Matthew 24:45)
“His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. … His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” (Matthew 25:21, 23)
“And the Lord said, Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season?” (Luke 12:42)
“He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who shall give you that which is your own?” (Luke 16:10-12)
“And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities.” (Luke 19:17)
The Greek pistis (Strong’s 4102) appears almost 250 times in the New Testament and is almost always translated as “faith” but should be rendered “faithfulness” instead. The key statement that proves this is Paul’s quote from Habakkuk, “The just shall live by faith [pistis 4102]” (Rom 1:17; Gal 3:11; Heb 10:38), “but the person of integrity will live because of his faithfulness” (Hab 2:4 NET), “But the righteous will live by their faithfulness to God” (Hab 2:4 NLT). Paul was not ashamed of the gospel that Jesus Christ Himself preached and it was the message of faithfulness, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ … The just shall live by faith [faithfulness]” (Rom 1:16-17).
The gospel message from the beginning
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. … And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-5, 14)
God left us without excuse as to discerning the true saving gospel message because it was the message preached in the very beginning. John began his Gospel by teaching that the message of salvation had been preached in the creation by the Creator. He called the Person of Jesus Christ the Word or the Message, and the message preached in the beginning is that darkness would be upon mankind but the Message would become a man and preach light into the darkness, “And God said, Let there be light” (Gen 1:3), “And the light shineth in darkness” (Jhn 1:5).
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. (Genesis 1:1-5)
And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:16-18)
The message from the beginning is not Sola Fide. It’s not a belief that some facts about Jesus Christ are true but rather faithfulness to Jesus Christ as Lord or Ruler. The Message came into the dark world and spoke “Let there be light” so that the light would be divided from the darkness and called either day or night. Those of the day would be ruled by the Greater Light and those of the night would be ruled by the lesser light, “Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness” (1Th 5:5), “For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light” (Eph 5:8). Therefore, the true saving gospel message is that we must be of the day, faithfully serving our Ruler Jesus Christ in obedience to everything He commanded.
Is the true saving gospel message what scholars and theologians teach today? Is it what the reformers taught a few hundred years ago? The Lord Jesus Christ is the Message from the beginning and He taught that salvation is by faithfulness to Him. Our loyalty should be to Him and His gospel message, not to scholars, theologians, reformers, or anyone else who teaches something different. “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” (Gal 1:6-8).
Obedience of faithfulness
The two statements “for obedience to the faith [faithfulness] among all nations” (Rom 1:5), “to all nations for the obedience of faith [faithfulness]” (Rom 16:26), form the bookends of Paul’s letter to the Romans. While most claim that the theme of Romans is righteousness by faith, my humble opinion is that it’s obedience of faithfulness among all nations—that all nations are saved by faithful obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ.
These bookends are also joined by the two statements “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ” (Rom 1:16), “according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ” (Rom 16:25). That it was “my gospel” meant that Paul took ownership of it. Like a homeowner, as opposed to a renter, bears the burden and responsibility of home maintenance, Paul owned Christ’s gospel message and the suffering that accompanied it. To not be ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ is to own it! It’s to stand for what Jesus Christ Himself taught and preached regardless of any personal consequences. After all, we no longer have personal consequences now that we’re His slaves.
Jesus Himself taught this same principle, “The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep” (Jhn 10:13). Employees don’t have the same care for a company and bear the same burden as the owner of the company. When things go south and the company goes out of business, employees just go and find another job. Paul was not a renter or an employee but an owner. We also are to not be ashamed of the gospel message but to own it along with the burdens and sufferings that come with ownership.
It’s not calling Him Lord but obeying Him as Lord
Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness. (Romans 6:16-18)
Further into Romans, Paul elaborated upon “obedience to the faith [faithfulness]” by teaching that we’re not servants of whom we confess as Lord but of whom we actually obey as Lord, “his servants ye are to whom ye obey.” And this is the gospel that Christ preached, “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luk 6:46).
When we were “baptized into Jesus Christ” (Rom 6:3), we “became the servants of righteousness” (Rom 6:18). In other words, baptism is the point in which we’re committing ourselves to be faithful servants and slaves of the Lord Jesus Christ for the rest of our lives and to live righteously as He commanded. We now have a duty to serve Him in righteousness, fulfilling the commitment we made. That you “obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine” refers to the pattern of Jesus Christ’s teaching, particularly in the Sermon on the Mount. What Christ taught was not meant to be exhaustive in that it addressed every possible situation we might encounter but was an overall form or pattern of doctrine.
“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” (Mat 28:19-20). Discipleship has nothing to do with teaching new converts to memorize Bible verses on index cards. Just try memorizing what your boss at work told you to do without actually doing it and see how long you keep your job! It matters not that we hear and even memorize what God said if we’re not doing it. Discipleship is all about teaching new converts obedience to the commandments and teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Baptism is our commitment to faithfully serve and obey the commandments of our Lord Jesus Christ for the rest of our lives and we must live to the standard of righteousness that he commanded to enter His Kingdom, “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Mat 5:20). If righteous living ultimately doesn’t matter then there was no point in Jesus teaching the rest of the sermon. The form or pattern of doctrine Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount is the standard of righteousness by which we must live or we will not be entering His Kingdom.
And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him … For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. (Hebrews 5:9, 12-14)
Notice that Christ saves all of them that obey Him, and by implication doesn’t save those who disobey Him. Therefore, mature servants of Christ are to teach babes in Christ obedience or “the word of righteousness.” We’re to teach them obedience to Christ’s commandments, “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” And we’re to teach them righteous living to the standard Christ commanded, “That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
Paul said later in Romans, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Rom 10:9). Now, this statement is often quoted as a formula for salvation—that all we have to do is make a faith confession and we’re good to go. But in context, however, Paul was teaching righteousness by faithfulness to the Lord Jesus Christ:
But the righteousness which is of faith [faithfulness] speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above🙂 Or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.) But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith [faithfulness], which we preach. (Romans 10:6-8)
For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it. (Deuteronomy 30:11-14)
To “confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus” is not a faith confession but a faithfulness commitment! We’re committing ourselves to faithfully hear and do everything our Lord Jesus Christ commands. This is what Moses had prophesied and this is what Paul meant by quoting from him. It’s the word or message of faithfulness he was preaching, “obedience to the faith [faithfulness]” (Rom 1:5).
Also, the second half of that statement “believe [pisteuo 4100] in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead,” is not simply about believing the resurrection happened as a historical event because Paul had already taught earlier “But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe [pisteuo 4100] on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead” (Rom 4:24). The Greek pisteuo appears over 250 times in the New Testament and is translated primarily as “believe” but would be better rendered as “trust.” It’s not simply about believing that the resurrection event actually happened, but about living in a trusting relationship with God that raised our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead.
Paul went on to say, “For with the heart man believeth [is trusting] unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made [is being confessed] unto salvation” (Rom 10:10). In the Greek, the verbs are in the present continuous tense. It’s not a one-time belief and confession but a continual trusting relationship with God and confession of Jesus Christ as our Lord that saves us. This is the gospel, the message of faithful obedience that Paul was not ashamed to preach.
We must live righteously to be saved
The doctrine of Sola Fide asserts that we’re saved by faith or belief and not by any of our works. But all three of the main passages used to support this teaching are actually about Christ’s faithfulness, not our faith.
For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed – namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:20-23 NET)
We are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, yet we know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by the faithfulness of Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified. … I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside God’s grace, because if righteousness could come through the law, then Christ died for nothing! (Galatians 2:15-16, 20-21 NET).
More than that, I now regard all things as liabilities compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things – indeed, I regard them as dung! – that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not because I have my own righteousness derived from the law, but because I have the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness – a righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ’s faithfulness. (Philippians 3:8-9 NET)
There is no such faith versus works issue in Scripture. This is an artificial distinction necessary for supporting Sola Fide. Paul taught in these three passages that righteousness or a right relationship with God is based on Christ’s faithfulness to God in giving Himself as a sacrifice for our sins. The real issue is that we’re right with God by Christ’s faithfulness to die for our sins versus trying to be right with God by our works under the Law of Moses.
Because Paul taught that we can’t be right before God by our works under the Law of Moses, it’s then assumed that we just can’t live up to the standard of righteous living that God requires. However, Paul also taught that under the New Covenant we not only can but must live according to God’s standard of righteousness to be right before Him.
For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature [physis 5449] the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts … Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision? And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature [physis 5449], if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law? (Romans 2:13-15, 26-27)
The Greek physis translated here as “nature” is about the natural state in which all male babies are born—uncircumcised. Therefore, to “do by nature the things contained in the law,” “keep the righteousness of the law,” and “fulfil the law” means that Gentiles actually can keep the righteous requirements of the law in their natural uncircumcised state. But how can they do this? They’re able to do it by “the work of the law written in their hearts.”
The commandments given by Moses under the Old Covenant were written on stone tablets but the commandments of Jesus Christ under the New Covenant are written on our hearts by the Spirit, “written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart … Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones” (2Co 3:3, 6-7). And Paul called this “the ministration of righteousness” (2Co 3:9). In our human strength we can’t live to the standard of righteousness God requires, but by the strength of the Holy Spirit in our hearts we can. He went on to say, “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2Co 3:18). It’s by the Spirit of the Lord in our hearts that we are conformed to the image of Christ’s righteousness.
Christ saves those that obey Him, “And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (Heb 5:9), and it’s by obedience to His commandments written on their hearts, “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people … In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old” (Heb 8:10, 13). Both Jews and Gentiles can live according to God’s standard of righteousness by the strength of the Spirit in their hearts.
Paul said that we “keep the righteousness of the law … fulfil the law” (Rom 2:26-27), then later explained, “That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit … And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness” (Rom 8:4, 10). We all die because we’ve all sinned, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23), “for that all have sinned” (Rom 5:12). But if the Spirit of Christ dwells in us then the Spirit will raise us from the dead to eternal life because we fulfilled the righteous requirements of the law, “the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” We’re not saved from death by believing some facts are true. We’re saved by fulfilling the righteous standard required by the law through the ability of the Spirit of Christ in our hearts.
Later he will say “for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law … love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom 13:8, 10). Keeping Christ’s one commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Rom 13:9), fulfills the righteous standard required by God. The ability to keep this commandment comes when we “put on the armour of light … put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 13:12, 14). In our strength we can’t live up to this standard. However, when we become servants or slaves of the Greater Light, “the greater light to rule the day” (Gen 1:16), then we have His strength as if clothed with His armor. Since we now have the strength to live according to God’s standard of righteousness then we have no excuses for living below this standard. Therefore, we not only can but must live righteously to be saved.
Again, Paul said at the beginning of his letter, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ” (1:16), and the gospel of Christ is “That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Mat 5:20). Now, if Christ was speaking only of an imputed, reckoned, or counted righteousness then what’s the purpose of the rest of His sermon? Why teach the Sermon on the Mount at all if we don’t have to live according to its standard of righteousness? But Christ ended His sermon with “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them … And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not” (Mat 7:24, 26). Moses prophesied that God’s people were to hear the Prophet that would come, “The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken” (Deu 18:15), “… that we may hear it, and do it? … that we may hear it, and do it? But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it” (Deu 30:12-14). Doing what He commands means living to His righteous standard.
In practical terms, how can we live according to this standard? How can we raise our standard of daily moral living to what God requires? The only way we can do this is by becoming spiritually minded, “That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” (Rom 8:4-6).
The gospel Jesus taught is “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal” (Mat 6:19-20). A treasure is anything that is of value or importance to us. And what’s more valuable than living in a right and pleasing relationship with God? Therefore, to have “treasures in heaven” is to please the Father in heaven by living righteously according to the commandments of His Son. Being “spiritually minded” is treasuring what pleases the Father, and what pleases the Father is faithful obedience to His Son.
What do we treasure?
I suffered from anxiety for over ten years. I was on medication and received regular counseling that only helped slightly and superficially. But when all else failed, I found that rather than trying to get rid of the anxiety, I just needed to change my treasure. God created us with the capacity to feel anxiety. Therefore, He can take it away from us if He so chooses. I learned that when I simply focused on pleasing Him above all else and became content with the anxiety as being His will for me then He eventually took it away. To fight against the anxiety was to fight against Him. Essentially, my healing came when I forsook my own self-image and began being conformed to the image of Christ. My treasure is no longer caring what people on earth think about me but what my Father in heaven thinks about me, “whose praise is not of men, but of God” (Rom 2:29), “not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts” (1Th 2:4).
I’m convinced that the reason Christians keep struggling with endless personal problems is that their treasure is still here on earth. They’re trying desperately to solve their earthly problems because they’re protecting their earthly treasure. The devil is a master distracter. He will be sure that we have plenty of problems to keep us occupied and not doing God’s will. We say to ourselves, “If I can just get more time, more money, and get this problem and that problem out of my life then I’ll start obeying Christ and loving others.” But if we’re slaves owned by Him then our personal problems are His while His sufferings are ours! If we’ll just take care of His business, He will take care of ours, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Mat 6:33).
“Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith [faithfulness]; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:2). We’re to look unto Christ’s example of faithfulness to His Father of being despised, rejected, falsely accused, beaten, spat upon, flogged, and put to death. It doesn’t mean necessarily that we will suffer to this same degree but that we’ll suffer unjustly to a certain degree after the same image. If we treasure the recognition, acceptance, and praise of men then we’ll try to portray a skewed image of ourselves to gain the recognition, acceptance, and praise of men. On the other hand, if we’re being conformed to the image of Christ, we’re “being made conformable unto his death” (Phl 3:10), “even the death of the cross” (Phl 2:8). We’re willing to die even the death of a criminal if it comes to that, not caring about the image we portray to others but only about Christ’s image and His glory.
Job’s problem was that “he justified himself rather than God” (Job 32:2). He kept trying to justify himself before his three friends to protect his own image when he should have just kept his mouth closed and trusted God to eventually justify him. Because he relished the former days when people honored him, “My glory was fresh in me, and my bow was renewed in my hand. Unto me men gave ear, and waited, and kept silence at my counsel.” (Job 29:20-21), and loathed their current contempt upon him, “And now am I their song, yea, I am their byword. They abhor me, they flee far from me, and spare not to spit in my face.” (Job 30:9-10), he tried desperately to gain their approval. He was too worried that they thought his suffering was because of some sin he had committed so he kept giving longwinded speeches about how good he had been. But he actually had been good, “Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man” (Job 1:8, 2:3). He was a good and faithful servant but his faithfulness was being tested and tried, “Knowing this, that the trying of your faith [faithfulness] worketh patience [hypomone 5281]” (Jam 1:3), “Ye have heard of the patience [hypomone 5281] of Job” (Jam 5:11).
Peter said that baptism saves us, “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1Pe 3:21). However, it’s not getting wet that saves us but what we do after we get dried off! It’s living righteously thereafter with good conscience toward God:
For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. (1 Peter 2:19-24)
Christ didn’t open His mouth and try to justify Himself when He suffered wrongfully. He kept quiet and “committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.” He didn’t care what anyone thought about Him. Now that we are “dead to sins” we also “should live unto righteousness.” Our sins are forgiven so that we can now live righteously after the example and image of Christ. We’re to suffer wrongfully with conscience toward God—to not care what anyone thinks about us or might do to us because we trust Him to judge righteously and vindicate us.
Being conformed to the image of Christ requires relinquishing our image, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus … But made himself of no reputation” (Phl 2:5, 7). Christ didn’t care about His image and reputation but only about doing the will of His Father. Therefore, He was willing to die with the reputation of a criminal. Think about that for a moment: are we willing to be falsely sentenced and put to death with everyone thinking we’re a criminal? This is essentially what Paul meant by “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” It’s about living and dying in service to Christ with no regard to our reputation and image. Christ didn’t try to make a name for Himself, therefore His Father has “given him a name which is above every name” (Phl 2:9). Are we trying to make a name for ourselves? Are we trying to get the glory? If we are then we don’t have the same mindset as Christ. “Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you” (1Th 2:6), “for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ” (Gal 1:10).
Paul taught about imputed righteousness or justification in Romans chapter four, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness … Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead” (Rom 4:3, 23-24). However, he had already taught earlier “For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified” (Rom 2:13). In other words, we must keep the righteous standard the law requires to be justified before God. But how can these two seemingly contradictory teachings be reconciled?
When Paul taught about imputed righteousness he said “Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt” (Rom 4:4). We can’t work to pay off the sin debt we owe—we must be forgiven of it. God therefore, imputes righteousness to us by forgiving our sin debt and no longer counts it to us, “Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.” (Rom 4:6-8). But His forgiveness is conditional.
Jesus told the parable of a king that had compassion on one of his servants and forgave him all of his debt, “Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt” (Mat 18:27). But his compassion toward him was contingent upon his servant’s own compassion toward his fellow servants, “Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?” (Mat 18:33). Therefore, his master put all of his debt right back on his account, “And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him” (Mat 18:35). Although he had been counted or imputed right before his master, he was once again counted his debtor. And this is how it is with the righteousness of God, “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses” (Mat 18:35). We can be forgiven and right with God but then later no longer forgiven and right with God. This is the gospel that Jesus Christ Himself preached.
Was the man in this parable forgiven and right with his master initially? Yes, he was. Was this man still forgiven and right with his master later? No, he was not! Once Saved, Always Saved (OSAS) is not the gospel Jesus preached. We can be forgiven but then later no longer forgiven; counted righteous then later counted debtors. But those who tout OSAS make the claim that people who fall away never were truly saved or forgiven in the first place.
“Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment” (Act 15:24). This is what John meant by “I write no new commandment unto you” (1Jo 2:7), “They went out from us, but they were not of us” (1Jo 2:19). This has nothing to do with people leaving their local church and thus proving they never were saved in the first place. It was about false teachers that went out from the Jerusalem church, commanding Gentiles to be circumcised. Though they went out from them—from the apostles and leaders in the Jerusalem church—they were not sent by them with that message. They were antichrists and liars. Lifting John’s statement “They went out from us, but they were not of us” from context to prove OSAS is simply running roughshod over sound hermeneutics.
God freely gives us righteousness through the precious shed blood of His Son Jesus Christ. But this imputed righteousness is conditioned upon our faithful service to His Son in obeying His commandment of love toward our fellow servants. Therefore, we must live according to the righteous standard Jesus Christ commanded to be saved. Jesus concluded His Sermon on the Mount with: “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man … And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man” (Mat 7:24, 26). Christ’s gospel is that we must not only hear but also do what He said. Imputed righteousness by the shed blood of Christ gets us right with God—righteous living by serving Christ and repenting when we sin keeps us right with God.
James wrote about having faithful obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ, “My brethren, have not the faith [faithfulness] of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons” (Jas 2:1). Christ’s gospel is that unprofitable servants will be cast out, “And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mat 25:30), and this is what James taught, “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith [faithfulness], and have not works [ergon 2041]? can faith [faithfulness] save him?” (Jas 2:14). In other words, what profit are we to our Lord if we just say that we’re faithful to Him but we’re not actually faithful to Him? We’re unprofitable servants that will be cast out.
Now, it’s unfortunate that the Greek ergon was translated here as “works” because it implies meritorious works or earning salvation apart from Christ. Of course this passage has fueled the ongoing debate between Protestants and Roman Catholics about faith versus works for hundreds of years. But recognizing the true message James was communicating leaves no issue here to debate.
James was simply speaking of our actions, specifically of doing what our Lord commands, “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves” (Jas 1:22), as our Lord Himself said, “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them … And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not” (Mat 7:24, 26). It’s “deceiving your own selves” to “say he hath faith [faithfulness], and have not works.” In other words, we’re deceiving one another when we’ve publicly confessed and committed ourselves to faithfully obey Jesus Christ as our Lord yet we don’t have works of obedience to Him as our Lord. Saying we’re faithful but not actually being faithful is a hypocritical deception, “A double minded [dipsychos 1374] man is unstable in all his ways” (Jas 1:8). A dipsychos is a man of two souls or a man living a double life—a hypocrite! And this is exactly what Jesus preached against, “as the hypocrites do … thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are … be not, as the hypocrites” (Mat 6:2, 5, 16). Hypocrites say they’re faithful and might even appear to be faithful but are not faithful.
Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith [faithfulness] wrought with his works, and by works was faith [faithfulness] made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed [trusted] God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith [faithfulness] only. (James 2:21-24)
James was saying that Abraham was “justified by works” or was in a right relationship with God as long as he faithfully obeyed Him. The Scripture says “And he believed [trusted] in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness” (Gen 15:6), but James said that this was fulfilled many years later when God tested Abraham by telling him to offer his son Isaac, “when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar … And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed [trusted] God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness.”
When Paul said, “(As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed [trusted]” (Rom 4:17), he had this passage in mind, “I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect … Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee” (Gen 17:1, 5). He was saying that Abraham continued to be counted righteous so long as he continued to walk “before him whom he believed [trusted].” He had to continue to trust and obey God to maintain a right relationship with Him, “And he believed [trusted] in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness” (Gen 15:6).
Paul went on to say, “He staggered [contended] not at the promise of God through unbelief [unfaithfulness]; but was strong in faith [faithfulness], giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.” (Rom 4:20-22). Abraham was faithful to God because he didn’t contend or argue with Him about what He had promised. Rather, he was “strong in faith [faithfulness], giving glory to God.” Faithful obedience to God glorifies Him. Paul’s conclusion was “And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.” In other words, Abraham’s continued righteousness before God was contingent upon his continued faithfulness to Him without disagreeing with Him. Imputed righteousness is not a one-and-done deal so to speak but a daily walk before God in relationship with Him.
This is also what James concluded, “And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed [trusted] God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness.” But this fulfillment was within the event of God testing him in offering his son Isaac. He had been counted righteous up to this point and was continued to be counted righteous by his obedience at this juncture, “And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice” (Gen 22:18). What if Abraham had disobeyed God and not followed through with this? Would he have continued to be right with God? Would God have said to him, “Well, that’s okay. It was just a test. No big deal!” A right relationship with God is contingent upon trusting Him and being found trustworthy by Him because relationships are not one-sided. If we’re not doing what He said, why should He do anything for us?
Also, we learn from this event that God even counts willingness as obedience because Abraham was said to have obeyed even though he was stopped short of actually doing it, “because thou hast obeyed my voice.” This is why obedience is from our hearts, “but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you” (Rom 6:17).
Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe [trust] on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification. Therefore being justified by faith [faithfulness], we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith [faithfulness] into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 4:23-25, 5:1-2)
Imputed righteousness is a position “wherein we stand” before God, and a position or a standing can be compromised. That our standing before Him is contingent upon continued trust in Him is seen “in the steps of that faith [faithfulness] of our father Abraham” (Rom 4:12). As God tested Abraham, He tests all of us regularly by putting us in difficult situations where we’re forced to trust Him, to either obey or disobey. This is the imputed righteousness by which we stand before Him. It’s a daily walk before Him, “walk before me” (Gen 17:1), “before him whom he believed [trusted]” (Rom 4:17).
We are debtors
Because we’ve all sinned against God the Father, we owe Him a sin debt we can never repay. This is what Paul meant by “Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt” (Rom 4:4). Trying to be righteous or right before God by our works is impossible because all of our efforts are like paying interest on a loan without ever paying down a penny of the principal.
God gave His Son Jesus Christ who paid-in-full our sin debt on the cross. When we make Jesus our Lord and Master, He purchases us as His slaves along with all of our debt and frees us from it. For example: when someone purchases a company, they not only purchase all of its assets but also assume all of its liabilities. Christ purchased us and freed us from all of the sin debt we owed. We rightfully rejoice in Christ that we’re now forgiven of our sins and didn’t do anything to earn it. It’s in that sense we’re not saved by our works.
However, what’s not emphasized or even realized by many is that although we’re no longer indebted to the Father, we’re now completely indebted to His Son! Jesus Christ purchased us as His slaves and it’s now our duty and obligation to obey whatever He commands, “So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do” (Luk 17:10). This is what Paul meant later in Romans, “Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh” (Rom 8:12). We owed a sin debt we couldn’t pay but now owe a righteousness debt we must pay! We’re now completely indebted to love, “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another” (Rom 13:8). Because we’re indebted to our Lord, and our Lord commanded us to love, we’re now indebted to love one another. This is not optional for salvation but essential.
Lowering God’s standard of righteousness
In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said “That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Mat 5:20). He then repeatedly quoted what the scribes and Pharisees had been saying followed by His own sayings or commandments: “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time … But I say unto you …” (Mat 5:21-22, 27-28); “It has been said … But I say unto you …” (Mat 5:31-32); “Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time … But I say unto you …” (Mat 5:33-34); “Ye have heard that it hath been said … But I say unto you …” (Mat 5:38-39, 43-44). The righteous standard being taught by the scribes and Pharisees was lower than what God requires.
In Luke 16:1-8, Jesus told the parable of the unjust servant who gained favor with people by writing-off his master’s debts for pennies on the dollar, “Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty … Take thy bill, and write fourscore” (Luk 16:6-7). This was illustrative of the Pharisees teaching a lower standard of righteousness than what God requires, and they knew that this story was about them, “And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him” (Luk 16:14). Jesus then spoke to them sarcastically, “And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations” (Luk 16:9). In other words, make people your friends rather than being faithful to your master!
As Jesus Christ’s servants, we’re indebted to Him and must live according to the standard of righteousness He commanded. Unfortunately, the doctrine of Sola Fide lowers His standard as if selling His debts for pennies on the dollar. When we think we’re saved by only believing some facts are true, we don’t have a compulsion to faithfully obey Jesus Christ as Lord. Why try to pay a debt that we don’t even know we owe?
The doctrines of Sola Fide and OSAS lower God’s standard of righteousness and diminish the fear of the Lord because when the consequences of sinful living are removed, there’s no longer a fear of God’s wrath. This is why many Christian men have no urgency to turn from pornography. Why should they when they’re supposedly saved by believing some facts are true and that they can never lose this salvation? People don’t want to hear the standard of righteousness Jesus Christ preached to be saved—they want to hear Sola Fide and OSAS. Unfortunately these doctrines sell Christ’s debts and make friends.
Walk after the Spirit
“For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another” (Gal 5:14-15). Snakes bite their prey with venom then devour them whole. When we don’t serve the Lord Jesus Christ by obeying His commandment of love, we’re like serpents devouring dust, “upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life” (Gen 3:14), “for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Gen 3:19). Since we’re all dust, when we’re not walking in love toward one another, we’re moving on our bellies like snakes and eating dust—devouring one another.
Paul continued, “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh” (Gal 5:16). The key to overcoming the works of the flesh, “Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like” (Gal 5:19-21), is not by trying to overcome these sinful works in our strength but by walking in the Spirit. When we truly walk in the Spirit we won’t have problems with our flesh. We won’t!
“For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Rom 13:9-10). Except for a few positive commandments such as “Remember the sabbath day … Honour thy father and thy mother” (Exo 20:8, 12), the laws of the Old Covenant consisted primarily of negative “Thou shalt not” commandments. It was mainly about what not to do. But the law of the New Covenant written on our hearts and minds is embodied in the one positive “Thou shalt” commandment. Living righteously before God isn’t accomplished by striving to not do what we shouldn’t but by striving to do what we should! “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”
The wretchedness Paul experienced formerly under the law was that “for what I would, that do I not … For the good that I would I do not” (Rom 7:15, 19). And this is what he meant by “so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law” (Gal 5:17-18). The law written on stone tablets didn’t give him the ability to do what he would—it only told him to stop doing what he shouldn’t. The indwelling Holy Spirit, however, is like having the law written in our hearts because now we actually can do the things that we would. And by doing the things that we would, we won’t do the things that we wouldn’t.
“Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself … let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light … But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof” (Rom 13:9, 12, 14). Faithfully keeping the one commandment of love is what clothes us in His armor so that the lusts of the flesh have no place or provision to operate. Christ strengthens us by His Spirit when we faithfully obey Him, “to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith [faithfulness]” (Eph 3:16-17), “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” (Eph 6:10-11). When we’re striving to be faithful to Him, He gives us the strength and ability we need to be faithful to Him.
Christ’s commandment of love is not the family and friends plan—it includes our enemies as well, “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Mat 5:44). We don’t have the natural strength and ability in ourselves to sincerely and consistently love our enemies from our hearts. But something wonderful and amazing happens when we have the Holy Spirit in our hearts and we’re truly striving to walk in love toward others—Christ gives us the strength supernaturally to do it.
It’s by our love that we’re known, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (Jhn 13:35). And this love is the example of love Jesus showed to Judas Iscariot. Day and night for over three years He had never treated him any differently than the other eleven because when He said “one of you shall betray me” (Jhn 13:21), they had no clue who it would be, “Then the disciples looked one on another, doubting of whom he spake” (Jhn 13:22). That all men will know we are His disciples isn’t so much by washing the feet of our eleven friends but the feet of our one enemy.
Jesus taught, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Mat 5:16). The good works that they see which glorify our Father are primarily the things that they can’t do—sincerely love our enemies. “Love your enemies … That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven” (Mat 5:44-45). We’re truly one of God’s children when we sincerely love our enemies from our hearts.
When we focus on Christ’s commandment “all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Mat 7:12), we won’t have problems with our flesh. I’ve come to learn in my walk with God that when I’m struggling with my flesh it indicates that I’m neglecting something in my walk of love toward others. Therefore, my flesh has become the gauge of my love walk. Once I correct the deficiency in what I’m neglecting to do to others then I find that the problems in my flesh subside. The reason it works like this is that since God knows the thoughts and motives of our hearts and minds, then when our hearts and actions please Him, He cuts away the works of the flesh from our lives by His Spirit. And there’s actually a Biblical term for this—the circumcision of Christ, the circumcision made without hands.
The circumcision of Christ
“In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ” (Col 2:11). This circumcision is “in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh” which he later says “put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth” (Col 3:8). Circumcision in the flesh is a literal cutting off or putting off of flesh from our body. The circumcision of Christ, on the other hand, has nothing to do with our literal flesh or body being cut—it’s a cutting off or putting off of the works of the flesh, “Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like” (Gal 5:19-21).
How is this possible? How do we get the works of our flesh cut off from us? We must “walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Rom 8:1, 4), “But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof” (Rom 13:14), “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh” (Gal 5:16). If we’ll just focus on pleasing the Father by keeping His Son’s one commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Gal 5:14), He will cut off from us the works of our flesh! This is the circumcision made without hands.
“For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God” (Rom 2:28-29). The name Jew means “praise.” Therefore the Jew being praised by God is truly a Jew, or truly living up to his name. What exactly is this circumcision that is of the heart?
The gospel Christ preached is: “Blessed are the pure in heart” (Mat 5:8), “But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Mat 5:28), “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Mat 6:21). Again, the reason many Christian men are addicted to pornography is because their treasure is on earth and not in heaven—they love the pleasures of sin more than pleasing God. But if they don’t repent and begin living righteously then sadly they will perish as Christ said, “and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell” (Mat 5:29-30).
Our hearts will be wherever our treasure is. Therefore, to change our hearts we must change our treasure. We must treasure pleasing God above all else. But if we’re supposedly saved by only believing some facts are true then why turn from sin and live right?
When we treasure praise from men, “before men, to be seen of them” (Mat 6:1), “that they may be seen of men” (Mat 6:5), “that they may appear unto men” (Mat 6:6), then the motives of our heart for the things that we do will not be right. But when we treasure receiving praise from God then we’ll have pure motives in our hearts toward others, “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently” (1Pe 1:22). Our love will be warm and genuine care for others. Jesus said, “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold” (Mat 24:12). Sin is the reason we’re not genuinely warm and caring toward one another.
The circumcision of the heart comes by getting our treasure right so that our hearts will be right. Once we’re doing what’s right from a pure heart then God will cut off the works of the flesh from our lives. Therefore, the result of seeking praise from God is being circumcised by Him, “circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.”
The world teaches self-help and self-improvement. There are enetire sections in book stores filled with hundreds of books dedicated to teaching us how to improve ourselves. But this is exactly the problem! Self-help and self-improvement are simply selfish. Christ commanded us to love others not ourselves. When we stop trying to improve ourselves and just focus on obeying Christ’s commandment of love, God performs the necessary self-improvement on us by His in dwelling Spirit. I came to learn that rather than using my introverted personality type as an excuse for not loving others, that if I just began sincerely striving to walk in love from my heart and trusting God to help me do it, He began circumcising the works of my flesh and improving myself. Of course I continue to fail many times but I repent and keep striving to move forward.
The Father of lights
When James said, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (Jas 1:17), he was referring to the two great lights, “And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth” (Gen 1:16-17). The Greater Light came down from above, from the Father.
This is the gospel Jesus taught, “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Mat 5:44-45). The Father doesn’t just shine sunlight upon the crops of good people but then leave evil people in the darkness of shadows—He shines equally upon all without turning the sun away from anyone, “with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” Thus we’re to treat all people, including our enemies, the same. If we’re ruled by the Greater Light and treating everyone without partiality or favoritism then we’re living like children of our Father.
James will go on to say, “But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish” (Jas 3:14-15). Those who are bitter against others and envying them are not serving the Greater Light from above but are serving the lesser light which is “earthly, sensual, devilish.” The wisdom from above is the Greater Light that came down from above and taught us to be wise, “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock” (Mat 7:24). The wisdom from above is hearing and doing what the Greater Light taught and commanded.
Be doers and not hearers only
But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed. (James 1:22-25)
James illustrated the law of loving our neighbor as ourselves by the analogy of looking into a mirror. Who do we see when we look into a mirror? We see ourselves! Since we’re all created after the image of God, in a sense we’re seeing ourselves when seeing our neighbor. The image of God in other people reflects upon us so that we know how to treat them simply because we know how we also would want to be treated. Since we’re all equal in value and all have the same needs, struggles, and desires, when we see our neighbor in need, we’re seeing ourselves in need.
To answer the question “And who is my neighbour?” (Luk 10:29), Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan, “And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.” (Luk 10:31-32). This is what James meant by “beholdeth himself, and goeth his way.” The priest and the Levite were beholding themselves when they saw this man yet went their way. But the one who was “a doer of the work” was the Samaritan, “Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.” (Luk 10:36-37). The mercy this Samaritan showed is the gospel Jesus preached.
James will go on to define the “law of liberty” as the law of love, “If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well … So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty. For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.” (Jas 2:8, 12-13). God shows mercy to us if we’ve loved our neighbor and shown mercy. On the other hand, we’ll be judged without mercy if we’ve shown no mercy.
Showing mercy is prompted by recognizing the reality that people behave the way they do because they’re in bondage to sin and serving evil spirits, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph 6:12). People are not ultimately the problem but their rulers—the lesser lights depicted in the night sky. Mercy recognizes this reality and loves sincerely expecting nothing in return, “Recompense to no man evil for evil … Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:17, 21). Mercy does to others all things we would want done unto us without any thought of what they might do in return.
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh [logizomai 3049] no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think [logizomai 3049] on these things. (Philippians 4:8)
The Greek logizomai means to “impute,” “reckon,” or “to take into account.” It’s the same word used for God counting or imputing righteousness to us, “For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted [logizomai 3049] unto him for righteousness.” (Rom 4:3). As God’s children, we’re to be following the Father by counting and imputing righteousness to others as He is to us. Therefore, to “think [logizomai 3049] on these things” is to count to others what we know to be true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtue, and praise. We’re to “thinketh [logizomai 3049] no evil” or to not impute anything to anyone that we don’t know to be true, but always assume the best.
God gives us right standing with Him through the precious shed blood of His Son Jesus Christ then has confidence in us to walk worthy and live up to that righteousness before Him. He puts the burden on us to prove Him right or wrong, and this is how we are to be in our relationships with others. We’re to count others as righteous before us, sincerely assuming the best about them unless they prove us wrong.
Of course God knows our hearts and minds. He knows how we’re thinking about people when we’re around them and when we’re not around them. Therefore, Christ’s commandment of love is not just how we treat people with our words and actions but with our every thought and intention about them all the time. This is God’s standard of righteousness in which we must live or we will not make it in according to the gospel Jesus Christ preached, “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Mat 5:20).
Christ preached His gospel message in the beginning when He said “Let there be light: and there was light” (Gen 1:3). But this was prophetic of Him coming into this dark world to say “Let there be light” again when He preached the saving gospel message. The message from the beginning is NOT Sola Fide. It’s not a belief that some facts about Jesus Christ are true but faithfulness to Jesus Christ as Lord and Ruler. This was seen in the creation of the sun and moon, “the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night” (Gen 1:16). None of us lives to ourselves but we are all ruled by either the Greater Light or the lesser light. Salvation, therefore, is by keeping our commitment to faithfully serve the Greater Light in obedience to His commandments.
We’re not servants of whom we confess as Lord but of whom we actually obey as Lord, “his servants ye are to whom ye obey” (Rom 6:16). This is the gospel Christ preached, “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luk 6:46). Discipleship is teaching new converts by word and example to obey the commandments of Jesus Christ, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Mat 28:19-20). Getting wet in baptism doesn’t save us but it’s living with a good conscience toward God after getting dried off, “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1Pe 3:21).
Jesus Christ’s gospel is that we must live to the standard of righteousness He taught and commanded or we will not be entering His Kingdom, “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Mat 5:20). If all we must do is believe some facts are true then why teach righteous living in this sermon?
Paul’s statement, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Rom 10:9), is not a formula for salvation because within the context of what Moses said it’s about hearing and doing what our Lord Jesus Christ commanded, “that we may hear it, and do it? … that we may hear it, and do it? … that thou mayest do it” (Deu 30:11-14). Confessing Him as Lord means that we’re making a public commitment to hear and do everything He commands.
Paul taught that with the Spirit of Christ in our hearts we not only can but must live according to God’s standard of righteousness to be justified and saved. We can do this by “the work of the law written in their hearts.” Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Mat 6:21). People’s hearts are not right because their treasure is not right. For people to do the right things with the right motives in their hearts, they must first treasure pleasing God above all else. A treasure is anything valuable or important to us. Pearls are not valuable to pigs, “neither cast ye your pearls before swine” (Mat 7:6). The problem, therefore, is not the pearls but the pigs. People’s hearts need to be changed by the Spirit of God so that they’ll no longer be a “dog” or a “pig” but one of God’s people, treasuring a right relationship with Him and pleasing Him above all else.
Jesus said, “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him” (Jhn 4:23). The Father is seeking those who truly worship Him for who He is, not for what He can do for them. Nobody, including God, wants to be used. Genuine relationships involve sacrifice. Therefore, God is constantly testing our love for Him with difficulties and hardships that compel us to make sacrifices and prove our love for Him. After all, it’s easy to love someone and stay faithful when everything is going well. He is seeking those whose hearts sincerely want whatever He wants—to genuinely submit to His will and be content in any circumstance. He proved His love for us by His sacrifice. When we prove our love for Him by our sacrifices, He will move heaven and earth for us so to speak.
God gave His Son Jesus Christ who paid-in-full our sin debt on the cross. When we make Jesus our Lord and Master, He purchases us as His slaves along with all of our debt and frees us from it. Although we’re no longer indebted to the Father, we’re now completely indebted to His Son! Jesus Christ purchased us as His slaves and it’s now our duty and obligation to obey whatever He commands. We owed a debt we couldn’t pay but now owe a debt we must pay, “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another” (Rom 13:8). We don’t owe anything to anyone except one thing—to love them. As servants indebted to our Lord, He made us indebted to love each other. Therefore, we must pay this debt of love or we’re not serving the Lord Jesus Christ and we won’t be saved.
The Pharisees taught a lower standard of righteousness than what God requires as illustrated by the parable of the unjust servant who gained favor with people by writing-off his master’s debts for pennies on the dollar, “Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty … Take thy bill, and write fourscore” (Luk 16:6-7). They were making people their friends rather than being faithful to their master. The doctrines of Sola Fide and OSAS are similar in this regard.
Paul said, “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh” (Gal 5:16). The key to overcoming the works of the flesh is not by trying to overcome these works in our strength but by walking in the Spirit. When we walk in the Spirit we’ll not have problems with our flesh. When we focus on doing “all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Mat 7:12), we won’t have problems with our flesh because when our hearts and actions please God then He cuts away the works of the flesh from our lives. This is called the circumcision of Christ, the circumcision made without hands. “In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ” (Col 2:11). Circumcision in the flesh is a literal cutting off or putting off of the flesh but the circumcision of Christ is a figurative cutting off or putting off the works of the flesh.
God imputes righteousness to us by forgiving our sin debt and no longer counts it to us. However, this forgiveness is conditional. The gospel Jesus preached was about a king that had compassion on one of his servants and forgave him all of his debt. But his compassion toward him was contingent upon his servant’s own compassion toward his fellow servants. This servant was forgiven and right with his master initially but his master put all of his debt right back on his account. He was forgiven but then no longer forgiven.
James taught that the gospel message was preached from the beginning, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (Jas 1:17). These “lights” are the “two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night” (Gen 1:16). The Greater Light came down from above and taught us, “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Mat 5:44-45). The Father shines the sun equally upon all with no variation or shadow of turning away. Christ’s commandment of love is not the family and friends plan! As God’s children, our love is to shine upon all whether they’re our friends or our enemies.
Paul quoted from Psalm 19 concerning the gospel, “And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! … But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world.” (Rom 10:15, 18). This Psalm is about the Greater Light ruling over the day and the lesser light over the night, “Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun” (Psa 19:2-4). Every day and night for 6,000 years—that’s almost 2.2 million times—the gospel has been preached to all people of all languages. Everyone is serving one of two masters but not both, “No man can serve two masters” (Mat 6:24). Salvation is a change of master, from serving the lesser light to serving the Greater Light.
Many Christians think they’re secure in their salvation because they believe some facts about Jesus are true yet they’re not striving to keep Christ’s commandment of love—they’re hearers but not doers. I consider this the greatest problem in churches today. The gospel is obeying Christ as Lord yet Sola Fide has convinced many Christians that obedience isn’t that important and even that it’s unnecessary. Sola Fide is not the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel of Christ is the message He preached in the beginning when He created all things and has continued to preach every day by what He created. His gospel is that we must faithfully serve Him according to the standard of righteousness He taught and commanded.