Because I Believe: Works under Grace

To the Children of the Kingdom;

Grace and mercy in abundance from God, our Father, and from Jesus-Christ, our Lord and Savior. Faith in Jesus is the cornerstone of the Christian life. And in stark contrast to the Old Testament, we are saved by grace through that faith, and not by any work we could possibly perform.

Ephesians 2:8,9For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Unfortunately, this profound truth has also given rise to much perversion of the scriptures with regards to the relevance of works in the Christian life. Such false doctrines are often the reason for the difficulty that many a Christian finds in reconciling Ephesians 2 above with other passages such as James 2.

James 2:26For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

The purpose of this letter is to share some scriptural truths which I hope you will find useful in bringing clarity to the subject.

In a nutshell: Works can never save you or anyone else. Only the grace of God through your faith can. On the other hand, your faith can only be manifested, proven, or shown, through works. If your faith cannot be evidenced, if it cannot be seen, it is simply because it does not exist.

Consider what was said of Abraham. Abraham is a particularly interesting example because he is the father of all who believe (Romans 4:11)! There is no better example of faith (Jesus evidently excluded) than Abraham.

Romans 4:1-6 [NASB]What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works.

This passage makes it clear that it was not a set of works, things that Abraham did that got him justified. That is not how he was declared righteous. It was his belief in God, his faith! Abraham did not work to become righteous. He simply believed.

But the question now is…how do we “know” that Abraham believed?

James 2:21-23 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God.

James says that when Abraham offered up Isaac as a sacrifice, the scripture that had already declared him as righteous was fulfilled. Further, James indicates that the sacrifice of his son was the “work” that Abraham performed.

What is noteworthy about the work without which your faith is dead (James 2:26), according to James is that it can ONLY be performed BECAUSE you believe, hence, it is the very proof that you believe, it is the imprint, the cignet of your belief! Not the cause of it…but the evidence of it!

Consider the sacrifice of Isaac: Could Abraham have performed that sacrifice before Isaac was born? Of course not! In fact, the promise, and therefore the opportunity to believe in the promise was given before Isaac was even conceived.

Genesis 15:4-6Then behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.” 5 And He took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.

First there was belief, then came the opportunity to manifest, to demonstrate, to evidence that belief. This type of works, the kind of works that are meant to prove that we believe, are the works that every believer will at some point, be asked BY GOD to perform. Hence, may I submit that this kind of work cannot be manufactured, engineered or even imagined by anyone. They are designed by God Himself, and can only be performed AS GOD INTENDED if there is faith.

Ephesians 2:10For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

Consider the believers that the Apostle Peter wrote to:

1 Peter 1:6,7In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, 7 so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ;

We see that those believers were distressed by a number of trials. Their responses to those trials were their works! Their responses demonstrated the faith they had. And just like in the case of Abraham, they could not have possibly engineered, conceived or even timed those works themselves, since those trials came precisely because they first believed.

As a last example, consider what is said about the prostitute Rahab from Jericho, who hid the two Israelites who came to spy her country as Israel, under the leadership of Joshua, sought to destroy it.

James 2:25In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?

Look at the reason Rahab had given to the spies for hiding them and helping them escape

Joshua 2:8-11I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before you. 10 For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. 11 When we heard it, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.

The reason was not simply the fact that everyone in Jericho was trembling as Israel was approaching, but her personal declaration of faith that the God of Israel was in fact God in heaven above and on earth beneath.

She believed that He was the true God, and here was the opportunity, orchestrated by God, to demonstrate that faith! Hiding those spies was her work! The demonstration of her faith that God had indded given Israel that land. “If you really believe that Rahab, if you really believe that God has already given your land to Israel, then demonstrate your faith by hiding the spies rather than delivering them to your people, as an attempt to save your city“. Could she have designed, orchestrated or even timed that work? Obviously not.

Now, in stark contrast to the kinds of works which only God can design and bring at His divinely appointed time, which can only be successfully performed if faith is present (the bible often refer to them as good works), there is a category of works that is vehemently denounced and rejected by the scriptures, which can literally bring a curse on the one performing it. These works seek to take the place of the grace of God, the place of Jesus, making light of who He is and of His sacrifice. The offense one commits by performing those works is so grave that they can literally cause the person to fall from grace (Galatians 5:4), with hell promised as a sure destination! These works are manufactured by men, and hence, no matter how appealing and godly looking they might even appear, they do not necessitate any kind faith to be performed.

The most notorious, but perhaps also the less obvious of them (because they were originally instituted by God) are the works pertaining to the Mosaic law. Performing them do not require faith in God. Perhaps this is the reason why the scriptures say

1 Samuel 15:22 …Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice…

And if one chooses to live by that Law, then he is obligated to perform the whole of it, hence the curse, since it is impossible…

Galatians 5:3 For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.

But the Mosaic Law is but a subset of those cursed works. To it, we should also add anything anyone chooses to do, not as the result of recognizing the Lordship of Jesus over them, but as an attempt to show themselves worthy before God through their own performance. How to perform them, when, how often, where and even with whom, may all be decisions that are firmly in the individual(s)’ hands. And therefore, even if they happen to be designed with good intentions, they have absolutely no value in restraining sin (i.e. rendering that person more holy) and justifying anyone before God.

Colossians 2:20-23Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22 These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

Dear Christians, make no mistake, you have been called TO DO sacred works. Stand up and be courageous for there is work to do. Grace and works are not in opposition. The works you have been called to perform are designed by God, assigned by God, measured by God, and evaluated by God! They are the works designed not only to strengthen your faith, but also to manifest it and to impact your environment through the glorious light of the gospel that your works will so exquisitely display.

You do not need to worry about whether those works will come, they absolutely will, and there is no shortage of them! The question is…will your faith pass the test as Abraham’s did? Will it pass everytime? Will you rise to the challenge upon the mighty call of the Most High? Ask the Father to recognize those works He places before you when they come, ask Him for the strength to perform to His honor, and He will give you wisdom, discernment, and understanding and strength.

Nevertheless remember who it is that bought you at a great price. Just as Israel was warned, we too, the Church, have been warned…

Hebrews 12:25 [NASB] See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven.

May our Lord, in His great mercy, preserves us blameless for His own glory. May our lives give Him His praise and His worship, as we abound in all the good works He has prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

Glory to His Majesty!

Amen

Really, a faith as small as a mustard seed can move a mountain? That’s what Matthew 17:20 seems to say! (Part 7 of 7)

Peak-Of-The-Matterhorn-MountainWe have an invitation from God

The truth probably is…your faith is larger than a mustard seed, Thank Goodness! No matter where, your diligence to follow God has not been in vain…but God is also inviting you to continue in your growth!

Matthew 17:20 (NIV) – He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

In this series we argue that the answer to the question in the title of this article is NO! You may click here to read Part 6.

This series provided some arguments as to why Matthew 17:20 makes reference to the magnificent faith the mustard seed has, rather than to its smallish size. To move a mountain, one must have a strong faith, and God says it plainly. That kind of faith is completely devoid of doubt. The words small, or size (depending on the Bible translation) were added in the NIV and NASB versions of the Bible respectively. And it was argued in this series that these additions cause Jesus-Christ to contradict Himself right there in this verse, as well as elsewhere in His other teachings. The teachings from the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians confirms that moving mountains requires the greatest of faith, not the smallest. Many examples in the Bible – among whom Abraham’s belief for a son – clearly speak of people who had strong faith. These examples certainly sound like that the faith these men and women displayed were larger than a mustard seed. It was then argued that the implication of this erroneous teaching could be devastating.

The fact is that God does invite us to build a faith that is whole, complete, a completely free of doubt! The very fact that some can pray and believe today without a doubt for some situations is proof that those individuals have at least some faith. Also, today some are able to believe without a doubt for bigger things than the they did in the previous year. This is indication that their faith has grown! Our faith grows after each victory, and our faith grows when we spend time with God, because by doing such we get acquainted to His will and His abilities.

2 Thessalonians 1:3 – We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth;

God is encouraging us to continue building our faith, by telling us what kind of miraculous feat we can achieve with it! Let’s strive to believe what God says, and nothing but what He says. Faith comes by hearing the Word of God, so let’s ask God to tell us where we can hear His Word. He will answer us!

Your faith is larger than a mustard seed. But believe God to bring your faith to much greater heights, so that you can remove mountains!

Really, a faith as small as a mustard seed can move a mountain? That’s what Matthew 17:20 seems to say! (Part 6 of 7)

mountain_peak_at_sunset-wideMatthew 17:20 (NIV) – He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

In this series we argue that the answer to the question in the title of this article is NO! You may click here to read the fifth argument.

The takeaway:  Jesus-Christ’s statement in Matthew 17:20 is about how powerful we can be, not how weak we are!

Adding either of the two words, small or size to Jesus-Christ’s statement in Matthew 17:20, completely falsifies the Word of God. It does so by shifting our attention away from the kind of faith the mustard seed possesses, and placing it instead on the size of the mustard seed. By shifting our attention to the size of the mustard seed, Jesus-Christ is made to say that all we need in life to overcome even the biggest of challenges is nothing but the smallest of faith.  What a LIE! How many lives has this lie destroyed? Every day, many people face challenges they are unable to overcome. Yet they pray, and continue to pray! They give and continue to give. They attend church and speak to their pastors. But what they are being told instead is that they do not even have the smallest of faith, because if they did, the challenge would have already vanished away. How discouraging must it be to live with the thought that despite your best effort to please God, in His eyes, you are still faithless! Is that the God we know and love?

The TRUTH is that Jesus-Christ is teaching us about what we can achieve when we do not pay attention to the circumstances, and when we do not pay attention to our “apparent” shortcomings. The mustard seed may be small, but the mustard seed does not let its size dictate what it will achieve. The mustard seed has learned to believe without doubting, and as a result is able to achieve the unimaginable. Only with such kind of faith can the mustard seed develop into something as a great as a mustard tree. Jesus-Christ is telling us “Look, learn to trust in me. Do not let your “apparent” weaknesses fool you. With me, you can achieve the greatest of things, but you have to believe!” Look at Abraham:

Romans 4: 19-21 – And being not weak in faith, he [Abraham] considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb: He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.

How can one describe a faith that is a small as mustard seed strong? That kind of faith is weak! Abraham was not weak in faith. Abraham had to be strong in faith, fully persuaded. Abraham was not worried even though he was already an hundred years old. Abraham had learned to trust God. That is the kind of faith Abraham had to build to see the promise come to pass in his life.

God is not here to condemn us, telling us that our faith is even smaller than a mustard seed. No, He is here to encourage us, telling us how far we can go. Now, that is motivation to grow our faith!

Really, a faith as small as a mustard seed can move a mountain? That’s what Matthew 17:20 seems to say! (Part 5 of 7)

500px-HIGHROCKMatthew 17:20 (NIV) – He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

In this series we argue that the answer to the question in the title of this article is NO! You may click here to read the fourth argument.

Argument 5: The faith which removes mountains is described as “all faith by the Apostle Paul

Another argument can be made from one of the teachings of the Apostle Paul, where he describes the kind of faith that is required to remove mountains:

1 Corinthians 13:2 – And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

The Apostle Paul describes this kind of faith as all faith, or faith in its whole, complete form. Bringing together Jesus-Christ’s statement in Mark, and Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians, we see that the kind of faith required to move mountains, is devoid of doubt and is complete! This is quite different from a faith that is as small as a grain of mustard seed which – in contrast – would be riddled with doubt, and would certainly be incomplete!

Let’s face it. The reality is that moving a mountain is great, challenging feat. And rightfully so, it requires a sizeable amount of faith. It simply goes again logic to believe that the tiniest of faith (which, frankly is probably not too hard to have) is sufficient to overcome the biggest of challenges. To represent such faith as small as the size of a mustard seed is to twist the truth, and we believe, grossly misleading!

There truly is a great message Christ is giving us here, but it is certainly not the one that some of the bible translations such as the NIV and NASB are implying.  All that was needed to change the meaning of Matthew 17:20 was adding a little, seemingly innocent – and dare we say…appealing – word (small or size). As will be argued in the concluding parts of this series, this is a case of private interpretation gone seriously wrong.  


Really, a faith as small as a mustard seed can move a mountain? That’s what Matthew 17:20 seems to say! (Part 4 of 7)

Peak-Of-The-Matterhorn-MountainMatthew 17:20 (NIV) – He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

In this series we argue that the answer to the question in the title of this article is NO! You may click here to read the third argument.

Argument 4: This is what Jesus-Christ taught: the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds, but has the greatest of faith!

There are three other places where Jesus-Christ uses the mustard seed to illustrate a point. There, He uses it to describe the kingdom of heaven. Those references give us a clear understanding as to why the mustard seed is such a great example of the power of faith.

Matthew 13: 31, 32 (KJV) – Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.

Mark 4: 30-32 (KJV) – And he said, Whereunto shall we liken the kingdom of God? or with what comparison shall we compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, is less than all the seeds that be in the earth: But when it is sown, it groweth up, and becometh greater than all herbs, and shooteth out great branches; so that the fowls of the air may lodge under the shadow of it.

Luke 13: 18-20 (KJV) – Then said he, Unto what is the kingdom of God like? and whereunto shall I resemble it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and cast into his garden; and it grew, and waxed a great tree; and the fowls of the air lodged in the branches of it…

These three records shed lights on what Jesus-Christ is bringing our attention to whenever He speaks of the mustard seed: The mustard seed, despite being the smallest of all seeds turns into the greatest of herbs, even to the point of becoming a tree. When these passages are taken together with Matthew 17: 20, Mark 11: 22-24 and Luke 17: 6 discussed in the previous articles on this series, it is clear that it is the faith of that seed, not the size of that seed which enables it to accomplish such a great feat. The mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds, has the greatest faith among all seeds.

Matthew 17:20 is not about a faith the size of a mustard seed (which is “very” small), but a faith like the one of the mustard seed (which is “very” great).

Really, a faith as small as a mustard seed can move a mountain? That’s what Matthew 17:20 seems to say! (Part 3 of 7)

mountain_peak_at_sunset-wideArgument 3: Adding the words “small” or “size” to Matthew 17:20 causes Jesus-Christ to contradict himself in his teachings elsewhere.

Mark 11:22-24 – And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God. For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, what things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.

Matthew 17:20 (NIV) – He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

In this series we argue that the answer to the question in the title of this article is NO! You may click here to read the second argument.

In Mark 11, Jesus-Christ describes again the power of faith as the power to move mountains. However, here we find an additional important peace of information: The person shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass. In other words, the faith required to move mountain is the one in which the man does not doubt. How is this kind of faith, one that is completely devoid of doubt, be the size of a grain of mustard seed? If indeed that faith is only as big as a grain of mustard seed, what kind of things would we be able to do with say, a faith the size of a watermelon? May be fly? Move the sun 50 degrees to the right in the morning and 23.5 degrees to the left in the afternoon? Breathe like a fish and stay under water for months at a time? To move a mountain certainly sounds like the biggest challenge one can ever have, so why would anyone ever wants to strive for a larger faith?

Jesus-Christ cannot be contradicting Himself. When He said…faith as a grain of mustard seed to move a mountain, that is what He meant. And when He said that one should not doubt in order to move a mountain, that is what He meant. The faith of a mustard seed is one that does not doubt.

Really, a faith as small as a mustard seed can move a mountain? That’s what Matthew 17:20 seems to say! (Part 2 of 7)

500px-HIGHROCKMatthew 17:20 (NIV) – He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

In this series we argue that the answer to the question in the title of this article is NO! You may click here to read the first argument.

Argument 2:  Adding the words “small” or “size” to Matthew 17:20 causes Jesus-Christ to contradict himself right here in this very verse

The KJV, NIV and NASB all agree with the Greek texts when it comes to how Jesus-Christ describes whom He is speaking to: He saw them as people of little faith. The Greek word translated unbelief (KJV), little faith (NIV) or littleness of your faith (NASB) is the word oligópistos, formed from olígos, meaning “little in number or low in quantity” and pístis, meaning “faith”.

Jesus-Christ is describing these people as people of little faith, not people of no faith. Furthermore, Matthew 17: 16, 19 tell us that these were disciples of Jesus-Christ.

Matthew 17: 16 and 19 – “…I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.”…Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

As disciples, followers of His teachings, these people must have had some faith. This is also evident by the fact that they were surprised that they were not able to cast the demon out (Matthew 17:19). They must have had some faith if they thought they could cast a demon! May be because they had done it before…?

Therefore, if Jesus-Christ acknowledges that his disciples had some faith (although little), how can He at the same time imply they had no faith (their faith is not even the size of a mustard seed, which is sufficient to move even mountains)? This certainly appears like the kind of contradictory statement that would leave anyone scratching his or her head!

We believe that Jesus-Christ implied just that – that their faith was insufficient. But He certainly did not mean to say that their faith was smaller than even the tiniest of seeds…which would mean non-existent.

Really, a faith as small as a mustard seed can move a mountain? That’s what Matthew 17:20 seems to say! (Part 1 of 7)

mountain_peak_at_sunset-wideMatthew 17:20 – He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” [New International Version (NIV)]

It can be argued that this statement made by Jesus-Christ is one of, if not, the greatest statement ever made about faith. With it, we can move mountains! That is certainly some power that God has placed at our disposal. The issue at hand however is on the kind of faith that can help us move mountains. Is it really a faith as small as a mustard seed? The short answer to this question is NO! The next few articles will be dedicated to this topic.

Argument 1: It is a matter of Bible translations, and here…it really matters!

Here is the same verse in two other popular Bible translations: The King James Version (KJV) and the New American Standard Bible (NASB).

Matthew 17:20 (KJV) – And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.

Matthew 17:20 (NASB) – And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.

It is clear that while the NIV and NASB make explicit reference to the size of the mustard seed, which is very, very small, the KJV does not. However, what is very interesting is that in the Greek texts, neither the word size nor the word small appears in this verse. In other words, the NIV and NASB added these words, while the KJV left this verse intact. Another example is in Luke 17:6, where Jesus-Christ gives another teaching that is very similar to the one in Matthew.

Luke 17:6 (KJV) – And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you.

Again, in this verse, the NIV added the word small (“…If you have faith as small as a mustard seed…”). However – and interestingly – the NASB did not add the word size as it did in Matthew (“…If you had faith like a mustard seed…”). Why such inconsistency in the NASB, especially since the teachings of Jesus-Christ in Matthew 17 and here in Luke 17 are essentially the same?

The important question is therefore whether the three versions (KJV, NIV, and NASB) are essentially saying the same thing. The short is answer is NO! As will be argued, adding either size or small changes entirely the message of Jesus-Christ.

It is a good idea to have several Bible versions and compare them as often as possible to detect any potential error in translation.