True Faith / False Faith
There are many false Christians out there. Most don’t even know it. And if we apply the parables of
Matthew 25 to the Church, then about half are going to Hell and will get mad at you for even suggesting this. This is not to mention the implications of all serious religions that those who willfully
reject the “true” faith are outside of God’s Kingdom, aka, going to Hell.
The letter of James clearly explains the difference between true faith and false faith, between saving faith and flawed faith, namely “works”. Conversely, the apostle Paul clearly explains the difference between true works and false works, namely, “faith”.
“You believe that God is One. You do well; even the demons believe and shudder.” You can believe in the true and living God, call him Allah or Jehovah or Yahweh or whatever name you want; ascribe to him as many divine attributes and perfections as your imagination can pack into a theology; you can even have correctly picked Jesus or Mohammed or Moses as God’s most important messenger, and you still won’t have a faith any better than the demons.
So how to recognize true faith; the kind of faith that will take us to Heaven? Works. Now by works I don’t mean acts of religious devotion. I will talk about these below. No, I mean the works of God pouring out of a soul that is possessed by Him. Would you call God merciful? Are you merciful? Would you call God pure? Are you seeking purity in your life and crying out against the pollutions of the world? Would you call God just, indeed, righteous? Is your judgment impartial… restrained… fully informed? Are you generous? Are you kind? To everyone? Compassionate? Tender? Loving?
The Works of God “flow” from a heart that is His possession. Oh, sure, different people are at different points of maturity and levels of expression, but you can’t have God inside you and something not seep out. Indeed, our life in Him is not so much our living for Him as it is our silencing our wills, casting out sin when it appears, and remembering that we don’t “own” anything. These are rocks in the stream which when removed God’s grace flows more fully and the world is blest. And, my friends, God’s great desire is to bless the world thru us.
“Suppose a brother or a sister needs clothes or food and one of you tells that person, "God be with you! Stay warm, and make sure you eat enough." If you don't provide for that person's physical needs, what good does it do? In the same way, faith by itself is dead if it doesn't cause you to do any good things.” True faith is known by its fruits. Dead faith is known by the lack thereof.
But by the same token, all “good” works are not the works of true faith, neither are they of the same value. Judge for yourself. Which is better: to do a thing to please, or, to do a thing to impress? To do a thing for love, or, to do a thing for money (which when we expect God’s blessing for the things we do, is not much different than expecting payment)? To do a thing from knowing that it is the right thing to do, or, because we are afraid of condemnation if we don’t do it? To do a thing in hopes that someone else will be encouraged, or, to do a thing to maintain our “image” and personal reputation? To do a thing even if it involves personal sacrifice, or, to do a thing only if it is convenient? To do a thing simply because the opportunity presented itself, or, to do a thing to offset the bad things we have done? For actors motivation is everything. It’s pretty much that way in life too. Our works, both good and bad, must be judged by our motivations, not just who they affect. Any judgment that excludes this is unjust.
Here’s Paul now: 1Cor 3:11-15 “After all, no one can lay any other foundation than the one that is already laid, and that foundation is Jesus Christ. People may build on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw. The day will make what each one does clearly visible because fire will reveal it. That fire will determine what kind of work each person has done.
If what a person has built survives, he will receive a reward. If his work is burned up, he will suffer the loss. However, he will be saved, though it will be like going through a fire.”1
The “day” is Judgment Day. The “fire” is God’s all-seeing discernment that burns away every excuse. “Going through a fire” would be better translated “as if one were escaping from a burning house with nothing but the clothes on their back.” The loss one will suffer is the wasted life and time on this planet that cannot be reclaimed. The different building materials are our motivations.
Two things should be noticed. First, that blood-bought, born-again, going to Heaven christians can still live silly, self-centered lives (hence the works of wood, hay, and straw). And second, unless Jesus is the foundation of our lives, everything will perish, like a building in an earthquake.
So I guess the over-arching question is how to build with this ‘gold, silver, and precious stones’? It is not from introspection or contemplation, for then only the introverts would be the best christians. Nor is it self denial, self control, nor self anything. God is spectacularly unimpressed with our human efforts apart from our dependence on His mercy and His Son. Nor may it be found in special knowledge, feats of devotion, or lives of service.
No, rather, it is simple. It is easy. It is available. It is also the hardest thing to do for those who confident, hard working, and responsible (because we are so used to people depending on us and seldom depend on others).
Rom 10:6-8a: “This is what Scripture says about God's approval which is based on faith, "Don't ask yourself who will go up to heaven" (meaning, to bring Christ down). "Don't ask who will go down into the depths," (meaning, to bring Christ back from the dead). However, what else does it say? "This message is near you. It's in your mouth and in your heart."”
We are insufficient to the task of revelation and redemption. We can’t pre-exist and become incarnate to bear God’s message to the world (go up to heaven and bring Christ down). We can’t die and be resurrected from the dead to redeem humanity from sin (down into the depths and bring Christ back from the dead). And thankfully we don’t have to. God has already done it for us. We just have to accept it and be blessed. And what is this near “message” that establishes our lives by what we confess and what we believe (“in your mouth and in your heart”)? Rom 10:8b-10: “This is the message of faith that we spread. If you declare that Jesus is Lord, and believe that God brought him back to life, you will be saved. By believing you receive God's approval, and by declaring your faith you are saved.”
First God has to “approve” of us before He can approve of what we do. For Christians that approval comes from accepting His Son as Savior and Lord. Then what we do is judged by how much of Him was in our hearts at the moment we did the work (or said the word that changed the direction of a life). Yes, all saved persons have all of Jesus (in the Person of the Holy Spirit) living in them. But no, we daily struggle with actually letting Him have total control over our lives and so only express portions of Him in our daily living (our thoughts, words, and deeds). If one would build with gold, silver, and precious stones, one must be submitted, prayerful, and thankful.
Some penetrating questions: What percentage of your conscious thought is in conversation with Jesus? Or to put it less threateningly, when you make your plans for the day, how often do you do you do a prayer check to see if that’s what God wants you to do? (Note: When your conscience is operating normally and you feel uncomfortable about a thing, that is usually God saying don’t do it or do it differently.) Do you tithe? Is it your first priority when you budget or receive some money? Are you a church member? Are you active at your church (do you have something for which you are responsible)?
Acts of religious devotion are in fact exercises to get us to that point of constant communion with and dependence on our Lord. Read that again. That’s an important point. Things like daily prayer and bible reading are prerequisite for developing conversation skills with our Beloved. Alms and tithes at some point cease to be obligations and become expressions of thankfulness and praise (how you give shows what you think of God, not how much you give). Faithfulness to a believing community, aka, a church, at some point becomes genuine love for a second family (which if you would love God, practice loving your not-always-so-loveable neighbor first).
These acts of religious devotion are enjoined upon the faithful to provide us practice with removing those rocks from the stream of Holy Living, namely, a life lived out of God’s resources rather than our own efforts. When we “practice”, our motivations, by degrees, by fits and starts, become less and less “self” and more and more “Him”. Our wood and straw become gold and silver. And this change is accomplished by God at length in our hearts and lives, altho truth be known, He can, and sometimes does, change people instantly. Are you jealous of them? I am. But now I am also awe-struck and give glory to God that He bestows mercy and grace so liberally and so arbitrarily. Actually I am suspicious that this may in fact be God having fun. [Sometimes I think we get blessed just so the angels can see the funny look on our faces. We certainly don’t deserve His blessings. Not even the least of them. To be sure, God blesses for His own purposes, but those purposes need not always be profound. They can be as simple as encouraging a child or as far-reaching as outfitting for a mission or martyrdom.]
I invite you to see if these things are not so. It’s His “life” anyway, you don’t belong to yourself anymore. Practice removing those rocks and see if your motives don’t become more pure.
A humorous story: A man died and went to Heaven. At the Pearly Gates he met St. Peter. St.
Peter said, “Welcome to Heaven. I’m here to accompany you to your eternal abode. You know, the house not made with hands eternal in the heavens that Paul spoke about.” “Wow! That’s great! Let’s go. I
can’t wait to see Heaven”, the man exclaimed.
As they walked down the golden streets, they came to an enormous, glittering mansion. “Wow! Wow! It’s incredible!”, the man exclaimed as he ran up the sidewalk and in into the home. “This is amazing! And I get to live here forever?!” “Um, no, actually this is someone else’s house. We need to go a little further”, replied Peter. “Oh! I’m dreadfully sorry. I understand. Let’s keep going”, the man apologized.
They walked for a few hours, passing house after house. By this time they were in the suburbs. Peter paused for a moment in front of what might be described as a “split-level” country home. The man eagerly ran up the sidewalk and into the house. “Wow! This is alright! It’s beautiful. I understand and I’m OK with everything. I like it here just fine”, the man beamed.
Peter went inside. “Um, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have paused, I didn’t mean to give you the impression that we were here yet. We need to go a little further”, said Peter apologetically.
“Oh! I’m sorry again. You’ll have to forgive me. I’m just so excited to be here”, the man rejoined.
So they kept on walking.
Hour after hour, home after home. Now they were in the boondocks of Heaven. Finally they came to what could arguably be called a shack. “THIS?! This is were you want me to live for eternity? You must be kidding?” St. Peter hung his head. “Yes, yes, I’m so sorry. We tried to do the best we could. But you didn’t send much ahead for us to work with.”
Gold, silver, hay, or straw? What are you sending ahead for them to build with?
PS - By the way, if your “motivation” is to build a nice house in Heaven, you’re sending straw.
1 Note here how there is no hint of the “scales” model of eternal justice which is otherwise embraced
by just about every other religion. Christians want nothing to do with being judged fairly. We already know we will weigh up short. We have fled to the Cross for mercy. We believe that God’s
forgiveness is available thru the sacrifice of His Son. The OT sacrifices pointed to this means of obtaining reconciliation. One wonders on what basis all other religions expect God to extend His
mercy if Jesus’ sacrifice is rejected.
Addendum: Of course more scriptures could be brought to bear upon this theme of motivations, works, and faith. I choose the above 4 as being the most illuminating. See also: Ecc 12:14; Eze 18 + Eze 33:11-20 (no scales); Mat 3:8; Mat 5:16; Mat 25:34-40; Joh 15:4; Rom 2:13 + Rom 3:20; Rom 9:31,32; 1Co 13:1-3; 2Co_5:10; Gal 2:16; 1Tim 6:17-19; Tit 3:8; Tit 3:14; 1Pet 2:12; Heb 10:24; Rev 14:13. Of course in citing these passages I cheated by using Nave’s. Were I to really do a comprehensive addendum, it would fill a book with both the citations and the comments that could be made.