16 March 2007

Part 14-Luke 8:4-22 "call"

Sunday’s teaching was a call to understand what Jesus is saying and respond to it with action. It is action—not mental understanding, intellectual assent, verbal profession, or even heartfelt desire—that is the only true response to Jesus’ message. He is looking for His message to “produce a crop” (v.15) over time. Without that, can it really be said to have been anything in our lives? Without that fruit evident, perhaps the message never really took root. To listen carefully by responding is the heart of Jesus' call on our lives. This line of though is evident throughout the New Testament. Consult the following passages to see how they help us understand this truth.

Hebrews 6:1-12

What parallels do you see to Luke’s record of Jesus’ teaching? A notoriously difficult passage, at least a couple of things become clear in this passage. Verses 7 & 8 in particular utilize the exact imagery to the call to “leave the elementary teachings about Christ” (v.1) and produce a crop “useful to those for whom it is farmed” (v.7). Land (or hearts/lives) that does produce such a crop “receives the blessing of God.” When it does not, it “is worthless and is in danger of being cursed” (v. 8). In view through all of this language is the outward evidence—“things that accompany salvation” (v.9). As the writer notes, “God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them” (v.10). Leaving the elementary truths about Jesus, we are called to actively live the evidence of our salvation in loving deeds directed to others on God’s behalf. Luke’s call is similar—that we “hear God’s word and put it into practice” (v.21).

What does the text note is reason for confidence of their salvation? This is important “in order to make your hope sure” (v.11). In other words, if you’re looking for certainty and assurance of your salvation, there’s not better basis for it than examining the evidence of your own life.

James 1:22-25

How is listening to the word without doing it described? Merely listening to the word without doing what it says is described as “deceive[ing] yourselves” (v.22). In other words, you may have heard it, but you are not listening. Don’t confuse these two very different things.

In what way does blessing come from the word? If you look into the word and see yourself clearly portrayed by its clear reflection, but walk away forgetting what you look like, the word has not left a lasting impression. Looking intently into the guidance of God’s word is supposed to set you free of your sin. If you don’t leave it with a new degree of freedom, you have not had the word really impact your life. It is by “doing it” that a man “will be blessed in what he does” (v. 25).

James 2:14-26

What is the quality of belief that does express itself in action? James describes faith that is “by itself,” that “is not accompanied by action” as dead (v.17) and useless (v.20). Faith is revealed by what we do, not by what we say (v.18).

How does the examples of demons and Abraham qualify what Jesus means when He talks about belief? According to James, Christians and demons have at least one area of commonality—they both believe there is one God (v.19). In other words, they are both willing to acknowledge that this statement is true. The distinctive is what they do in response. The demons “shudder” for they oppose God (v.19). Christians are to respond as Abraham did as “his faith and actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did” (v.22). Properly understood, our works are the necessary expression of our faith. Neither faith without works or works without faith can stand alone. “You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone” (v.24). This is why I would suggest that Christians and churches should pay as much attention to their acts of faith as they do the basis of their faith.

James 2:12-13

Who are these verses addressed to? James writes to fellow believing Jewish Christians (1:1,2).

What are they to anticipate? They are to anticipate coming judgment: “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged” (v.12).

What reaction is to flow out of that? The nature of this judgment will be that it is merciful (v.13). Their salvation is that God will not treat them as they deserve, but rather out of love (v.8)—that standard by which they are in-turn called to treat others. If they choose to love others, who likewise don’t deserve that love or merit merciful treatment, they will find that they are acting in character with God. The threat that “judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful” is a way of making the point that this is to be the normal dynamic of a believer’s life.

Consider the following passages that expand this teaching:

1 Corinthians 3:12-15 God’s judgment is best understood as “perfect assessment.” God will, for all human beings, perfectly assess the motivations and value of what they have done. No human will earn a passing grade based on what they have done (Ro 3:23, 6:23). But, those who have Jesus to have done what only He could do have been rescued from the consequence of falling short (Ro 3:24-26). Nonetheless, even trusting Him and being saved from ultimate death, Christians still face a perfect assessment of their actions as God determines what we have done—“his work will be shown for what it is” as God “will test the quality of each man’s work” (v. 13). If they have believed and acted faithfully, “what he has built survives” and “he will receive his reward.” If they have not believed and acted faithfully, though saved from destruction, even much of a Christian’s life may be found to have been wrongly motivated or lacking in value—“he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.” The clear picture is that the quality or strength of their faith, as seen evidenced in their actions, has left them precariously close to not being a saving faith. It is as if they were singed by the flames as they were just barely rescued from the fire. We often talk about Christians being judged to be rewarded. This passage clearly conveys the element of peril and shame at a life wasted that will also potentially be a part of this judgment—even for Christians.

2 Corinthians 5:10 Paul makes this teaching explicit in this very clear verse: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”

Revelation 22:12 Jesus issues these final words at the end of John’s vision of the end: “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.” Even for the redeemed, there is a personal reckoning, a face-to-face encounter with Jesus in our future, in which He responds to the way in which we have lived our lives based on our faith in Him.

Personally, I think I tend to be too comfortable with the fact that “Hey, I’m family! God is my Father. Jesus is my brother. How bad could it be? I’m saved.”

But, as my childhood memories remind me, knowing that you’re securely part of the family does not remove those uncomfortable, even painful, points of confrontation and reckoning. Likewise, my married life tells me that it is possible to be intimately and inseparable connected to another person, and yet look at them across a wide, deep gulf of disappointment, shame, regret. My point is that a relationship can be secure and unshakable. But the interactions within that relationship may be affected by what each person does. In the end, Jesus may overcome our failures that potentially diminished the relationship. However, it seems clear that we will first have to squarely face those perfectly assessed failures and shortcomings as we look our Savior and friend in the eyes. That’s a sobering point of reference for striving toward active expression of faith.

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