by Mike Ratliff
22 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. 25 But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:22-25 NASB)
26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead. (James 2:26 NASB)
Back in the early days of my walk as a Christian after I became a Bible teacher and later a Deacon, I read my Bible through every year just as I do now, but there were large areas of it that I would consider as “something deeper that I would learn later.” Most of those passages were those we now deal with here that are specifically about doctrine. There was a concept that I had back then that those who took doctrine seriously were “legalistic” while the rest of us were actually walking closer to Jesus because we were “experiencing him” through our relationships with him. This included our religiosity. What is that? That is a form of piety that spurns doctrinal precision. Many of the leaders of those who believe and teach this sort of thing view “works” as something Christians do in order to be found worthy for salvation. I can remember walking through the parking lot one cold December morning with my snow shovel in hand to clear the sleet from the sidewalk from the entrance to our Church building so people could enter without slipping and falling. In my mind I wondered if God would consider this a “worthy work” and that perhaps my righteousness would indeed exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees in the end if I continued to read my Bible enough, to pray enough, to give enough, to serve enough, et cetera I would not hear Jesus say to me what he said in Matthew 7:23.
21 “Not all the ones saying to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but the one doing the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord did we not prophesy in your name and cast out demons in your name, and perform many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you! Depart from me you who work lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:21-23 Possessing the Treasure New Testament v1)
Of course, with God drawing me out of the SBC “works” treadmill in 2006 after he had opened up my heart and understanding with a personal revival in 2004 in which I learned the truth about Justification by Faith. I learned what Ephesians 1 and 2 really meant. I devoured Romans and, of course, all of Paul’s Epistles. Then I consumed all of John. Amazing! In that in between time during 2004 and all through 2005 and then those first few months of 2006 I was like that square peg continually trying to be fit in those round or oddly shaped holes in my old church. I questioned everything. I got Sunday School material to teach from and tossed it. I used the Bible passages they referenced and prepared my own lessons because what they were teaching was rubbish. It was so shallow that there was no way that anyone in my classes would be challenged to think or be convicted if they were in conflict with the truth of what God’s Word taught. This, of course, led to conflict and confrontation.
In the passage above (Matthew 7:21-23), we are again given a contrast. Just because someone claims to be a Christian does not mean that he or she is. Jesus says that many call him, “Lord, Lord,” but the only ones who will enter into the kingdom of heaven are those who do the will of the Father. False faith is proclaimed, but it is devoid of evidentiary works. Examine those passages I placed at the top of this post from the book of James. James is not saying that we need to make sure we are staying on the works treadmill at church in order to attain the kingdom. No, he is saying we need to be doers of the Word. That means true faith, the faith that saves, produces the fruit of good works.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10 NASB)
So you see, the faith that saves is not by works, but those who are truly saved are saved unto good works. What about the claim by those our Lord condemns in Matthew 7:22-23 that they did all those good and mighty works? Their confidence was in those works rather than a growing faith producing humility and joy in their lives leading to obedience as they walked in repentance that is natural for a true believer. Their claim is evidence of a lack of genuine faith. Our Lord tells them to depart from him because they work lawlessness, that is, they do not do the will of the Father. Whenever I read this passage I think of those WoF preachers in our time tickling itching ears and doing fake miracles and promising riches while fleecing all those who follow them as they themselves get rich. Think of those who want the largest Church, the largest ministry, to be the most visible Christian preacher out there. Why? Is it to bring glory to God? No, it is to sell more books, to get more money, to bet more fame, to get more glory for themselves.
We have examined the doctrinal positions that is preached and written by these people. I spent part of my morning today at a Lifeway store. I didn’t buy anything, but I did browse for a bit while I waited. It was utterly amazing how shallow most of the drivel that is on those shelves and that it is passed off as Christian literature. It took me back to those days when I was a teacher in the SBC and we were expected to never challenge anyone or teach anything that would cause anyone conflict or doubt. Is this obeying God, doing the will of the Father? Is this minding the sheep? Isn’t this being more like an assistant to the wolves who are continually attacking and making victims of the sheep who are not prepared because they don’t know the truth?
Jesus said in Luke 6:46, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” Simply being religious or pietistic was not what our Lord was looking for here. We are to know God through knowing his Word and so we must read it and we must sit under the teaching of those who preach it and teach it correctly. We must also obey our Lord in how we live our lives, that is, taking up our crosses and following him. None of those things earn us our place in Heaven, but they are the good works unto which we are to walk after we were saved (Ephesians 2:10).
How’s that going for you?
Soli Deo Gloria!