Pastor David Boone of New Covenant Fellowship Church in Georgetown Tx explains the theological construct of faith and works in this weeks “The Kingdom: What It Means”. As C.H. Spurgeon says, in the Old Covenant it was “do this and live” but in the New Covenant it is “live and do this”. This sermon is found in Matthew 7:21-23.
Part 18 the Kingdom: the abode of the righteous
Turn with me in your Bibles to Matt 7. We pick up right near the end of the SOM as we continue our series The Kingdom: What it Means, answering the question, what does it mean for you and I to be citizens of the Kingdom? If the Kingdom has come and we are the community or territory over which Christ reigns as King, what does it mean for us? According to this morning’s text, we find that the Kingdom is the abode of the righteous; the Kingdom is the community of those who bow the knee to King Jesus and say, “Yes, Lord, your will be done.”
Matt 7:21-23 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
This text appears to promote and affirm a works-based salvation. People throughout history have pointed out that in the Bible there appears to be a stark contrast between the words of Jesus in the gospels and the words of Paul throughout most of the NT letters; Jesus affirms and promotes a works-based salvation while Paul emphatically declares that salvation is not by works but by faith alone.
Perhaps the most famous and succinct text in which we find this idea from Paul is in his letter to the Ephesians. Eph 2:8-9 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
Paul clearly states here that salvation is not by works. And recall back in our theological foundation for the Kingdom what it means, we saw in Matt 19:16-25 that receiving eternal life is the same as entering the Kingdom which is the same as being saved.
On the one hand Jesus says that only those who DO the will of His father will enter the kingdom or be saved. That sounds like works, what one DOES. Whereas here, Paul says it’s not what one DOES but his DOCTRINE that determines his destiny; it’s not how you behave but what you believe that determines citizenship in the Kingdom.
So is Paul at odds with Jesus? Is Paul contradicting Jesus? Well, if he is, then he is contradicting himself also. Look what Paul says in 1 Cor 6:9-10 9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
Paul says that wrong DOers will not inherit the kingdom. So here, Paul’s words agree with Jesus; citizenship in the kingdom has to do with what one does, with his works. Then he lists off several works of wickedness that characterize those who will not inherit the kingdom.
So Paul’s teaching regarding entrance into the kingdom is very much like that of Jesus. Not everyone who simply says lord lord will enter but only he who does the will of the father. The kingdom is the abode of the righteous.
This isn’t the only place that Paul says something like this.
He says in Galatians 5:19-21 19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Once again, Paul, like Jesus is declaring that not everyone who claims lord lord will enter the Kingdom of heaven. In fact those who live according to the flesh, in selfish sin and wickedness will not inherit the Kingdom. The kingdom is the abode of the righteous.
So is Paul contradicting himself now? In one breath he says by grace through faith, not by works and in the other breath he says those who do wicked works will not be saved or inherit the kingdom.
It may appear on the surface that these ideas are contradictory, but I believe that they go hand in hand and they can be reconciled best in the words of James. Turn with me to James 2.
James 2:14-26 14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.
So James gives this example of a person in need and says what good is it if a man claims to have faith but doesn’t DO anything with it? Go on, hope it works out for ya. I’m not willing to DO anything to help you, but I sure do have faith, I’ve been saved by grace. Faith, by itself, if it is not accompanied by action is dead. It’s useless. James is promoting the idea that the kind of faith to which we are called as citizens of the kingdom is a living and active faith.
In other words, while we are saved by faith alone, saving faith is not alone; it is accompanied by action.
19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. He points out that even demons believe. Does that mean they are citizens of the Kingdom? By no means.
Then he gives a few examples from the OT of people in Scripture whose faith was made manifest by their actions.
20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless[d]? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,”and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. Abraham offered Isaac on the altar when God told him to. He did the will of the father in heaven and God called him friend. There is a group to whom Jesus would say, “The Kingdom is only for those who do the will of my father and you didn’t do that, away from me you evil doer, I never knew ya.” Abraham is not among those; he is one to whom Jesus would say “You did the will of my father and not only do you know me but I know you and you, sir, are not just a servant of God, not just a child of God, but you are a friend of God.” Now for another example of faith that led to action.
25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
Even Rahab, the prostitute was considered righteous for what she DID. Her faith was manifest by her deeds. She was a prostitute living in the city of Jericho. She heard that the Israelites were coming and were going to destroy the city. She believed that the God of Israel had destroyed the Egyptians and the other nations that went to war with Israel. The spies from Israel came and she hid them from the people of Jericho and said, “When your God destroys this place, please remember me and my household and spare us.” Her doctrine drove her actions. Her belief affected her behavior.
That, I believe, is what we get when we put this all together. We see that faith and deeds go hand in hand. Faith is the root, actions are the fruit. Doctrine should drive our actions and our belief should affect our behavior.
James connects doctrine & deeds, belief & behavior. If we have faith, if we really believe, then that should be evident in our actions.
Again, we are saved by faith alone, but saving faith is not alone, it should be accompanied by actions.
If we read Paul in context, I believe that this is what we will see.
In Eph 2, I stopped short of v 10. But if we take that text in context, we read:
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
So Paul connects faith and works much like James does. Saved by faith alone but saving faith is not alone. It will be accompanied by believers doing good works which God prepared in advance. Doing the will of our father in heaven. But we cannot put the cart before the horse or the fruit before the root. The root is faith. That faith leads to one doing good works, the fruit.
We aren’t saved BY doing good works, but we are saved TO DO good works. To put it another way (something I borrow from my favorite theologian C.H. Spurgeon), in the OC it was do this and live, but in the NC it is live and do this.
When I read from 1 Cor 6 earlier, I stopped short of v11. In context, that passage reads: 9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
That is what some of you WERE. But you have been washed, regenerated by the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit, sanctified. You are not wrongdoers anymore; you have been given a new identity in Christ; you are now righteous. And the implication is, now that you have been made righteous in Christ, live according to your new identity. As Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery, I don’t condemn you, go and sin no more. Do the will of your father in heaven; walk in righteousness. The kingdom is the abode of the righteous.
In Gal 5 I stopped short of v22ff. He said that the works of the flesh are obvious………if we kept reading, including the context we find: 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
So if you are in Christ, you have crucified those ways of wickedness and put them to death with your old self. You have been born again and the new you, the one who is in Christ, the one in whom God’s spirit dwells are called not to continue in those old selfish ways, but to manifest the character of Christ, keeping in step with the Spirit, serving one another in love.
Now, to be clear, I don’t take Paul to say here that if someone does one wrong thing on these sin lists that he will be shut out of the kingdom. I believe that he is saying that those who walk in wickedness as a general way of life are not the kind of people to whom the kingdom belongs. Similarly, as Jesus says that the kingdom belongs to those who do the will of the father, I take him to mean that those who do the will of the father as a general way of life; how one lives as a whole, one whose nature is to do God’s will. Not that if you fail to do the will of the father in one or two or ten instances he is considered wicked and will not enter the kingdom.
FISH & BIRDS
Consider fish and birds, for example. Fish swim and birds fly. But once in a while, you may see a bird dive down into the water for a moment and then come back out and soar into the clouds. The bird doesn’t cease to be a bird and become a fish then since it spent a moment underwater. Conversely, once in a while, you may see a fish fly up out of the water, and then drop back down to the depths. The fish doesn’t cease to be a fish and become a bird since it was flying.
If you look at a bird’s nature and the general way it conducts itself you will see that it is a creature of the air. It may spend a little bit of time under water, but generally speaking its nature is to fly. And it cannot spend much time under water; out of its element it will drown, it will die. In the same way, if you examine a fish and its nature and the general way in which it conducts its life you will see that it is a creature of the water. It may spend a moment soaring through the air, but generally speaking its nature is to swim. If it spends too much time out of the water, out of its element it will die.
I believe that Jesus and Paul speak of the righteous and the wicked in the same manner. The wicked do not inherit the kingdom, for it is the abode of the righteous. The wicked are capable of doing good deeds here and there, but the general way of the wicked is wickedness. The righteous fail to do the will of their father in heaven at some point and slip into sin at times. But it is not their way of life and sin here and there does not then put them into the category of the wicked who do not enter the kingdom. Their general way of life is to do the will of the father, just as the bird’s way of life is to soar in the sky and the fish’s way of life is to swim in the sea.
For you and I who have been taken from the depths of depravity and have been given a new and heavenly nature by which we soar in the heavenly realms, we have capacity and the freedom to venture into the depths of sin, but it is not quite as comfortable as it once was. While at one time, perhaps we were quite at home there, now we find ourselves quite out of our element. With every passing moment we spend in sin, like the bird underwater, we cannot breathe and we move closer and closer to the death from which we have been rescued.
As citizens of the kingdom, sin is not our element. Walking in righteousness, soaring in the heavenly realms; that is our element. Conviction from the Holy Spirit is the best litmus test for us in knowing when we are out of our element. That little nudge of “I shouldn’t have done that; that wasn’t kind. I shouldn’t have said that; it was prideful. I shouldn’t have thought that; it was selfish.” We are most at home when we are doing the will of our father.
The point is that one’s nature determines and directs his general way of life, his general course of action.
Out of the heart that has been regenerated and made new in the image of Christ, flows forth the fruit of righteousness, the fruit of the Spirit. Just as Jesus said that of the false prophets they will be known by their fruit, the same is true of citizens of the Kingdom. They will be known by their fruit.
Imagine with me the following scenario:
You’re looking for a job and come across an opening for a job as a CSR at a telecommunications company. The job description lists off several requirements:
- Speaking – Talking to others to convey information effectively.
- Active Listening – Giving full attention to what other people are saying, taking time to understand the points being made, asking questions as appropriate, and not interrupting at inappropriate times.
- Service Orientation – Actively looking for ways to help people.
- Writing – Communicating effectively in writing as appropriate for the needs of the audience.
- Critical Thinking – Using logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions or approaches to problems.
So you go in to interview for the position and you first meet with the director of HR. The HR director tells you, “Look, not everyone who applies for this job will get it, but only he who does the requirements laid out in the job description as posted.”
Then you are sent into the conference room to meet with the customer service manager. Now the manager tells you, “Look, I’m only concerned with one thing here and that is whether you have the gift or not. Bottom line: this job is only for those who have the gift of customer service.”
So you leave the interview confused. Which is it? How do I get in? Do I need the gift or do I need to do the things listed in the job requirements? The answer is YES.
When you go back for the second interview, you ask the manager about the apparent contradiction and she says, “If you have the gift of customer service, then you will by nature be one who tends to be an eloquent communicator, you will be service oriented, you will not interrupt but listen actively, think critically, etc. The gift lies at the root and these actions are the fruit. Once in a while you may have a bad day and botch a communication, or interrupt a client, but those are the exceptions. But if one doesn’t have the gift, it is hard to get him to do these requirements consistently because they are not in their nature, they aren’t wired that way. To hire someone that doesn’t have the gift is like trying to teach a bird to swim or a fish to fly. They will be out of their element; they won’t be at home here. So, it is both/and. The gift is what I’m looking for because it lies at the root. You don’t get in without the gift. The gift and the actions go hand in hand. You will do the requirements if you have the gift.”
In the same way, one enters the Kingdom by the gift of God, not by works. And if one has the gift of eternal life by grace through faith, the actions/deeds/good works will follow. If one has faith, he will by nature, tend to do the will of his father in heaven. But to try to get one who doesn’t have the gift to live according to the decree of the King will be difficult because his tendency, his nature is to say “Not thy will but my will be done.” And the Kingdom belongs to those who do the will of the father.
So let’s recap in light of our purpose of this series. What does it mean?
- It means that we are saved by faith alone, saving faith is not alone; it is accompanied by action.
- Means Faith is the root, actions are the fruit. Doctrine should drive our actions and our belief should affect our behavior.
- For those of us who have been regenerated by the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit and have been sanctified and made a citizen of the Kingdom, then we have been given a new identity in Christ; we are righteous. We are to live according to our new identity; walk in righteousness.
- We put off the deeds of the flesh and wicked ways that aren’t becoming of believers and we live by the spirit manifesting the fruit of the spirit
- Self control
- And whatever other virtue that is consistent with the character of Christ
- It means that not only do we know him, but He knows US and like Abraham, he calls us friends. As friends of God, as those who love him, let us obey him and walk in righteousness. Because the Kingdom is the abode of the righteous, those who bow the knee to king Jesus and say, “Not my will, but your will be done.”