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You would do/say anything to avoid keeping God's Law

Anyone who dares to criticize Armstrongite theology is usually met with this accusation. In their worldview, most of the folks who profess t...

Saturday, May 27, 2023

The Real Work of God

In the August 1971 edition of The Good News of Tomorrow's World, Herbert Armstrong wrote: "No SUBJECT pertaining to Christian salvation is more generally misunderstood than that of saving FAITH! Just 'BELIEVE on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,' is the popular teaching today. And that statement is absolutely true - if you understand what kind of BELIEVING is required!" (What Kind of Faith Is Required for Salvation?) Mr. Armstrong then proceeded to quote two passages from Paul's epistle to the Romans (3:20 and 2:13). He asked: "Is there contradiction here? If the one scripture is intended to reveal that we do not have to make an effort to obey God‘s Law to be justified and then saved - but that we are saved by faith without obedience to God’s Law - then, indeed, God contradicts Himself in His Word!" Next, he quoted from Paul's epistle to the Ephesians: "By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast." (2:8-9) This was followed with a passage from James (2:14-20) which states that "faith without works is dead." Armstrong then proceeded to answer his question about whether or not these passages were contradictory. He wrote: "There is no contradiction here! Rather, by putting all the scriptures on the subject of 'Saving Faith' together, we learn that there are TWO KINDS of faith. And the kind so blindly trusted in by the majority of this day is nothing but a DEAD faith - and a DEAD faith never will save one soul!"

This is a prime example of a technique which Armstrong used to convince people of the correctness of his interpretations of Scripture. He would set up a dilemma (in this case, an apparent contradiction), and then present his interpretation as the ONLY viable conclusion which one could reach (that there had to be works behind that belief in Christ). Of course, just as Mr. Armstrong suggested about that original statement about believing on Christ and being saved, there is some truth in what he stated. That truth, however, was twisted in such a way as to almost make Paul's and James' statements incomprehensible! This underscores the danger of lifting passages of Scripture out of context and employing them as "proof" of your interpretation/viewpoint.

However, when we look at the full context of Paul's remarks in the third chapter of his letter to the saints at Rome, we see that his meaning was clear. He wrote: "Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." (Verses 19-26, ESV) Paul stated very clearly that NO ONE would be justified by the works of the law - PERIOD! That includes everything in Torah - the Ten Commandments - "moral" laws - EVERYTHING!

So, what about that other passage: "For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified" (Romans 2:13)? Paul was talking about our tendency to judge each other, and he pointed out just how ridiculous this is when we consider the fact that we are all sinners (Romans 2:1-3, which is also consistent with Christ's statements and actions in Matthew 7 and John 8). This is also consistent with Paul's own statement in the next chapter (quoted above) that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Paul went on to point out that God wants everyone to repent of their sins (Romans 2:4). Then, Paul wrote: "He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality. For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law." (Romans 2:6-11, ESV) Hence, we see from what preceded the passage which Armstrong quoted (and by those that follow it, see verses 14-29) that Paul was pointing out that both Jews and Gentiles would be held responsible for the sins which they had committed (unless, of course, they accepted Christ's sacrifice for those sins).

Likewise, the full context of the passage from Paul's letter to the Ephesians also supports this principle and hints at another explanation for reconciling Paul's remarks with that passage from James' epistle. He wrote: "And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (Ephesians 2:1-10, ESV) If we're truly saved by our faith in Christ and his sacrifice, then what kind of "works" were Paul and James referring to in their letters?

If we put all of these passages together and rightly divide the word of truth, we see that both James and Paul were saying that if we truly believe in Jesus Christ and what he has done for us, our lives - our works - will reflect that faith going forward! In other words, the works are the evidence of our faith/belief in Christ! In that same epistle to the saints at Rome, Paul wrote: "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin." (Romans 6:1-6, ESV) Likewise, in his letter to the saints at Ephesus, Paul instructed them to "put on the new man" (Ephesians 4:24). Clearly, our works do NOT save us. For those who have faith/belief in Jesus of Nazareth, our works after baptism reflect our belief that Jesus Christ has freed us from sin and death!

In the light of our discussion about works, it is also interesting to note that Herbert Armstrong liked to refer to his ministry as "God's Work" or the "Work of God." Indeed, he taught that it was the responsibility of all of the lay members of the Worldwide Church of God to support him in doing "God's Work" with their tithes, offerings, and prayers. Was he right about that? What is the work of God? What work(s) does God expect from each of us?

After Jesus fed five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish (John 6:1-14), the crowd followed him and his disciples across the sea and confronted him about the miracle (verses 15-25). Next, we read: "Jesus answered them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.' Then they said to him, 'What must we do, to be doing the works of God?' Jesus answered them, 'This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.' So they said to him, 'Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'' Jesus then said to them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.' They said to him, 'Sir, give us this bread always.' Jesus said to them, 'I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.'" (John 6:26-40, ESV)

When the jailer asked Paul and Silas what he needed to do to be saved, they replied "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved" (Acts 16:25-31). Paul said: "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes." (Romans 10:4, ESV) He went on to note that Scripture says: "'The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart' (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, 'Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.' For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For 'everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'" (Romans 10:8-13, ESV) So, we see that BELIEF in Christ is essential - THAT is the work that God expects from each of us! Moreover, our subsequent behavior will reflect the fact that we really do believe that Christ has freed us from sin (which does NOT mean that we won't still occasionally sin - see I John 1:8-10).

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