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Friday, November 25, 2011

The Essence of Being a Christian

1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 (ESV)

 We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers,  remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Most people lie somewhere in between a true faith in Christ and a convinced belief in atheism. These people will agree in the presence of a god but will not know the true God personally. They may or may not go to church. Their motivation for doing so in external. They may do it to please someone, make business contacts or even use church as a social connection point but there is no intrinsic value of church for them. They may claim to be spiritual but their understanding is more paranormal than biblical. They may have made a public declaration of faith in Christ as a child but this act has no real meaning to them now. They truly lack the three essential elements of a saving faith in Christ.

Faith is not really explainable. Some people think faith is believing in something that you know isn't true. Some others believe it is something that exists within the believer which keeps him believing even when there is no external evidence. But faith is a gift of God which exists on the spiritual plane. It speaks to the spirit within the person who believes. The person cannot explain that at one moment he did not believe and in another he does. He cannot give the steps which brought him to his belief. Something happens. It works within the individual. Salvation is born.

How does anyone know the stories of Jesus are true? Two weeks ago I was in Crete talking with a guide about Paul's shipwreck near where we were. She disputed the possibility of the shipwreck because of bad weather. I told her the Bible said that this is what happened. She asked, "But can you really believe the things in the Bible?" I told her that I did.

She was looking at what she had observed and concluding that her own personal history proved that the Bible was wrong. What if that is applied to the gospel? How many of us can say that we have seen a man who was dead for three days rise from the tomb and ascend into heaven? Our own personal experience would rule out the possibility of a resurrected Lord. It takes more than wanting to believe to convince ourselves of the gospel. It takes a work of the Lord to bring faith into our lives. It takes a work of faith on our part in accepting the truth of the gospel.

That work of faith continues in our lives as a labor of love. The work that the Lord does continues in what we do. The two cannot be separated. We serve because we love our Lord. That love is also an act of faith. Think about it for a minute. Christians love a man whom they personally know but who died almost 2000 years ago. This is akin to a man telling you that his mother was a tomato unless you have faith. The fact that Christians will give their lives to share this faith with others reveals the love they have for Him. This is not a intellectual belief. No one would claim first person love for someone who died so long ago without either being crazy or having had God given encounters with Him. It means that this man who died is still alive tin order o have personal encounters with Him today.

Love is also unexplainable. It causes us to do things we would never have done unless someone is watching. It gets the mother up late at night to feed her baby. It makes a man work harder than he would for himself to provide for his family. It causes a daughter to give a kidney to her ailing father. Love may involve labor but it is not seen as labor to the one in love. It is seen as a privilege.

Christians fix their eyes on the prize. They have a steadfast hope in seeing Jesus. They look forward to His return and still expect to see Him when they die. Their hope is met with opposition. There are those who will try to convince them that they are merely believers in fairy tales. They will tell them that this world is all there is. They will say that self sacrifice makes no sense other than its own personal benefits in this world. They will claim that Christians do not care about those in this world as much as those who put their hope in this world.

But is that really true? How many hospitals or schools have been started by atheists? If there true hope was in this world wouldn't they make sure that this world was the best it could be?

Believers look to see Jesus and therefore do the things of Christ until He returns. They work toward healing because this is His calling upon them. They open schools so that the gospel can be spread through knowing the Word of God and through the professions of Christians in the world. Christians look to Jesus with a passion that will not allow them to be the only ones who will see Him. Their hearts cry out for others to believe. They pray for their loved ones salvations.

The essence of being a Christian is found in the work of faith within the believer, the labor of love which is both being done to and by the believer and the steadfast hope in seeing Christ again and bringing others to faith.

I have recently been around people who have gone to church all their lives but who do not understand any of this. They were raised in their churches and continue to attend. I suppose that being raised in a garage won't make you a Volkswagen either.


Pamela Wilson-Lipscomb said...

I love your post! I remember when I first came to the Lord. It was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to me. I was so grateful the the grace and mercy I was shown by a loving father. In turn I was compelled to be like Him! Going to church is the the meaning of Christianity but how we walk out God's character and purpose. Keep writing and imparting wisdom.

Anthony Chia said...

The NIV version of 1 The 1:3 reads as follows:

“We continually remember before our God and Father YOUR work produced by faith, YOUR labor prompted by love, and YOUR endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (capitalization, mine)

And that of KJV, as follows:

“Remembering without ceasing YOUR work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father;” (capitalization, mine)

So, while I am inclined to agree the essence of being a Christian, as gleaned from this verse, comprises: work of faith, labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord, Jesus Christ, I differ in how one should regard the “work of faith” here, although I am NOT talking about the way NIV puts it, making it like there is no difference between it and labour of love.

The Greek word used for the word, “work”, here, is “ergon”, and it is the same Greek word used in many places in Scriptures for “works”, and “work” (singular) of both men and Jesus. And it means, according to the Strong’s Lexicon, work – an enterprise, an undertaking, a deed, an act, a thing done, and if it is plural, then the meaning could be in plural, as in acts, deeds, things done, etc.

The difference I am referring to, is there is no strong reason to treat the “your” as more particularly applying to “labour of love” and steadfastness of hope”, and NOT to “work of faith”, as accorded by Ps Prentis. Although, Ps Prentis is NOT totally saying that there isn’t our part in the work of faith, but he has emphasized that salvation faith is totally of God, a gift from God. While I can accept also that particularly salvation faith is being referred to, by the Apostle Paul here (perhaps, this was the particular reason why, “ergon” was translated in the singular, and NOT plural); I cannot accept man has no part in his salvation, meaning if a person does NOT somehow accept Jesus as Savior, it is nothing to do with him, but it is all God’s own fault; God did NOT make him have the faith, or God did NOT give him that gift of faith. I am NOT saying we can work for our entry into salvation, we cannot; but it is we have to decide to believe, we have to make a choice. It is ok if one does NOT want to say that making decision is work, but he still has to recognize that one has to make a decision to accept (which is an act). I have no problem terming that decision to accept as a work (of faith). In fact, my belief is that making the decision to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior by confessing it through our lips is the first of our “works of the faith”.

Is there no part of God that we enter into salvation? Of course, there is, and ample; first, God desires all men to be saved, secondly, He sets in place, plans for men’s salvation, third, He executed, and is still executing His plans; fourth, (I believe) He has sent out His invitations, and continues to beckon, fifthly, He is drawing men, sixthly, His Spirit is giving understanding of spiritual matter, without which, Scripture said the unregenerate man CANNOT understand spiritual matter, and last , but NOT least, it is all done, generally, respecting the free-will of men which God Himself had given to man in His Creation.

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Anthony Chia said...

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I advise against labeling salvation faith as a gift from God, despite the verse of Eph 2:8 – “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (NIV) or “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (KJV).

Even, generally, faith should NOT be said as a gift from God, although there is such a thing as a “gift of faith”, as enumerated in 1 Cor 12:7-11. The understanding should be that the faith referred to, in the list of supernatural gifts, was a supernatural faith and NOT a normal faith. Pertaining to Eph 2:8, of the 3 words there (salvation {saved}, grace and faith), the gift is particularly referring to salvation; grace is understood as a gift anyway, and faith is our faith, a complete unit of faith or faith exercised. Believe in our heart and confess with our mouth is faith exercised (Rom 10:9). Unless God exercises His prerogative over the free-will of man (which I am NOT saying it cannot happen, but is NOT the norm), it is the man who has to have faith exercised in order to have salvation from God; in other words, the Holy Spirit gives the spiritual understanding (and I do NOT doubt the Holy Spirit is always working to give understanding; He neither sleeps nor slumber), and with that understanding, a man has to choose (make a choice) to believe and exercise it; it is only in that way, salvation comes, and we call that a “work of faith”. Whose work? The person’s work; still this explanation does NOT make one meriting salvation or salvation is by works. It is: here is a gift (and so, is free), a salvation gift, and you receive it in, through the exercising of a belief based on a God’s truth, and in this case, is that Jesus Christ died for you.

Faith is NOT mere belief. First of all, it has to be a right belief, and secondly it is to be accompanied by an inaction-busting conviction of that right belief. What is right belief? Right belief is a belief based on a truth of God. In most instances, in Scripture, “faith” is implicitly referred to as faith exercised, for faith without action is dead (James 2:17). Heb 11:6 said without faith it is impossible to please God. Can dead faith be pleasing to God? Of course, NOT. The Apostle James understood this clearly, and that was why he said, “you show me your faith, and I will show you my works”. Our works tells on our faith! We are looking at faith, NOT works, but our works tell on our faith. In the same way, we are to understand such thing said in Scripture about righteousness; Scripture has this saying, don’t be fooled, the one who does righteous is righteous (1 John 3:7) {Don’t believe the “theology” of right living is NOT needed for righteousness}. It is OUR work of faith, being referred to, by the Apostle Paul in 1 The 1:3, and NOT God’s faith, or God putting in the required faith.

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Anthony Chia said...

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Is OUR work of faith, a one-time thing? I say “work of faith” and NOT “works of the faith”, they are different; I am specifically referring to the “work of faith” in 1 The 1:3. If you look at the other 2 items listed there, labour of love, and steadfastness of hope, they pointed to an on-going thing, NOT a one-time thing. The work of faith or salvation faith is of the same, meaning it is also an on-going thing; we have to continue to have salvation faith exercised (or work of faith). Why did Paul have to intercede before God concerning work of faith of the believers? If it is a one-time thing, they had it; no need to intercede or remember this matter before God, for the believers. No, it is because a believer has to continue to “work” this one faith; putting it another way, (and is my belief) Paul was of the belief that one can lose one’s salvation if one no longer has this faith exercised! So, even as Ps Prentis’ preceding entry was on “Which is most important?”, and the answer was and is a person’s salvation, so it is also most central in a believer’s life that he MUST have work of faith or salvation faith. Think about it, is there no real need of concern for backslidden Christians? There is a real need, for badly backslidden ones may no longer exercise salvation faith anymore. We are NOT looking at good works of the faith (or here called labour of love), we are saying his life of no indication (no work) of faith (salvation faith) is telling on him. God sees the person’s heart and examine his actions, deeds, undertakings or their lack, and God knows if the person is still believing Jesus Christ died for him. Those who want to rely on “I once believed, what!”, I put this to you, “Adam once believed God, then he decided he would believe in the words of the serpent; look what happened!”. We need to continue to have work of faith, and then we can talk about the rest, labour of love, and steadfastness of hope.

Actually, the salvation message is very simple; the most important understanding of salvation is “God so loved us …” (John 3:16), and so, as we continue to let that understanding sink into us, and we continue in that work of faith, our loving God back, grow, and that one “work of faith” ramifies into “works of the faith”, coming forth as labour of love (our love for God) and is also the works of faith, which in these other cases, the faith is NOT necessarily a truth of Jesus died for us, but rather the faith in all the various truths of God. Why do I say the works of love and the works of faith are the same; in fact it is also referred to as good works or righteous works?

First of all, without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb 11:6), and so, no works can be good works, unless it is a work of faith (now, this is talking generally, NOT referring to the salvation faith, although it is NOT untrue that the works of unregenerate men are difficult {difficult, NOT necessarily impossible} to qualify as good works), meaning the work must flow out from a right belief (belief in a truth of God) with an inaction-busting conviction (which is the definition of faith).

Unless you receive a rhema word direct from the Spirit, and in which case, the word must be a truth, truths of God are in His word, His commands, and instructions in Scripture. How come it can be labeled as works of love, you might wonder; it is because obeying the commands and instructions of God, as given in His Word, is loving God, for this is clear from Scripture: “He who loves Me obeys my commands, and he who obeys my commands are the ones who love Me” (John 14:15 & John 14:21a).

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Anthony Chia said...

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If you think about it, the verses on “honor our father and mother, and we will live long” are parabolic to say that when we honor God, we too, will live longer, in fact, very, very long, to eternality. There are many things we can talked about, when it comes to “honor”, but one thing is clear, disobedience is NOT honoring father or mother or God. If anyone knows anything about love, he should know that love included honoring. Honoring is part of love; God loves you, and He does honor you, and if you love God, you, too would be honoring Him. Labour of love is also our honoring of God.

It is funny, people, especially overly grace ones, like to say that God does NOT need us to do anything for Him; He can have anything and can do anything without our help. I doubt they know, often a head of state does NOT give another head of state, something that the latter needs, that would be an insult; one gives to another, that which the latter does NOT need, and that is honoring. It is the same with a Chinese practice of bringing a fruit-hamper (hand gift) when we visit another who is an elder to us, it is NOT because the elder cannot afford to buy the fruits himself (or the little gift you bring), it is honoring him. So, the next time, you are inclined to think God does NOT need you to do this or that, He can do it himself, think again, God is waiting for you to learn to honor Him.

Faith and hope are different things. It has to be, for in 1 Cor 13:13, the Apostle Paul (same author of Thessalonians) said these 3 things remained: faith, hope and love. See, 3 separate things, NOT one thing or 2 things, but 3 things. Commonly, we hear people say, “One does NOT hope for something that already happened; hope is always about a future event”, but it does NOT capture the essence of contrast between faith and hope. Rather, hope is about a future event “out of your hand”. When Jesus is coming back, is out of our hands; Scripture said, NOT even the Son knows, the only person who knows is the Father God. When the Father is going to let Jesus come back, and we all can consummate with our glory in Christ Jesus, is solely in hands of the Father God; it is His call, His prerogative, alone. As Christians, we continue to hope in Jesus’ coming back, in our resurrection (or for some, rapture), and our going to live in Heaven, although, no one and I can say, absolutely no one, has had that, and has come to me and share with me, saying “Been there, and done that!” We continue to be steadfast or persevere in our hope. The difference between hope and faith is that hope exercised does NOT change the outcome; but faith exercised, can possibly change the outcome (actually it does, and it is NOT possibly; it is possibly only because at times our “faith” is faulty)!

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Anthony Chia said...

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Simple illustration: I can hope, and I hope it will NOT rain this afternoon, despite the dark clouds already formed, for I want to hold an open healing meeting. If it rains, it rains; regardless I hold or NOT hold the meeting. For hope exercised, the key word is to wait, be patient; actually, the KJV refers to patience, and the NIV, to endurance; but for faith exercised, it is to engage, to pray, to expect thing to happen; but of course, part of faith is to get the belief right (often our faith is faulty for this component). And so, many have shared, that they exercised faith and prayed against rain coming, and rain was turned away.

How does one get the belief right? I have no quick answer to that, only that firstly, it is a life-long thing to learn to know God, and His ways, and secondly, it has to do with, being right with God, and therefore, righteousness, for righteousness is about being in agreement with God, being in agreement with God’s thinking of what is right (in His eyes, NOT yours), of what He wants done, and when He wants done. Faith and righteousness is tied together this way in Scripture: Faith exercised is countable as righteousness. When one exercises faith and gets counted as righteous, it means that he got the belief right, which means he was in agreement with God of what God wants to do and when He wants to do (that is God’s rhema truth for the season), and he acts on his right belief (belief on a right truth); such exercise of faith will invariably gets God’s hand of grace, for what is to be done coincides with what He desires to do; and we are counted righteous in so doing. When we do NOT get the rhema truth directly, we have to discern the rhema from the logos (written) truths of God from the Word of God, to base our belief on, in our faith-exercising.

One last thing I want to say is that, as Ps Prentis pointed out, the essence of being a Christian cannot be based on experience alone. Experiences, the right ones, testify to the truths of God. Never form theology out of experiences, for theology of the faith is to be founded solely on the truths of the Word. If we have any correct idea of God, then it is God is law, what God says is law; what God says goes, and it is law. Talking about natural upheavals, etc, many out there want also to say that the crossing of the Red Seas, by Moses with the Israelites, was a natural phenomenon, and people claim they could reproduce that parting of the water in labs; well, nature was created by God, and He can use it in whatever way He deems fit. Experience and sight are just too little to go by, if they testify to the Word, that’s well and fine, if they do NOT line up to the Word, the Word of God shall stand, for the Word of God is God.