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Applying Faith II:

Production, Forgiveness, Circumcision, & Truth over People

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Question #1: 

Hi Bob!  Could you give me some explanation of James 2:17, "faith without works is dead"? It sounds simple. Faith considers that which is not as if it already were, doesn't it?

Response #1:  

I do think it is pretty simple. The idea is that faith has a necessary counterpart of production for the Lord. As in the parable of the sower, the good ground always produces a crop. It is not that works are necessary for salvation. Rather it is that all who truly are followers of Jesus Christ – all who have true faith – are always motivated to think, speak, and act for Him. Not that we do it perfectly, not that we fulfill our potential fully, not that there aren't many of us who fall far short of what we could or should have done much of the time (as all of us do so some of the time). But it is the case that all who have ever placed their faith in Jesus and maintained that faith faithful to the end will have at least something to show for it on the day of judgment before the throne of Christ. Even if most of what the most marginal believer has done is burned up as wood, hay and stubble (1Cor.3:12-14), still there will be something that will endure – some measure of gold, silver and gems, be it ever so small (i.e., the "interest" in the parable of the talents). Were a person's faith completely without any production of thinking, speaking, and acting for Christ, it would indeed be dead – but this is a hypothetical, since dead faith is really no faith at all, and that is the point that James is trying to make in this chapter. This particular verse is commentary, moreover, on the preceding verses 14-16, the example being of a person who does not do what he should do in faith. So there are also plenty of cases where a person who does have faith does not act like a person of faith, and that is the second part of James' agenda here, namely, to show that just because you have general faith (even real faith which has had some production in the past), that does not mean that you should now rest on your laurels and do what this hypothetical hypocrite is doing – mouth solemn pronouncements while acting like an unbeliever. We are all guilty of imperfection in this regard. James' point and purpose is to knock out even the theoretical position that because we know and believe we have faith that we can now think, speak, and act as if we do not and do so with impunity at no risk to our spiritual growth.

In our Lord Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #2: 

Do you think that my lack of peace concerning this issue might be part of my punishment? If that is the case, how will I ever know the true answer? I ask this because, in my experience, feelings are not terribly useful in determining the truth. How would I know whether my feelings of peace are God-given or self-manufactured? I don't want peace about this (or anything else, for that matter) unless He is the one giving it to me.

Response #2: 

In my experience, observation, and study of the Bible, divine discipline is generally very direct and obvious – so as to leave little doubt in the mind of believers who are being honest with themselves about the source. What we think and feel is our business. We are here to train ourselves to think and feel as God wants us to. This is not an automatic thing. God does not take over our feelings or our thoughts. He allows us to make these essential decisions. Granted, there are many pressures in life which lead us, which press us to think and feel things which are not productive. It is virtually impossible to get through a day and have experienced complete control over our attitude and thought patterns, over our emotions and feelings. But we certainly have the information (in the Bible) and the power (from the Spirit) to do it. The fact that the evil one and our own insufficiencies of will (coupled with the circumstances of life) may attack our weak points does not mean that God is punishing us. What I am suggesting therefore is not self-manufactured spirituality, but rather taking a bold and aggressive stand of faith upon the principle that what we know by faith in the truth of scripture is true. At some point, in order to grow and advance and draw closer to the Lord, we are all going to have to face the challenge (challenges) of stepping out of the boat in faith and walking on the water with the Lord. We are going to have trust Him that what He says is true, no matter how we may personally feel, no matter what our feelings or our friends or the evil one may be telling us. No one will ever live the Christian life without going through something similar to what you are experiencing, and I do believe that your method is correct: find out what scripture truly says. I believe and know by faith that if you search long and hard enough, God will most definitely lead you to the truth in this and in all areas of the truth. We are all limited in this respect only by our own volition. When we do receive what we are certain is the scriptural answer, then it is important to believe it and stand by and live by it. That does not mean that we will ever have what the world might consider overwhelming proof. But the Lord will give us what we need. Consider that in many of the numerous biblical truths which you believe without any wave of doubt or second guessing there are those who are plagued about them. So that ultimately you are applying this principle of faith to plenty of scriptural, doctrinal points wherein the evidence is no stronger than what you have on this point (and may even be weaker). Believe me when I say that as someone who has dedicated his life to the Bible, I bump into this issue personally all the time. My application has been to be willing to consider evidence, and reconsider it, whenever that seems warranted, but to "go with what I know" from the Bible and by faith before, during and after. That is, in my view it is critically important to believe what one has reasonable basis to believe from the scripture and leave it to God to sand down the rough edges over time. In this way, the peace to which I am referring really is His peace, coming from Him, according to His promise of peace, and based upon trusting Him to help fill in the blanks, make up the shortfalls, correct the mistakes, and lead forward into greater growth and greater peace. As long as we keep fighting forward on the high road to Zion, I am convinced that this approach is not only effective but entirely biblical. In getting from point A to point B, we don't want to wander out into the swamp in entirely the wrong direction, but we also don't want to sit down and study the map for the rest of our lives and so never move. We have to accept the fact that occasionally we will bump off the trail a little to the left or the right, but if we are truly looking for all the signs God has left and consulting the map He has given and listening the Guide who is whispering in our ear, then we can be confident that these sidetracks will be short and that we will ever be led quickly back onto the proper road, the straight and narrow one which leads to eternal life and great reward.

I respect your desire to "get it right". God is able to give you peace on this matter and everything else.

In Him who is our peace, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #3: 

I came across your website today and have a question for you. I have left a church some three years ago but still have a very troubling view of what went on there. I deal with a lot of guilt and fear over what I did or didn't do. I'll give you a quick scenario and ask for your opinion.

I was elected as an elder to this body two years before I left. I was very much honored in this role and felt it my duty to uphold this office as best I could according to scripture. We had a budget meeting which included the pastor salary, housing, etc along with all of the other expenses of the church. Bottom line is after a round of negotiations with the pastor we came to what appeared a very decent package. About two weeks after the budget was enacted we received an email about his car. (the elders had long before given a used car before the pastor became full time / at some point they also began to pay a mileage allowance). The pastor gave us a choice of two new cars he wanted and also wanted the mileage allowance. The elders met without him to discuss. It was decided we would provide the mileage allowance only at this time and review the budget again the next year to see where we stood. He did not receive this offer and pressed his original request. Over several months we tried to compromise and offer a straight car allowance, another used car with mileage, etc. He stood firm in his request and two elders rolled off of the board. I felt pretty good in my convictions through most of the deliberations but after about four months also gave in to the initial request. I began to feel all sorts of guilt after the decision. What also made it tough throughout the ordeal is the man was probably my best friend and mentor for around 15 years and we were one of the original families that started the church with him. I want to get back to serving Christ but it seems hard to get back on track. The church isn't doing very well now and all of the original elders but one along with many other families have left. Not sure if I was too hard and dogmatic at first or if I really blew it by giving in. Any insight would be helpful. Just had one more comment to make. Seemed as if my walk with Christ was stronger than ever before I received that email.

Response #3: 

Scripture is very clear about the need to support those who labor in the Word of God (see the link: Pay the Pastor), but it seems from you say here that this is not the issue. I understand what it means to question one's decisions. I think it is entirely scriptural to do so. However, I would say that after so much time such a decision – whatever you decided – shouldn't be a cause for disrupting your spiritual life. After all, you made your choices out of a genuine desire to do the right thing by both your church and your pastor. The fact that even today you couldn't say for certain whether you were wrong either in your initial or later position indicates to me that there is no basis for troubling your conscience on that score. My guess would be, though I have no way of knowing from your brief account, that what really troubles you are events that took place afterwards. I'm not saying that this incident might not have been the catalyst or symptomatic of other underlying problems (your departure and the decline of the church seem to indicate that). But as far as the governing board of the church negotiating the pastor's remuneration is concerned, that would certainly seem to me to fall within normal governance and in the quest to do all things "decently and in order" (1Cor.14:40). If you feel you gave too much and this began a downward spiral, not because of the amount but because of the way things were conducted, I can certainly understand that too. So it may be – seems to seep through in your description of the pastor – that for you there was some loss of trust because of this incident, and that said trust was never recovered.

I apologize ahead of time here if I am misreading anything you've said. The one point I would like to make for you is that it is extremely important for all Christians to divorce their faith from human beings of all stripes (1Cor.3:22), and especially from role models such as pastors. It is certainly true that pastors should be role models (indeed, all Christians should, and pastors especially so). But at the same time we need to understand that even good people have "feet of clay", and that we are definitely going to meet some people whom we assume at first are good (perhaps for a long period of time), only to discover later the error of our judgment – and sometimes it's not even our judgment, for people do occasionally change for the worse, succumbing to temptations of all sort.

And my speech and my preaching [came] not to you in persuasive sermons, but in the Spirit's demonstration and power, so that your faith might not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.
1st Corinthians 2:4-5

I have observed many instances where people have put too much of their faith in people or in rituals or in process or in institutions or in experiences. Inevitably, this leads to disappointment, and especially in the case of putting too much faith in people, I have known a number of Christians who have fallen away from the faith because a dear pastor or church leader or Christian friend mistreated them or let them down in some way. But as followers of Jesus Christ, we have to know that Jesus will never let us down, even if all of us are weak. We have to commit ourselves to putting the Word of God first in our lives, seeking it, learning it, believing it, ministering it. Only then will be be building on the Rock, for Jesus is that Rock, the Living Word and the Truth, so that the truth of scripture is the only truly solid thing for us to hold onto here in this world of dust, the only true light in this world of darkness (1Pet.1:19; cf. Ps.119:105), and the only true reflection of Him who is the Light of the world (Jn.1:4-9).

I am certain that the Lord does have plans for using your gifts in the service of the Church of Jesus Christ. The main thing is to tend to one's own spiritual growth first, through study of the Word building faith and hope and love in the One who is the true object of these virtues so that one's service can be pure, solid, steady, and better day by day.

In the Name of the One who is the object of all our hope and joy, and dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob Luginbill

Question #4: 

Dear Robert,

Thanks for taking the time to reply to my email. I certainly do appreciate it. I think you are right in your estimation that the hardest thing to accept are the things that happened as a result of the way things were conducted. When I stepped into the elder body I truly expected we would always put the other first and learn to model Christian leadership and humility. The disappointment of seeing how we all reacted during the time of crisis has been devastating. Even now as I have tried to reconcile with the pastor there is no response and no desire to meet with me. It's very hard to leave it behind and not feel responsible for what happened. Thanks again for your encouragement.

Response #4: 

You are very welcome. I am sorry for your troubles. All I can say is that I know from both the scripture and experience that sometimes our biggest disappointments are merely God's way of setting us up for even bigger and better opportunities. I encourage you to continue your spiritual growth in the Word of God, ever looking for the next opportunity to put your gifts to work in the time and place that the Lord has in mind.

Keeping fighting that good fight of faith.

In Him.

Bob L.

Question #5: 

Dear Bob,

I have a question for you. My daughter and son-in-law are expecting their first baby. It's a boy and they're having a disagreement about having him circumcised. My daughter wants to have it done because it seems everyone in our part of the country has their baby boys circumcised. We actually don't know of anyone who hasn't. My son-in-law has been against having it done. However, my daughter thinks she may be changing his mind about it. I realize that it's not going to make a difference regarding his salvation but I feel very strongly that the Lord was so explicit about it and, being omniscient, He always has a reason for everything. What is your opinion?

Thank you in advance for your time and may God continue to bless you.

Response #5: 

I don't really have much to say about this except that I don't see it as a spiritual issue. As far as gentile believers are concerned, Paul puts our minds at ease about this. On the one hand, Abraham believed and received the promises of God when He was still not circumcised (Rom.4:9-11). On the other hand, we are told at 1st Corinthians 7:17-20 to remain in whatever circumstance we were called. If not circumcised when we believed, we are not to worry about that and seek a change, because "circumcision is nothing and not being circumcised is nothing. Keeping the commandments of God is what counts" (v.19; cf. Gal.6:15-16). Furthermore, if we who are believers in Jesus pursue circumcision out of guilt and a desire to "keep the Law", we risk "falling from grace" (Gal.5:2-6), since we are relying upon now defunct ritual instead of our pure faith in Jesus Christ and the Word of God.

We can therefore say from scripture that to circumcise or not, while it was certainly an issue in the Old Testament for Jewish believers, is certainly not a spiritual issue for Christians following the coming of Jesus Christ. The circumcision that we are to have a care for is the "circumcision of the heart" (Rom.2:28-29; cf. Deut.30:6), namely, taking care to keep our hearts open and responsive to the truth of the Word of God.

Circumcision was a symbol, a ritual designed to demonstrate faith in promises to come which, as you point out, our all-knowing Lord had from the beginning planned and ordained. But now, like all the other Old Testament shadows, every promise has been fulfilled in the Person and the work of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He, of course, is the Seed promised to Abraham (Gal.3:16-22). Now, all of these shadows and symbols have been illuminated by the pure bright light of the truth Himself, our Lord Jesus (Col.2:16-17; Heb.10:1). So whatever we do as Christians who are truly walking in unadulterated faith, we need to take care that in our hearts we are standing on God's grace and relying on His power rather depending upon works that we might care to do, especially where there may be any hint of rites or rituals which may compromise that pure and simple faith.

Hope this is helpful - and thanks for your good words.

In our Lord who through His death has given us this grace in which we stand.

Bob L.

Question #6: 

Dear Bob,

Thank you so much for answering my question. I realize that it's not a spiritual issue but thought maybe there was another reason the Lord wanted it to be done. For example, I still follow the dietary laws because all the animals that are unclean are scavengers and I choose not to eat scavengers. I realize that people that do eat them will not lose their salvation over it. It's just my personal choice because I believe it's healthier. I've always believed that it's healthier to be circumcised.

Thank you again ~ your opinion is important to me.

In Him

Response #6: 

I do understand your point of view, and I have no problems with it whatsoever. I believe that near universal circumcision was adopted in this country for precisely the reason you prefer it, namely, that it is beneficial for health reasons. That is of course a valid reason to circumcise or refrain or partake of any food or food type. As always, such decisions are personal; and, as always, they can't be used as a spiritual litmus test. For example, I am pretty consistent about hygiene, specifically, washing my hands regularly. Jesus, of course, criticizes the Pharisees for similar practices which, viewed from our modern perspective of knowledge about bacteriological infections, may seem odd to some (Mk.7:1-8). But, of course, Jesus is not saying that washing one's hands is wrong; what He is criticizing is the basis for the Pharisee's judging of His disciples for not washing their hands. The Pharisees saw this lack of hand-washing not as an issue of hygiene, but as a spiritual issue. In their view, what the disciples were doing was not unhealthy, it was wrong because it violated their tradition. This is the precise distinction I am trying to preserve. As long as someone wants to celebrate a particular day, or engage in a particular ritual, or observe a particular dietary regime, or be circumcised or what have you, I have no spiritual problem with it as long as that person is not trying to say that such things are spiritual necessities or have spiritual implications. For, in my view, following the reality of the incarnation of Christ and His victory on the cross, such things only have spiritual significance when someone falsely tries to claim that they are spiritually important (and so by deduction that anyone who is not likewise behaving / practicing is somehow wrong – exactly the tendency our Lord was warning against).

I know that you and your family are not putting any spiritual significance into this issue, so I have no further opinion about it, except to say that for someone to wish to have their male children circumcised for health reasons sounds reasonable enough to me.

Hope this helps.

In our Lord Jesus.

Bob L.

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