When Faith and Obedience Collide

Recently I preached a sermon on the relationship between faith, works, and salvation. And as we study that topic, we should be able to understand from James Chapter 2 that faith without works is dead, that one is only justified when, because of his or her faith, they obey God. In fact, James says, quite clearly, that we cannot be saved by faith alone. This same principle is echoed throughout Scripture, in a number of places where the faith and obedience are brought together.

Take for example John 3:36. John writes:

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:36) (all quotations from ESV unless otherwise noted)

First of all, understand that some older translations like the KJV have the word “believe” in place of “obey” in the latter part of the verse, but the better manuscripts support the use of the word “obey.” Notice how John brings the two ideas together. If belief equals eternal life, then unbelief equals no eternal life. On the other side, if disobedience equals no eternal life, then obedience must equal eternal life. If belief equals eternal life, and obedience equals eternal life, then belief equals obedience. Faith is not just saying “I believe in Christ,” but faith involves everything that is involved in obeying him as well.
Consider another place where these two ideas are brought together.

In 1 Peter 2:7-8 we read:

So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. (1 Pet. 2:7-8, emphasis added)

Peter marries the idea of belief and obedience together in much the same way that John did. Look at another example in Hebrews 3:

And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. (Heb. 3:18-19)

In fact, if we were to look later in Hebrews, in that great chapter on faith, Hebrews 11, we would find that those who are commended for their faith, are commended because of action that the took (works) that were based in their faith.

We cannot ignore plain Bible teaching. Faith and obedience cannot be separated from one another. Without obedience, faith is empty, even dead, according to James. Without faith, obedience is meaningless, as there is no basis for the obedience. The two must come together.


A Lesson From Leaves

Friday, September 22, was officially the first day of Fall (or Autumn, if you prefer). Whatever you call it, it will still be about 90 degrees in South Carolina (where I live) for a while. But as I look outside, I do notice unmistakable signs that the Fall season is upon, namely, the leaves are beginning to change color.

You can usually recognize what time of the year it is by just looking at the leaves. As Autumn begins, the leaves begin to change and fall from the trees. In Winter, the leaves of many trees are gone. In Spring, different colored blossoms begin to appear, and as the Summer approaches, those different colors give way vibrant green.
Jesus used the changes of the seasons perceived in trees as an illustration in Mark 13:28:

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. (Mar 13:28-29)

In the context, Jesus was using this illustration to teach his followers to recognize the signs of the destruction of Jerusalem which would come in A.D. 70. According to uninspired tradition, Christians did recognize the signs and got out of the city when the Romans came.

Some, however, have taken Jesus words in those surrounding passages (and others throughout Scripture) to be signs of the end of time. You may have heard about one who predicted Saturday September 23 as the end of the world, due to the positions of certain constellations and their supposed correlation with passages out of Revelation. These predictions have come and gone over the years, and none has been right so far (“No man knows the day or hour” – Mk. 13:32).

But we would do well to remember that every day is the last day for someone. Scores of people draw their last breath every day. For them, it’s as if the end has come. They’re judgment is fixed; it cannot be changed at this point.

The Scripture tells us that any day could be the last for any of us, (James 4:14, 2 Pet. 3:10) and so we must be ready. Jesus’ illustration of the fig tree was to emphasize to his followers the importance of recognizing the signs and being ready. For us, however, there may be no signs that the end has drawn near, and so, today is the day to be ready. Are you ready?

Therefore, you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Mat 24:44)

Know Your Enemy

It is officially one of my favorite times of the year. College football season has begun. Saturday’s games will be here soon.  Players are currently preparing for their upcoming games in a couple of different ways.

They will prepare physically by getting out on the field and running drills and practicing plays, and many will get in the weight room to lift weights so that they can be stronger for the next challenge that they face.

One of the ways they will prepare mentally is by watching film. They will watch film of their own game, to see where they might be able to improve.  But they will also watch film of their upcoming opponent to learn how that team plays, what strategies they might use, and what kind of thing they need to be preparing for specifically to face that team.

There is great value on knowing your enemy, and not just on the football field. It is imperative that we in the church do all that we can to prepare for our ongoing fight against our adversary, the devil.  There are several things the Bible teaches us about Satan that we can be prepared to face.

He is a Deceiver.  Revelation 12:9 speaks of “the great dragon…the ancient serpent who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world.” The deceiver of the whole world, the father of lies (John 8:44) has been doing what he does from the beginning.  He has been lying and deceiving humanity into turning away from God and committing sin.

He is a Disguiser.  Paul wrote in 2 Cor. 11:14 that “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.”  I would expect nothing less from “the deceiver of the whole world.”  But he’s not working alone.  He has many servants in this world and they too are often disguised “as servants of righteousness” (2 Cor. 11:15).  Countless souls are being led away from the truth by these servants of Satan who look like (and make themselves out to be) servants of God.

He is a Devourer.  Many of us probably learned as children that “your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8).  My cat is certainly not a lion, but she maintains some of those same basic instincts that her much larger cousins possess.  Every now and then she decides to “kill” one of her toys by lowering herself into a pounce position, waiting for the perfect moment, and then, in a flash, pouncing on the unsuspecting “prey” and delivering the “killing” blow.  In many ways, it’s not that different than how a lion hunts on the African plains. And it’s not that different from how Satan hunts, watching us and waiting until that precise moment when the time is right to strike.  And he hunts to kill.

So be on your guard brethren.  Prepare yourself for battle (Eph. 6:10-18) and know your enemy.

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  (Eph. 6:11)

I’m Not a Pastor

I get phone calls every week that begin, “Can I please speak to the pastor?”  A couple of weeks ago, more than one friend posted a picture to my Facebook timeline; the picture was of a T-shirt, that had a saying written on the back, “Pastor, because hardcore devil stomping ninja isn’t an official job title.”  I will admit I got quite a chuckle out of that T-shirt (and I appreciated the sentiment behind sharing it). I understand exactly what people usually mean when they call the church building and ask to speak to the pastor, but the fact of the matter is, I AM NOT A PASTOR.

For many in the religious world, the pastor is the person who stands in front of the congregation and preaches a sermon every Sunday, who presides over the ceremony when two people decide to get married, who gives the message at a funeral.

In the most reliable translations of the Bible, the word pastor is only used once in the entire New Testament.  In Ephesians 4:11-12, Paul writes:

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; Eph 4:11-12 NASB

The KJV uses the word a handful of times in the Old Testament book of Jeremiah, where it usually refers to shepherds in a figurative sense (see Jer. 2:8: 3:15: 10:21; 12:10; 22:22; 23:1,2).  This would be consistent with the word from which it is translated in the New Testament, the Greek word, poimen, a word that literally refers to a shepherd or a herdsman, and is used in that sense throughout Luke 2, but also figuratively, such as when Jesus refers to himself as the “Good Shepherd” in John 10, and in other places such as 1 Peter 2:25 and Heb. 13:20.

It is related the Greek verb, poimaino, which Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines as, “to feed, to tend a flock, keep sheep.”  It is used in the proper sense in Luke 17:7 and 1 Cor. 9:7. In Revelation it is used in a figurative sense 3 times, where it is translated “rule” (see Rev. 2:27; 12:5; 19:15).

But, we want to look at one particular way that it is used in Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter 5:2.

Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.  Acts 20:28 NASB

 shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; 1 Peter 5:2 NASB

 Both of these statements are directed, not to preachers, but to the elders, or overseers of the church. Paul is speaking to the elders from Ephesus in Acts 20, and Peter begins 1 Peter 5, “Therefore, I exhort the elders among you…” The point to be made is this: those who are called to shepherd, to be pastors of the church, are those who are qualified (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-9) and have been appointed (Titus 1:5) as elders in the church.  In short, when you read the word “pastors” in Ephesians 4:11, you should be thinking of the elders (overseers) of the church, not the preacher.

Much more could be said about what the work of the shepherds of the church involves, and the differences between the work of a pastor and a preacher, but the purpose of this article is to illustrate how “pastor” is not a proper title, nor description, for the work of a preacher.  If time and space permitted, we could also note the error of using terms such as “reverend,” “bishop,” “father,” and others like these to refer to the preacher but we will have to save that discussion for another time.