Seeking God’s Wisdom

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind…

James 1:5–6 (NRSV)

Today, I am faced with an important and difficult decision, that will have a big impact on my family. God is leading us in an unexpected direction, and it’s raising a lot of doubt and fear.

But under it all is the clear message that God gives us everything we need to follow His path. He takes care of His people, and everything is under His hand.

This is the exercise of faith—stepping out in a tough situation, not in the absence of human feelings of doubt, but choosing to trust God in spite of our doubts.

The Gospel in Job

I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!

– Job 19:25–27 (NIV)

This has always been one of my favourite passages in the Bible. George Friedrich Handel made verse 25 into a beautiful air, as part of the Messiah oratorio, and I feel that, by itself, this these verses stands as a complete summary of salvation itself.

On the surface, the story of Job is a tragedy. We read in Job chapter 1 about a prosperous man who was faithful to God, and who was made – without his knowledge – the subject of a terrible test. Satan was permitted by God to take Job’s wealth, his children and his health, to see whether the loss of all these blessings would make Job abandon his faith in God.

We read in Job 1:8 that God said of Job that “There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil”. Imagine being the sort of person about whom God Himself would say such a thing! It reminds me of David being called by God “A man after my own heart” (1 Sam 13:14, Acts 13:22).

What was it that made Job ‘blameless’ before God? It can’t have been simply because he never sinned. Romans 3:23 assures us that all have sinned. I believe that Job was considered blameless because of his faith on his Redeemer. He knew that he needed a Redeemer, and that his Redeemer lived (Job 19:25). Nothing can make us blameless and save us but our Redeemer and His blood.

But as well as understanding redemption and forgiveness, Job had a clear vision of the ultimate objective of salvation. In verses 26 and 27 of Job 19, he goes on to assert that even after his “skin is destroyed”, he would see God, in his own flesh and with his own eyes.

This clear reference to the resurrection is a testament to Job’s understanding of the entire plan of salvation, from start to finish. God’s redemption doesn’t just stop at forgiveness, but continues every day of lives to restore us to the perfection that He intended for all human beings at creation.

Centuries later, Paul expressed this same awesome, cosmic truth in 1 Corinthians 15:50-55 (also quoted in Handel’s Messiah):

I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”

The gospel of forgiveness and restoration through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is a coherent and consistent theme throughout the Bible. It was understood by the early patriarchs as well as by first century apostles. It must be understood and preached in its entirety by God’s followers today.

Faith That Works

It’s been a while since I wrote on this blog—an interesting and busy few months in my life, with a few personal upheavals. I’ve got a lot of cause to be thankful, and to praise God for His sustaining power, and also for the way He’s worked through the various people in my life. You know who you are. “God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in time of trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)

A Thought…


Something that’s come up for me in my study and discussions with other Christians is the old and classic question of faith versus works. I’m troubled sometimes about how many misconceptions, and poor assumptions there are on this subject, and while the last thing I want to do is start an argument, there’s some things that need to be said. I put it this way:

There is nothing you can do on your own to save yourself… absolutely nothing. Salvation is a free gift of God’s grace, made possible by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and nothing human beings do can earn this in any way.

But if you think that your actions (or lack of action) don’t matter, you’re wrong.

Does that sound contradictory? Ok, let’s dig a bit deeper. And if you want to comment, go down the bottom of this post…

What is Faith?

First of all, I need to make it clear that I’m a card-carrying righteousness-by-faith protestant Christian. Hebrews 10:38 is unambiguous: “The just shall live by faith”, and if anyone thinks they can reach some plane of righteous perfection, where they’ve earned salvation, Paul’s assertion that “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” ought to burst that illusion. Many of us are familiar with these texts, but I wanted to include them so that the discussion is clear.

So we know that faith is essential and sufficient for salvation, but before we close the discussion with that, it’s probably worth asking ourselves whether we really know what faith is.

What is faith?

The classic definition comes from the beginning of the great ‘faith chapter’—Hebrews 11. Verse 1 says “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (NKJV). The NIV puts it like this: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” We need to recognise that this is much more than simply agreeing that something exists. You may know that you have a dining room table—that the table exists—but you don’t ‘have faith in’ the table, that it died for your sins, and can save you.

Depending on your translation, Hebrews 11:1 uses words like ‘substance’, ‘confidence’ and ‘assurance’ to talk about faith. These are not passive words, and I want to assert here and now that faith is not a passive thing. Faith is active. I made this point in an earlier post on this blog (click on this link if you want to review it in full), so I won’t repeat myself too much. To summarise, James make it very clear that “faith without works is dead” (2:20) and that we need to be “doers of the word, and not hearers only” (1:22).

What it boils down to is that if faith is not backed up by deeds, it’s not faith at all—just a meaningless statement.

Faith in the Old and New Testaments

While we’re on the subject, let’s debunk a myth related to the subjects of faith and works. I’ve heard it said more than once that the Old Testament was about works, while the New Testament is about faith. At best, this is a very shallow and facile reading of scripture, perhaps because of the passages devoted to God’s law, the sacrificial system, and so on. At worst, it suggests a fundamental change in God’s character over time.

The fact is that salvation has always been by faith alone, and God’s people in old testament times knew that very well. Paul knew that. When he said that “The just shall live by faith”, he was actually quoting the Old Testament (Habakkuk 2:4), and if we go back to Hebrews 11, we see Paul repeatedly making the point that the Old Testament patriarchs’ greatest moments were when they acted in faith.

So the principle of active faith is a strong underlying truth throughout the scriptures. Faith drives us to action, and if it doesn’t, it isn’t faith. When Christ called to Peter to step out of the boat in Matthew 14, it was obviously faith that allowed him to do so, and it was a failure in that faith that caused him to sink. But consider that moment just before Peter stepped out. Did standing there in the boat require him to have faith? Of course not. There was no faith involved while Peter was safely on the deck of the boat. It was only in the action of stepping onto the water, and letting go of the boat that faith came into play.

Are We Devaluing God’s Grace?

The idea that faith need not be backed up by actions, simply because our actions cannot save us is a comfortable heresy. It is every bit as dangerous as preaching righteousness by works, and I think it’s a lot more tempting in this increasingly permissive age. It suggests that everything is okay—that a Christian’s way of life need not be transformed—that it’s okay to keep sinning, because God’s grace wipes away all sin.

Perhaps dealing with this very thing in the early Roman church, Paul was quite emphatic. Romans 6:1,2 says “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?”

It’s certainly true that our actions, and our obedience to God’s law will never be perfect. We’re sinners, and that’s why we need God’s grace. But let’s not make the mistake of thinking—because our sins are forgiven—that sin is okay. To say is to cheapen and devalue God’s grace. If it was okay to sin, then we never needed grace in the first place, and Christ died for nothing.

Sin is never okay. We do need a saviour.

Lord, help me to put my faith into action every day. Help me to be obedient to Your instructions, and please forgive me when I fail.

Doers of the Word

I’ve been reading the book of James recently. It packs quite a punch for being only five chapters long. It has a strong, sometimes pithy message on some of the practical aspects of Christian faith.

The author calls himself “James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (v1:1, NKJV), and there’s not much else to indicate who this was. According to Wikipedia, the majority of scholars believe that he was the brother of Christ, but this is not certain.

In the same verse, James addresses himself to “the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad”, which suggests that his epistle is intended as general ‘wisdom literature’, rather than correspondence with a specific party. The general tone of the book seems to be in keeping with this.

The thing that has always struck me about the book of James is its intense practicality, and emphasis on active faith. In 1:22-25 it says:

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.

James clearly has little patience for people who profess belief in Christ, or even those who actually believe, but do not act on their belief. His famous statement in 2:20 that “faith without works is dead” leaves little room for doubt that faith requires action, and he gives numerous examples of this, both positive and negative. In 1:27, he says that “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”

Martin Luther, one of the great defenders of the doctrine of righteousness by faith famously declared James to be a ‘straw epistle’ (see History of the Christian Church, book 4, chapter 7). He felt that James was promoting righteousness by works, and even questioned whether his letter should have been included in the biblical canon.

With all respect to the great reformer, I’d suggest that seeing a ‘righteousness by works’ doctrine in James is to miss his point. James actually talks about faith a lot. In chapter 2, verse 23 he says that “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness”. This is a clear assertion of righteousness by faith, but this follows a reference to Abraham willingly offering up Isaac as a sacrifice – an act of faith.

I think it’s clear that James was talking to people who believed in righteousness by faith. He was pointing out that faith is not passive or inactive. Going back to 2:14-7, we see the theme of charity again, where he draws on the absurd saying:

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

He does not say that the action saves the Christian. What he does say is that faith without action is no faith at all, just as having a charitable thought for someone is useless in comparison to the act of charity.

Faith without action is lazy and cheap. It achieves very little, and is actually worse than having no faith at all, because it lulls us into a false sense of security. Words about believing in Jesus Christ as our personal Saviour are nothing but nice-sounding noises when they are not backed up by a life lived according to God’s will.

True faith is active. It works to meet the practical needs of others. It ‘walks the walk’ as well as ‘talking the talk’.

James takes this concept a lot further when he talks about humility and the fair treatment of others. I’ll get into these in another post, but one thing I’m taking away from this study is the need to really live what I believe.

True faith doesn’t just happen in my head – it happens in my whole life.