< What I Learned Teaching Sunday School: Part 2 of Living With Assurance

Friday, April 13, 2007

Part 2 of Living With Assurance

Why are good works not enough to get you into heaven?

Because the Bible says “without faith we cannot please God.” There’s also a story in there about Jesus pulling a child out of the crowd and saying “this is the kind of faith it takes.” And in another place in the Bible we are told that the message of Salvation will be a stumbling stone to the wise.

God wants us to believe Him and trust Him. He also doesn’t want us to be able to boast about how we got there.

Read Romans 3:21-28

Boasting is an expression of pride and pride is the greatest of all sins, according to Christianity. Pride was the very first sin. It was the sin of Satan, who said, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God…I will make myself like the Most High” (Is. 14:13-14) Pride made Satan want to be like God, but it actually brought him down “to the grave, to the depths of the pit” (vs.15)

Pride was the sin of Eve, who wanted to “be like God, knowing good from evil” (Gen.3:5) But, she didn’t rise up to become like God. She became like Satan in her perverted and fallen knowledge.

Pride was the sin of Adam who couldn’t abide the slightest restriction on his quest for autonomy. He could not stand God’s law. Adam wanted to be a law unto himself; so he sinned and brought death on the human race.

But, Grace is a gift from God. We need to believe it and praise and thank God for it. Through the simple act of believing God, the Holy Spirit has put a new life in our hearts. We are children born into the family of God and He loves us as He loves His Son.

It might help to explain the difference between religion and Christianity. This is explained very clearly in the book Becoming a Contagious Christian. Here’s a brief overview:

Religion is spelled D-O. It is all about what we do. I go to church. I help people. I live a good life. I believe certain things. Etc etc. Christianity is spelled D-O-N-E. It is all about what God has done for us. God gave us His Son as the sacrifice for our sins. He reached out to us. He paid the price and the way to heaven was opened by His generosity. As a matter of fact, when Jesus was dying on the cross, He said, “It is finished!” This was His way of saying He had paid the price for all of our sins.

The bottom line is clear – None of us can earn our way into heaven by anything we do. God has opened the way through Christ and we can accept His gift. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is a gift from God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”

When we compare ourselves, and try to measure up, and look at things like the 10 commandments, or even the Golden Rule – we realize we will never measure up. And God knows that. He’s not surprised. He gives us all of those rules and ideals as things we should strive for in our quest for holiness. But, He saves us through faith.

Justification by the grace of God through faith releases the believer from the anguish of trying to attain to moral rectitude by law and failing. This doesn’t mean that the law of God has no value. Before we came to Christ, it had value in showing us our sin and need of a Savior. Even after we become Christians, the law shows us what kinds of behavior please God and what kinds displease Him.

Martin Luther before was a pious, earnest monk. An apparent Christian. But Luther had no peace in his soul. He wanted to please God and be accepted by Him. But, the harder he worked the more elusive the salvation of his soul became. Instead of drawing closer to God, he found himself moving away from Him. Instead of coming to love God, which Luther knew he should do, he found himself hating God for requiring an apparently impossible standard of righteousness of human beings. In desperation Luther turned to a study of Paul’s great letter to the Romans where, as early as the 17th verse of chapter 1, he found the solution: “In the gospel a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: The righteous will live by faith.”

As God opened the meaning of this verse to Luther, he realized that the righteousness he needed was not his own righteousness, but a righteousness of God freely given to all who would receive it. Moreover, this was to be had, not through any works of his own, but by faith only. It was by taking God at His word, by believing Him. Luther did this and felt himself to be reborn and to have entered Paradise.

Here is how he put it: “I had no love for that holy and just God who punishes sinners. I was filled with secret anger against Him: I hated Him, because, not content with frightening by the law and the miseries of life, us wretched sinners, already ruined by original sin - He still further increased our tortures by the gospel… But when, by the Spirit of God, I understood the words, - when I learned how the justification of the sinner proceeds from the free mercy of our Lord through faith…then I felt born again like a new man…In very truth, this language of St. Paul was to me the true gate of Paradise.”

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