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Friday, December 29, 2023

For By Grace You Have Been Saved Through Faith Alone

No, Eph. 2:8-9 does not read that way but that is the way most seem to want to read it.  Let me quote the verses for you from the New King James version. 

"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast." 

No believer would discount the grace of God in man's salvation.  You surely do not believe you deserve to be saved, do you?  If you cannot count your own sins I suspect it would not be too hard to find someone who would be willing to do it for you.  And, I add, that is to say nothing of those hidden sins that no man can see in another, those sins that only God knows about you. 

Many people are unaware that evil thoughts are sinful in God's sight.  "For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.  These are the things which defile a man." (Matt. 15:19-20 NKJV)  "There is none righteous, no, not one." (Rom. 3:10 NKJV)  "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Rom. 3:23 NKJV)  That means me; it means you. 

So, I am thankful for grace for my sins but it distresses me to see what man has done to Eph. 2:8-9.  The passage has been perverted; the perversion has been made the be-all and end-all of God's teaching on the subject.  It is as if no other verses in the Bible have any authority on the topic of salvation.  If God has spoken elsewhere it makes no difference for these two verses (I should say the perversion of them) are all we will take into account and accept.  We tell God do not waste your time telling me anything else for I do not want to hear it. 

We are unwilling to accept that the same man who wrote Eph. 2:8-9 by inspiration of the Holy Spirit also wrote other books of the New Testament by inspiration of the Holy Spirit and also spoke in those books on the subject of salvation.  We forget the Psalmist said, "The entirety of your word is truth." (Psalms 119:160) 

We pit Paul against himself to make sure that Eph. 2:8-9 (our perversion of it) remains on a pedestal above all other passages on the subject.  The passage in Eph. 2 teaches the truth on how man is saved when properly understood and not perverted but my problem is with the perversion.  The passage is a summary statement of how man comes to have salvation but where the trouble comes is man's willingness to define the terms there as he very well sees fit and desires.  For example, who gets to define terms like grace, faith, and works?  And, that is where the perversion comes in. 

Let me define grace for you the way it is commonly defined by man--grace is God doing all the work and me not lifting even my little finger.  It is total unconditional salvation.  The idea is if God makes any demand on me (puts a condition on salvation) it cannot be grace.  Well, tell that to Noah who found grace in God’s eyes (Gen. 6:8 NKJV) but nevertheless had to build an ark to be saved. 

Faith is commonly defined, in this context (Eph. 2:8), as what I believe.  It is subjective, not objective; it does not depend on a book, chapter, and verse because it is what I believe.  I knew a lady who once said words to the effect that she did not care what Paul said about women preachers.  She knew what she believed was her idea.   That is how faith is commonly defined among men today as it relates to Eph. 2:8-9. 

Works is defined as being anything that requires me to take a single breath.  If I have to lift my eyelids it is salvation by works.  That is the way much of so-called Christendom views works as it relates to salvation. 

I totally reject all of the above. It is a perversion of truth.  It is a perversion of the teaching of Eph. 2:8-9.  Let us hear a little from Paul, the one no one seems to be willing to listen to except in Eph. 2:8-9.  Let him explain himself. 

"But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God which is through faith in Jesus Christ to all and on all who believe.  For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." (Rom. 3:21-24 NKJV) 

Does this sound familiar to Eph. 2:8-9?  It ought to.  But, how does the passage say we are justified by faith and grace?  Answer--"through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." (v. 24) 

Well, how does Paul say a man enters Christ Jesus where this redemption is--redemption "is in Christ Jesus?"  He says just two chapters later, "do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus." (Rom. 6:3 NKJV)  Was this a slip of the tongue or of the pen?  No, for he says it again, "For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ." (Gal. 3:26-27 NKJV)  By the way, can you put on Christ without baptism?  If so where is the verse that says so?  (see also 1 Cor. 12:13) 

Why is a man a son of God through faith in Christ Jesus?  Because he was baptized into Christ.  Reread Gal. 3:26-27 again.  I challenge one and all to find even a single passage of scripture in the New Testament that tells you how to get into Christ outside of baptism. 

By faith, a man is led to be baptized into Christ Jesus.  No one would or could be baptized into Christ without first having faith in him.  Forgiving grace is found in Christ.  The reader will see readily that I do not pit Paul against himself.  Faith, grace, and baptism all fit together into one package.  Paul meant what he said in every single passage of scripture he wrote but those who interpret Eph. 2:8-9 the way most do today have him fighting himself for they cannot admit he meant what he said in passages like Gal. 3:26-27. 

They cannot understand why he arose and was baptized to wash away his sins (Acts 22:16) unless of course the passage does not mean what it literally says.  They have to symbolize all such passages (and dream up what the symbols are supposed to mean for the Bible does not tell them).  Paul could not have literally meant that a man enters Christ by baptism no matter what he said about it for that would mean one had to be baptized to be a Christian, to be in Christ, the very thing they deny.  They thus pit Paul against himself by their man-made tradition. 

Paul was baptized to wash away his sins (Acts 22:16) and taught that one enters Christ by baptism.  He said Christ is the savior of the body (Eph. 5:23) and that the church is his body (Eph. 1:22-23) but says that body is entered through baptism.  "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body." (1 Cor. 12:13 NKJV)  If Christ is the Savior of the body and you are baptized into that body how are you going to be saved without being baptized (for the remission of your sins--Acts 2:38, Acts 2:16) the same way Paul was baptized?  This body one is baptized into, the body of Christ, the church, is cleansed "with the washing of water by the word." (Eph. 5:26 NKJV)  No washing of water (baptism) then no cleansing. 

Paul, unlike those today, did not see a conflict between being saved by grace through faith and being baptized for the remission of sins.  As said earlier, it was all part of one package.  Baptism for the remission of sins is a part of God's grace.  A man is led to it by faith. 

When Paul was baptized to wash away his sins he did not see that as salvation by works but salvation by a living faith (by grace you have been saved through faith).  When Ananias, a Holy Spirit filled man sent by God to Paul, told him to "Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins" (Acts 22:16 NKJV) faith led him to believe that this was God speaking to him.  When he complied with God's command he was, you get to choose:  (a) justified by faith (b) justified by works. 

Let me ask another question.  What if Paul had refused to be baptized to wash away his sins?  Would his faith have been a living faith or a dead faith?  When you answer that one you will know why you will find baptism in a proper exegesis of Eph. 2:8-9.  The way Eph. 2:8-9 is commonly understood today it demands a dead faith for there will be no baptism to wash away your sins found in it according to the common understanding. 

Paul believed and obeyed and was saved by grace.  We disbelieve and disobey and say we are saved by grace.  Friends, there is a world of difference in those two positions.  Both cannot be right.    

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Thursday, December 28, 2023

Sinning Without Law

That man has always been under some kind of law from God I think there is little doubt.  We know Adam and Eve were under law but what about those who came after them but before the Law of Moses?  The flood came upon mankind because of "wickedness" and "every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." (Gen. 6:5 NKJV)  The earth was "corrupt before God" and "filled with violence." (Gen. 6:11 NKJV)  Peter spoke of the world before the flood as "the world of the ungodly." (2 Peter 2:5 NKJV)

Were these people innocent, not having a law of God before them for guidance and direction in life?  Did they not have a way of knowing right from wrong, good from evil?  There is no evidence we have of a written law but we do know Noah was "a preacher of righteousness." (2 Peter 2:5 NKJV)  How did Noah know what was righteous and what was not?  What is my point?  It is threefold:  (1) God had a law by which man was to live even if unwritten, (2) man had some means by which to know God's will and (3) man could sin "without law," that is, in this case, without written law.  God would and did hold man responsible for man's lawlessness by means of the flood.

Moving up to the account of the events surrounding the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah the Bible says, "The men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinful against the LORD." (Gen. 13:13 NKJV)  Lamentations 4:6 speaks of “the sin of Sodom.” (NKJV, NAS)  But, there was no written law.  They sinned against God but they sinned without law but only in the sense of written law.  God had a standard, a law, against their conduct whether written or not. 

To elaborate Peter says, speaking of Lot and his time in Sodom, "That righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds." (2 Peter 2:8 NKJV)  Lot saw them; Peter called them "lawless deeds" so there was law there even without a formal code, as was later found in the law of Moses.

I have said all of this to lay some background material for Paul's discussion of the sins of the Gentiles in Romans 1.  (I remind the reader the Gentiles were never given the Law of Moses; it was given to the Jews at Mt. Sinai while the Gentiles remained without a formal law code or written law from God.)  I cannot quote it all here but the reader would be advised to stop and read Rom. 1:18-32 before proceeding.  Paul lists the sins of the Gentiles, especially in Rom. 1:29-32.  How did the Gentiles come to know these things were sins?  They had no written law and in that sense they were "without law," a phrase Paul uses later in Rom. 2:12.

I ask again, how did the Gentiles come to know these listed sins were sins when they were without law?  That they did know is evident for Paul says in Rom. 1:32, "Who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them." (NKJV)  They knew; Paul says so.

I do not propose in this piece to give you answers that would be mere speculation on my part as to how the Gentiles were to know sin from righteousness other than the fact that some things ought to be self-evident to all men.  The Gentiles went for thousands of years, up until Christ, without any kind of formal law from God but they "sinned without law." (Rom. 2:12 NKJV)  One might ask how can this be since "sin is the transgression of the law?" (1 John 3:4 KJV)  That is the question.

This is my opinion and mark it down as that, just opinion, which is that God has law (or put another way a set of standards for conduct) whether it is given to man or not and any violation of that law is sin.  For example, as far as we know God never told Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel not to murder or kill.  Does that mean Cain did not sin when he murdered his brother?  (Should one not know instinctively that this is sin?)

Sin is the transgression of God's law but one can sin without a formal law being in place.  How would one do that?  Well, one could not do it today since all men today are under the law of Christ but back in Old Testament times after Mt. Sinai and God's covenant that was made there with the Jews things were different.  The world was divided thereafter into two groups of humanity.  You were either a Jew or a Gentile (anyone not a Jew was a Gentile).  To the Jews, God gave a formal law—the Law of Moses.  The rest of humanity was without law, that is without a written formal code of law.

The Jews obviously sinned anytime they broke the Law of Moses.  The Gentiles sinned without law, without a formal law code such as the Law of Moses.  However, that does not mean they did not break God's law for God has a standard of right and wrong whether it has been delivered to man formally or not.

Sin is a transgression of God's law period.  Romans 1:18-32 is the Holy Spirit's listing of and condemnation of the sins of the Gentiles.  Paul says, "where there is no law there is no transgression" (Rom. 4:15 NKJV) thus the Gentiles were under condemnation for the very reason that they had transgressed God's law.  "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23 NKJV), Paul said in Rom. 3:23, but that would not be true of the Gentiles in the period under discussion if they had no law of God to transgress.

Where did this law that was never formally given to the Gentiles, that the Gentiles lived under and a law they could and did violate, come from since it was not formally given?  Some of it came, evidently, naturally or instinctively as Rom. 2:14 says, "For when Gentiles who do not have the law do instinctively the things of the Law, these not having the Law, are a law to themselves." (NAS)   

The law the Gentiles lived under was not as strict as that the Jews lived under.  Of that, there can be little to no doubt.  When the scriptures talk about doing instinctively the things of the Law they are surely not speaking of offerings, sacrifices, clean and unclean foods, etc., the kinds of things that were regulated in detail and could only be known by a direct revelation from God (the very thing the Gentiles did not have).  The scriptures thus had to be speaking of things that relate to man's relationship with his fellowman and of his reverence toward God.  Paul summed up the fulfillment of the law when he said, "For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Gal. 5:14 NKJV)  A Gentile was capable of doing that without a formal written code.

Did anyone, Jew or Gentile, ever live perfectly without sinning against the law under which he lived?  Of course not!  That is the point Paul is driving home in Romans chapters 1 and 2.  He says, "We have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written, 'There is none righteous, not even one.'" (Rom. 3:9-10 NAS)

Paul says, "Through the Law comes the knowledge of sin." (Rom. 3:20 NAS)  Does this mean that since the Gentiles did not have a formal written code or even an oral code from God they had no knowledge of sin?  No!  Why not?  Paul speaks of "the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending themselves." (Rom. 2:15 NAS)  Is there a man, living or dead, Jesus being the exception, who ever lived to manhood who could honestly say he never violated his own code of conduct, his sense of right versus wrong, never ever violated his own conscience?  Our own heart has condemned us all at one point in time or another.

Law has condemned all men, even those the Bible refers to as being "without law" for that phrase means only without a legal code of the likes of the Law of Moses. 

There is a passage in Rom. 5 that raises questions that ought to be dealt with.  It reads as follows:  "For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law." (Rom. 5:13 NKJV)

If a person were to read this for the first time ever and have no knowledge of the Bible he would think that God did not punish sin or hold man accountable for sin before the Law of Moses but we have already discussed the account of the flood and why it came and talked about Sodom and Gomorrah and we have even discussed how God held the Gentiles to account for their sins as recorded in chapter one of this very same book—the book of Romans.  We have also discussed how men had law but just not a law of a formal code given by direct revelation and we have shown how the Gentiles violated the law or light they did have.

My take on this verse (Rom. 5:13) then is this—we take it at face value.  What do I mean?  It is a simple declaration, "sin is not imputed when there is no law." (Rom. 5:13 NKJV)  Thus, if sin exists at any place, anywhere, or anytime among anyone then there was a law that was violated even though that law may not have been in the form of a written or oral code and may not have been in the form of a specific commandment such as Adam was given.  Put another way one could say it is impossible to sin against a law that does not exist thus if there is sin there is law.

If Gentiles who lived in the period between Adam and Moses were eternally lost because of sin how could it be said that sin is not imputed when there is no law (they had no law given by revelation as did the Jews)?  We have already shown the wickedness of many in that time.  The answer is there was law, just not a written code of the nature of the Law of Moses.  I add in closing I do not presume to become the judge of the Gentiles before the Christian dispensation.  That is God's realm, not mine.  I am only saying God was not unjust in those he condemned because they were "without law." 

What God will do with the Gentiles of those ages past who lived without a written code is a question only he has the answer to.  I do know each of us will stand before the Lord on the Day of Judgment individually, not as a group, to answer for our own deeds.   Luke 12:47-48 seems to teach we will be judged to an extent on our ability to know and do.  My purpose in writing this article was certainly not to make myself a judge of the Gentiles or to answer questions men have been contemplating for centuries but I do have an answer.  "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Gen. 18:25 NKJV)   

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Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Faith in the New Testament--Different Meanings

The word "faith" is a word that has different meanings in different places where it is found in the New Testament.  It can be disconcerting when one first becomes aware of this but at the same time, we benefit from knowing it.

In preparation for this article, I looked up the word "faith" in a little paperback Merriam-Webster Dictionary I have curious as to what I would find.  I found 4 meanings listed as follows:  (1) allegiance to duty or a person which you could call loyalty (2) belief or trust in God (3) complete trust and (4) a system of religious beliefs.

I then went to another book I have entitled An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words by W. E. Vine.  This is a standard work, a word definition book quite well known by Bible students.  This book allows you to take the English word found in your King James Bible, look it up, and it will give you the Greek word or words behind the English, and give you the meaning of those Greek words as used in the scriptures in the first century. 

When I looked up the word "faith" in Vine's dictionary I found the Greek word behind it to be "pistis."  Vine says the word means, depending on the passage in which it is being used, (a) trust (b) trustworthiness or faithfulness (c) what is believed, the contents of belief (d) the grounds for faith, assurance, and (d) a pledge of fidelity.  He gives scriptural references for each of these usages.

We can see then that the word “faith” has different meanings in different contexts in which it is found.

Generally speaking, as it relates to the New Testament, we think faith means trust in God or the Lord Jesus and it most certainly does.  The word is used with this meaning more than any other meaning given the word in the New Testament scriptures.  I think the classic example of this kind of faith (trust in God) found in the New Testament is found in Heb. 11:17-19 referring back to Abraham.  The text reads as follows:

"By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, 'In Isaac your seed shall be called,' accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense." (Heb. 11:17-19 NKJV)

That is trust (or faith) in God to the utmost degree.  It is a faith we all need to develop but note one thing about this faith--note what it is based on.  It is based on the "word of God."  What had God promised Abraham concerning Isaac?  Abraham had been given God's word and was thoroughly convinced God could, would not, lie (Titus 1:2).  "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Rom. 10:17 KJV)

Scriptural faith is never based on what a man thinks, a man's opinions or ideas, but upon God's word.  If there is no word from God then whatever a man believes is not faith but opinion.  Abraham had word from God--"In Isaac your seed shall be called."  Noah had the same faith regarding the coming flood and the need to build an ark.  It was not his opinion that a flood was coming.  He had God's word on it.

Another use of the word faith that is an uncommon usage but a scriptural one is faith as a spiritual gift.  In 1 Cor. 12 the subject is spiritual gifts (see verse 1).  In verse 8 Paul begins listing various spiritual gifts that had been given the Corinthians and in verse 9 includes faith.  He says, "To another faith by the same Spirit." (1 Cor. 12:9 NKJV)  I do not understand the nature of this faith but it was of such strength, evidently, that it could only be acquired by a direct spiritual impartation. 

This might explain what Jesus was talking about in Matt. 21:21.  "So Jesus answered and said to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, 'Be removed and be cast into the sea,' it will be done.'" (NKJV)

Another different use of the word faith is found in Rom. 14:23, "But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin." (NKJV)  Here the word refers to having a good conscience with regards to what you allow or do.  If you violate your conscience in doing a thing it is sin for one must act based on faith with the belief that what he is doing is in accord with God's will.  One cannot doubt and do a thing without it being a sin.

Taken in context the verse is found in a discussion about the eating of meats.  Under the Law of Moses, certain meats were unclean, and eating them was sin.  Under Christ, this was no longer so but some doubted and thus for them to eat, thinking it was possibly a sin to do so, and eating anyway, to them it became sin.  Their conscience was not clean.

Faith is at times used as a reference not to trust in God but as a reference for the whole Christian system, the entirety of New Testament teaching.  The best example and one all can readily see for such a usage, is found in Jude 3, "Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints." (NKJV)  The phrase "the faith" is a reference to the entire gospel system of salvation. 

What a lot of people do not know is that the phrase "the faith" is found in your Bible more times than you know.  Why do I say that?  Because those who translated our Bibles left it out (the “the” before the word “faith”) thinking it unnecessary to translate both words.  Let me give you some examples.

Gal. 3:14, "That the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through ('the' is in the Greek text here but omitted by most translations--DS) faith." (NKJV)

Gal. 3:25, "But after ('the' is in the Greek text here but omitted by most translations--DS) faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor." (NKJV)

Gal. 3:26, "For you are all sons of God through ('the' is in the Greek text here but omitted by most translations--DS) faith in Christ Jesus." (NKJV)

There is a difference between "the faith" and "faith" thus such omissions are a serious error in translations.  If you doubt me just type in "interlinear" in your search engine and check me out.  I used the interlinear at Biblos but any of them should do just fine.  Young's Literal Translation accurately translates these verses leaving the word "the" where it belongs. 

Other places where "the faith" is used to mean the gospel system is 1 Tim. 4:1, "Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith," (NKJV) "Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith," (2 Cor. 13:5 NKJV) "… and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith." (Acts 6:7 NKJV)  In fact, the phrase "the faith" is used 39 times (without the omissions already mentioned) in the New King James Version.  I do not claim every single instance refers to the gospel but many of them do.

Another phrase often used in the Bible is the phrase "by faith."  One finds this, especially, in Hebrews chapter 11.  By faith, this man or this woman did this or that.  We read of that in verse after verse.  The phrase generally means they "acted" based on faith, because of faith, or out of faith.  One would be hard-pressed in life to find any meaningful act ever done by a rational person without a motivation of one kind or another behind it.  Faith is the motivating factor for the man or woman of God.  People act on God's word because they believe it.  When one does not believe one does not obey.  This disbelief is one reason so many who claim the name Christian are never baptized.  They do not believe what the Bible says about it.  Others who do believe are baptized.

Actually, the Hebrew writer explains this earlier in the book.  In Hebrews chapter 3 the writer is talking about those who came out of Egypt with Moses headed to the promised land.  As you know that generation did not enter therein for they refused to go up and fight in direct violation of God's command.  The Hebrew writer is talking about those people when he says, "And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey?  So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief."  (Heb. 3:18-19 NKJV)  He ties their disobedience in directly with their unbelief.  They did not trust God's word and thus refused to obey.  So it is today.  Jesus is "the author of eternal salvation to all who obey him." (Heb. 5:9 NKJV)  Only those who believe will obey.

There is no such thing as saving faith without diligent seeking of God which means in part obeying him in all he commands us to do.  "But without faith it is impossible to please him, for he who comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him." (Heb. 11:6 NKJV) 

A good goal for all of us would be to so live that when we die it could be said of us that we lived by faith while living and then died in faith in passing.  We all ought to try and live such a life.  "The just shall live by faith." (Heb. 10:38 NKJV)

Finally, let us all try and read the Bible with more discernment.  I include myself in that.  We will all get more out of it if we put more time into it instead of just rapidly passing over the text.  It is great to read the Bible but far better to read it and study it.

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