Monday, July 29, 2013

Grace And Faith by Martin Wiles

Romans 1:8-9
In what do you place your faith in each day? Spouse, car, cell phone, CD player, television, internet. The faith we put in such as the above mentioned is quite different than the faith Paul speaks of.

Paul’s Definition Of Faith

The faith of those in the Roman church was becoming known throughout the world (the entire Roman Empire). Remember the phrase: “all roads lead to Rome.” Remember Rome itself had some 1.2 million people in it, so this is a tremendous impact.

Faith has many meanings: faithfulness to someone or something, trust in a person to act, confident hope, even something empty that does not produce any works (as James mentions), or saving faith.

According to Strong’s Concordance, the Greek word Paul uses for faith (pistis) involves the following: “conviction of the truth of anything, belief; in the NT of a conviction or belief respecting man's relationship to God and divine things, generally with the included idea of trust and holy fervour born of faith and joined with it.” Relating to God, the conviction that God exists and is the creator and ruler of all things, the provider and bestower of eternal salvation through Christ. Relating to Christ, a strong and welcome conviction or belief that Jesus is the Messiah, through whom we obtain eternal salvation in the kingdom of God, the religious beliefs of Christians, belief with the predominate idea of trust (or confidence) whether in God or in Christ, springing from faith in the same.

While faith is tied closely to salvation, many believe that even the faith itself is given by God. That is, God gives us the ability to believe. “For by grace are you saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is a gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) The “that” can refer to faith or to the preceding salvation process, but the conclusion is the same nevertheless. The salvation is accomplished by God as well as is the faith to even believe.

So far have we fallen into sin, and so damaged is our nature by sin that we cannot even believe without God’s help. This is variously referred to as “total depravity” or “total inability.”
Jesus said no one could come to him unless drawn by the Father. (John 6:44) If we could muster faith, then that would be one deed we could boast of in the salvation process. Paul makes it very clear in more than one of his works that we have nothing to do with our salvation-it is of God. (This does not mean there is no response from us in the process. We do exercise repentance and faith which are both elements in the conversion process.)

We are saved by God’s grace-it is our human tendency to want to take some credit, even if just a little, for our salvation. From that moment on, we learn to live by faith as we grow into the likeness of God’s Son. This was not a new way that God began working in the New Testament. Rather it was the way it had always been. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that it was not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin. (10:4) It was always God’s grace that dealt with sins.

Our Faith Gives Us Contagious News To Share

This must have been a welcome commendation to them for Paul to tell them that their faith was known throughout the world.  They had an excellent faith reputation. Reputations are delicate things. It takes years to build a proper one but one bad decision can destroy it. Then it will take time once again to rebuild it. Some people will never let us forget the bad reputation we once had no matter how good it might be now.

They were doing exactly what Jesus had commanded the early disciples: making known the good news throughout the world. A part of making the good news known is allowing others to see the difference our faith is making in our lives and the lives of others.

In one sense, faith is a private matter, but in another sense, it must be public. It is not another’s faith that will make us acceptable to God-the psalmist said “The Lord is my shepherd.” (Psalm 23:1)  We don’t get to heaven on the coattails of someone else’s decision to follow Christ. Yet our life of faith must be manifest before others on a daily basis. The Roman Christians were doing this, and word was spreading.

So we must consider some questions: When others think of or speak about your church, what do they say? So often the comments are negative. Do hypocrites come to mind? Does it have a reputation of backbiting and gossiping? Does it have the reputation of being a family gathering place where no outsiders are welcome? (us four  and no more) Is it considered so traditional that no change could ever take place? Is it the church the deacons or some other group controls? We should not want our church to be known for the wrong things but for its faithful service to Christ. Wouldn’t it be exciting if our church was even known statewide for its faithfulness to God’s work?

But we must move beyond the church, because a church is only that because it is composed of believers. So some further questions must be considered. What do people say or think when they talk of you? Do they see someone whose faith is genuine? Do they see your faith making a difference in your words and actions? Do they see you living a hypocritical life? Do you love others, no matter who they are? Are you selective in your service? Only as we consistently live out the practical aspects of our faith will others see the difference it makes and be drawn to Christ and to a life of authenticity. Other people do not want superficiality. They are looking for genuineness.

Faith Leads Us To Thank God For Christian Friends

Paul consistently prayed for his Christian friends. He thanked God for them and brought their needs before God. He interceded for them. How many times in my ministry have I had people tell me when going through difficult times that they don’t know what they would have done without their church family. It is one thing to have friends, but it is quite another to have Christian friends. It is good to have family to depend on in time of need, but it’s an added pleasure to have Christian family. Take time to thank God for your Christian friends.

Make interceding for your Christian friends a part of your prayer life. Make interceding for your Christian brothers and sisters in Christ who are not friends or associates a part of your prayer life. We can pray for general needs, but we need to pray for specific needs when we know them. Would you rather someone pray, “Lord, bless Janet” or “Lord, you know what Janet is going through. Comfort her, and if there is anything I can do to help her, lay that need on my heart, and give me the compassion that would lead me to take advantage of this opportunity to serve you by serving her.”

Pray consistently for Christian friends. It is easy to get self centered in our prayer life, but praising and thanking God and interceding for others is a major part of a healthy prayer life. Just as life is not all about us, neither is our prayer life.

In speaking about his prayer life, Paul also testified of his faithfulness. He served God in his spirit or with all his heart. When we do something with all our heart, we put all our effort into it. Saying our heart is not in something says we have no passion or desire for it. Paul’s heart was in his service to God. Since God had transformed his life on the Damascus Road, his goal was to give him his all. He knew that the best thing he could do for others-the way he could show he cared, was to tell them the good news. There are many practical ways we can serve others and should, but the greatest thing we can do for them is to lead them to Christ.

Make sure your faith is genuinely making a difference in your life. Share that faith in whatever ways God gives you opportunity to do. Is your faith being made known throughout your world?

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