Faith and Works, Part 2
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In our last Blog we summarized our Aletheia Discussion on the topic of “Faith and Works”. The following week we then built upon this topic by looking at an important question: “If we are justified by Faith alone (and works are simply evidence whether we truly have Faith) then what is the purpose of the law? If in the end only Faith matters, then why does it seem that God talks as much about the law than about Faith?” Let’s be honest: If you ask people in the church today what it means to be a Christian, then many people will give an answer along the line of “being a good person”. Does that mean that God messed up the Bible? Did He put so much emphasis on the law, obedience, sin,… instead of Faith that people nowadays lost perspective and think that Christianity is about the law more than it is about Faith?
A valid question. Let me try to give you some ideas which will hopefully be helpful to your walk with Christ.
First of all, we need to be aware that there are different types of the Law in the Bible. Especially in the Old Testament, but also in the New. Basically, they can be summarized in 3 categories:
The Levitical Law: This is the law about animal sacrifices, burnt offerings, etc. This law does not need to be followed today any longer. Why? Because it was completely fulfilled in Jesus Christ. As we can read in the book of Galatians (esp. Chapter 3), the purpose of these Old Testament Laws was to point people to the coming Messiah. The people back then needed a constant reminder: “I am sinful. I cannot save myself. I need someone else to die for my sin. If not, I’ll go to hell!” Now as we can read in the book of Hebrews, these animal sacrifices didn’t literally save people. But what they did was: They pointed people into the future: “One day, the Messiah will come, and He will die for my sin!” So the goal was to help people put their trust in God and the coming Messiah. The purpose of the Levitical law was to help people put their Faith and trust in the Messiah who would come one day.
Now these laws still have an underlying moral principle that still applies to us today. So we can’t just say “Well, that was back then, let’s skip reading the OT and just read the NT”. Such an attitude would leave us with a total impoverished view of the New Testament as well. We must study the OT, but we have to study it the right way, by looking at the Levitical Law in light of its moral principles behind the law. These are still important. But the literal requirements of the law (bringing the burnt offerings to the Priest, etc) are not required of us in the 21st century.
The Social Law: This is the law on how the nation of Israel was organized, how they ran their society back then. This again doesn’t apply to us today. Whatever country you live in right now, it’s significantly different from the Jewish society around 3.500 years ago. So these social laws don’t need to be followed by us today either.
The Moral Law: Now we come to the heart of the law: The moral law. Laws that are life principles for everybody. They are specifically found in the 10 commandments. But these laws can be found all throughout the Old and New Testament. These commandments are required of every single person when we meet God. They apply to everyone, at any time in history, in any place of the world. No matter the circumstances, the situation, the environment,… these laws apply to everybody, all the time.
2 main reasons why I believe these laws apply to everybody. First reason is: They were there before the law was given. For example: Cain was punished for killing Abel, even though the law “You shall not murder” was not officially written down until Moses received it on Mount Sinai. Joseph refused to commit adultery, even though the law “You shall not commit adultery” was not formalized until hundreds of years later. So the fact that these laws were already in existence before they were written down indicates that they are universal.
Secondly, Jesus repeats these laws. When the rich man asked him “how can I be saved”, Jesus’ answer was to repeat 6 of the 10 commandments. When He was asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus quoted Leviticus 19:18 and Deuteronomy 6:5. “Love God with all you have” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (paraphrased)
So the moral law still needs to be followed today. And we will have to give an account for that when we meet God!
Which then brings us to the original question: If all that matters in the end is Faith, why is there are Law? (and from here on, when I say “Law” I mean the Moral Law, excluding the other 2, because they don’t apply to us literally any longer, only in their underlying moral sense)
Well, here is where we get back to last week’s blog. If we sin, we basically don’t believe God. Let me just give you a few examples:
Tithing: If I truly believe that God has endless resources, that He owns everything, that He provides for all our needs, that He wants to shower us with His blessings,… then we will gladly trust Him by saying: “God, I don’t need these 10% of my income. I’ll give it to you because I trust that you will provide for me. It’s yours anyways. So all I can do is giving you thanks and glory for the past provisions, and putting my trust in you for my future, by giving you these 10%, and managing well the remaining 90%.”
On the other hand, if I don’t tithe, it exposes my heart. It points towards unbelief. Could have many reasons. “I don’t believe that God provides for my needs” or “I don’t believe that God cares for me” or “I don’t believe that God CAN provide for me” or “I don’t believe that God gave it to me, I earned it, all by myself”. The most dangerous one: “I trust more in money than I trust in God.” Or “Money is more important to me than God” Any or several of such beliefs will cause us to not tithe. In other words: Not tithing is evidence that we don’t believe that God is who He says He is or that God doesn’t do what He says He would do. Not tithing points towards unbelief!
Unforgiveness: When we refuse to forgive others, we basically want to punish the other person. We want to repay them for what they did to us. When we truly believe in God, we will be able to say: “God, you will judge the person. Either he/she will repent, or he/she will go to hell. You’ll take care of it, I don’t have to. So I’ll let go of my unforgiveness, and move on.” When we don’t forgive, it probably points towards unbelief: “I don’t believe that God will hold this person accountable” or “God will never confront this person for what he/she did, I have to take things into my own hands.” Or “This person is getting away with what he/she did, and nobody does anything about it. God won’t either. So I’ll have to do it.” Sin is evidence of lack of trust in God.
Sex before marriage: When people wait for the right time, they express their trust in God: “God, I know that you promise me fullness of life. So I trust that waiting is what is best for me. So I’ll do it, even though it’s difficult. I trust that one day, I’ll experience that fulness, by doing what is right.” Christians who don’t wait usually express their unbelief with their actions: “God doesn’t want the best for me” or “God is withholding pleasure from me” or “God doesn’t know how difficult it is”, etc. Disobeying God is evidence that this person isn’t fully trusting God.
Prayer: Many Christians don’t follow the Biblical Command of “praying always”. But when digging a little bit deeper, it usually comes down to a wrong belief: “I don’t believe God hears me” or “God doesn’t answer my prayers anyways” or “It’s just a waste of time.” Unwillingness to pray usually points towards a wrong belief about God.
These are just some practical examples of how disobedience points towards unbelief. Any time a follower of Christ sins, it reveals that the person doesn’t fully believe that God is who He says He is or that God will do what He says He will do.
For centuries, the church has not been very good in connecting these two key elements of the Christian Faith. Some swing to the extreme of “Only Faith matters, let’s forget about the law.” Others only talk about the law, and they neglect the topic of Faith.
The truth is: These two topics are directly related to each other. Sin points towards a form of unbelief. There’s something we don’t believe about God, and as a result, we do something that is not Biblical. The examples above are just a sample. Practically every sin can be traced down to a form of unbelief.
So: When we deal with sin, there’s really no point in simply telling ourselves or each other: “Stop it”. That will never work, since then it’s simply a law that we need to follow in our own strength. That will always fail and leave Christians feeling defeated, worthless, unable, condemned,…
Instead, what we need to do with our sin is this: Let’s ask God about the unbelief that lies behind our sin. Let’s ask Him to reveal to us what we don’t believe about Him that causes us to disobey Him. Once we know what our unbelief is, we can deal with the problem on that level, replace our unbelief with the Truth, choose to change our belief system. And once we change our belief about God, we will naturally change our behavior as well, and be able to overcome our sin.
At our Aletheia group, we have given our members this task for the coming week: Let’s all deal with one sin in our lives. Not 27 at once, because then we won’t do anything. Simply pick 1, and focus on that one for a week. And then we can ask God: What is the underlying unbelief that causes us to sin? And as we replace the lie with the Truth, we will also be able to change our behavior.
That’s what our group will be doing this coming week. Why don’t you join us this, and do the same?
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