Faith That Works

November 13, 2021 by  
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By Warren Mueller –

The role of faith and works in salvation is a topic that has been, and continues to be, debated among Christians.

Clearly, faith and good works are related and without works faith is dead or useless (James 2:20 NIV). There are a number of paradoxes in the Bible associated with faith and works that would disappear if Christians would realize that it is who they are that should drive what they do. In other words, “be to do” not “do to be.”

Our human thinking and culture tells us we need to work hard to gain skills and knowledge to be successful and attain a better way of life. This is “do to be” thinking. I believe this thinking has pervaded Christianity such that the motivation to do good works, receive the sacraments, achieve status and rank by becoming a priest, deacon, elder, etc. is based on the desire to accumulate spiritual rewards and a better place in heaven. Another problem is that some Christian denominations teach that works are an essential part of salvation. In other words, the grace needed to reach heaven is imparted through the sacraments of the church which again is “do to be” thinking.

So what is “be to do” Christian thinking?

The basis for this thinking rests on a spiritual birth, through faith in Jesus Christ as personal savior (John 3:16-17; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5; Romans 6:23 NIV). Jesus said one must be born again in order to enter the kingdom of God (John 3:3 NIV). The death of Jesus on the cross provides payment for the penalty of the sins of mankind. This is a legal transaction that enables those who accept this by faith to become children of God indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Gal 3:26; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 1 John 3:24; Ephesians 1:13-14 NIV).

This spiritual birth is like the natural one in that growth in knowledge of the new identity of self, the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit and the works that result are progressive. From this theological view, good works are a result of changes that God has produced inside me and not changes that I try to achieve by doing something. Thus, the meaning of Jesus in saying that in order to gain life you must lose it means that you must be born again or changed spiritually through faith in Jesus. When this happens, there is a fundamental change in self-identity in which a person’s thinking shifts from “me” to “we” as a result of the presence of the Holy Spirit. In my case, I began to live for Jesus and not just for myself so, in this sense, I have lost my life but found new life and joy in serving Jesus.

Likewise, faith without works is dead means there can be no genuine change within (i.e. spiritual birth in Jesus) without changes in outward actions. The outward actions or good works result from the reality of spiritual changes within and not visa-versa. Thus, the greatest in the kingdom of God are servants or slaves who, like Jesus, follow the will of God. What they do is a result of what God has already done within them. Good works becomes an expression of love, gratitude and obedience that desires to give God joy. The result of such good works is a deeper experience of the presence of God within.

I am afraid too many Christian denominations stress works because they are led by human understanding and a desire to self-improve or control others rather than as a result of being fundamentally changed by a spiritual birth.

The Kingdom of Heaven

May 14, 2021 by  
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By Warren M Mueller –

Jesus uses over the phrase “kingdom of heaven” 30 times in the gospel of Matthew. This phrase or the synonymous phrase “kingdom of God” is used over 60 times in the others gospels and epistles. Therefore, this is an important theme in the teachings of Jesus. So what is this kingdom like? First, God has unlimited power and so he has control over everything. As king, everything happens according to his will. However, this is not to say that God is the author of evil. God gave the angels and mankind the ability to obey or digress from the decrees of God so evil is the result of rebellion against God but he is not the author of it. With this as the setting, let’s examine some of the teachings of Jesus and his disciples about his kingdom.

Jesus said that his kingdom is not of this world which is to say that the present conditions on earth are not in perfect harmony with his will (Jn 18:36). Satan and his demons rebelled against the positions in heaven assigned to them by God and so were cast to the earth. Likewise, a curse and corruption resulting in death has come upon mankind for disobeying God’s command not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge. As a result of these rebellions, the conditions on earth are like a rotting apple in the garden of God’s otherwise perfect universe. In this analogy, the demons and mankind are like worms that consume and alter the apple which is subject to decay. God has given dominion of this world to the devil who is called its ruler and the spirit at work in those who are disobedient (Eph 2:2).

When Jesus was born, he entered into the realm of Satan as a human. However, there was something different about Jesus because his essence was also divine. He was a dual citizen of both heaven and earth. This meant that, although he was tempted by his humanity to sin, his divinity enabled him to conform to the will of God the Father in heaven (Jn 8:28-29). In other words, Jesus had both a human view and divine view of himself and his surroundings. This is what John the Baptist meant when he said, “Repent for the kingdom of God is near” (Mt 3:1-2 NIV). John’s call to repentance is primarily to change the mind by seeing sin as rebellion and self as fallen away from God. It may also include sorrow and a desire to change but this is an outcome not the motivation. In other words, a person can be sorry for committing sins but continue to do them until there is a change in thinking that drives a different behavior. Therefore, the kingdom of God involves a change of mind as a result of a fundamental change (Jn 1:12-13). This is why Jesus said that each person must undergo a spiritual change so fundamental it is like a birth in order to enter the kingdom of God (Jn 3:3).

How does this change occur? The Bible teaches that those who put their faith in Jesus and their personal savior and Lord undergo a radical transformation internally as the kingdom of God is established within (Lk 17:20). The Holy Spirit indwells each believer and a transformation of the mind begins which works itself outward in changed behavior that reflects the kingship of Christ (Mt 13:11; 2 Cor 3:18). This inside out growth of the kingdom of heaven in believers is like the action of yeast in bread (Mt 13:33). The kingdom of heaven is an invasion of the dominion of Satan. The kingdom of heaven will continue to grow like a mustard seed into a great tree that will spread throughout the earth (Mt 13:32).

The presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit is the deposit or guarantee of membership in the kingdom of heaven and is the most precious treasure that a person can have (Mt 13:44; 1 Cor 6:19). A judgment day is coming when it will become obvious who does or does not belong to the kingdom of God (Mt 13:37-43). Eventually the bodies of dead and alive believers will be transformed and live with Jesus in a new earth free from the dominion of Satan and corruption (1 Cor 15:50; Rev 21:1-4).

The kingdom of heaven has invaded this world and is transforming it from the inside out. If you are not part of the kingdom of God, I pray that you will enter it through faith in Jesus Christ and experience the joy, peace, love and wonder of this transformation (Jn 3:16-17)!

Does God Change?

December 12, 2020 by  
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By Warren Mueller –

I have heard some say that the Christian concept of an unchanging God is not compatible with Biblical teachings. God says clearly in Malachi 3:6 that He does not change. However, God determines to destroy the Israelites for worshipping the golden calf, but relents and seems to change his mind after Moses pleads for them (Exodus 32:7-14). Also, Isaiah tells King Hezekiah that his death is imminent but then he shortly thereafter tells the King that God has heard his prayers and has decided to heal him and give him fifteen additional years (2 Kings 20:1-5). Furthermore, doesn’t the birth of Jesus bring about a change in God because prior to this event, God was not human?

If God does change then He can’t be perfect in knowledge and power. This implies that God is somehow limited because He is learning and changing through new experiences. We are left with a God who is not in perfect control of our world and does not know every event that will occur in the future. This is very different from what the Bible says about God knowing all things and having the power to bring about every detail of His plans according to his will (Is 46:10; John 21:17; Hebrews 4:13; Rev 19:6).

So how can these apparent conflicting verses and concepts be reconciled? I believe that those verses where God appears to change his mind in response to something that man does—such as the pleading of Moses or the prayers of Hezekiah—do not represent a true change in God’s plans. If God knows all things, then He knows ultimately what will happen in every situation. In the case of Moses, He knows that He will not destroy the Israelites but tells Moses He intends to in order to reveal His holiness and intolerance to sin. He desires to have a relationship with Moses and so interacts with him to show His love and merciful characteristics.

Humans exist in a linear dimension of time so our understanding of events is sequential. However, God is eternal and His existence is not bound by time. God may exist in a time dimension that is a plane instead of a straight line. If this is true, then He sees the timeline of this world without being bound to it.

Finally, the Bible gives insights into why the birth of Jesus does not equate to a change in the experience and knowledge of God. First, Jesus appeared to various people in the Old Testament as a flesh and bones or pre-incarnate human (Gen 18:1-7; Judges 6:11-22). Also, man is created in the image of God (Gen 1:27). Therefore, man resembles God in that some of the attributes of God are embodied in mankind. Thus, the birth of Jesus does not represent a change in the attributes or experience of God.

God obviously has many more and perfect attributes than does man. What is amazing is that those who are reconciled to God through Jesus will be given even more of God’s attributes and become even more like him.

“The Lord Jesus Christ who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Phil 3:20-21).

Is Jesus Divine?

June 10, 2020 by  
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By Warren Mueller –

In John 14:28, Jesus says “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you. If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.” The divinity of Jesus is sometimes questioned based on the meaning of “the Father is greater than I.” These meanings were the subject of a debate about the divinity of Jesus known as Arianism. Arius was an elder in the church of Alexandria who lived between 250-336AD. Arius wrote that the Son “is a perfect creature, yet not as one among other creatures; a begotten being yet not as one among other beings.” From this it appears that Arius thought that Jesus was a special creature compared to humans. A key controversial concept about Jesus being a creature versus God revolves around the term “begotten.”

John 3:34-37 says that Jesus is one sent from God who speaks the words of God and has been given the spirit of God without limit. The Father has given Jesus authority over everything such that Jesus has the power to reconcile sinful men to God. The prophets spoke the words of God and were considered to be filled by the spirit of God while doing so but nowhere does the Bible say that anyone received the spirit of God without limit.  This implies that Jesus has all of the spirit of God which would not be possible for a creature to attain.  Also, the Jews were offended by Jesus and considered it blasphemy when he claimed the power to forgive sins as this was something only God could do (Luke 5:22-24 NIV).

In John 10:30 Jesus claims to be “one” with the Father. The Jews present pick up stones to kill Jesus because they clearly understood that Jesus claimed to be God. In verses 33-38, Jesus says he is the Son of God; that he has been sent by the Father and that the miracles he performs prove that “the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” He says that even though there are other humans that are sons of God, he clearly distinguishes himself as unique which further enrages them because they understand him to say that he is God.

Jesus knew his purpose was to die on the cross; that he and the Father would be glorified by his death; that the power of the devil or prince of the world would be broken by his death and that the Father accepts and honors those who follow Jesus.  Jesus is God and offered him-self as a sin sacrifice once for mankind. If Jesus is a creature, he would have to make innumerable offerings as did the Jewish priests. Hebrews 10:10 says that “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

In John 14:10, Jesus is astounded by Philip’s request for Jesus to show the Father to the disciples.  He tells Philip that “anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.  So how can you say, Show us the Father?”   He then again says that the Father is living in him and that he says and does precisely what the Father is doing.  This only makes sense if Jesus and the Father are one God.

Christians worshipped Jesus as God for over two hundred years before Arius questioned his divinity. The evidence for Arianism is limited to verses that use the words “begotten” and that the Father is “greater” than Jesus. There are multiple meanings for the Greek words “begotten” and “greater” that can support either view so we must look to other verses in the Bible to help us decide the best meanings of these words. There are many verses in the Bible that support the view that Jesus is God while there are none that clearly support the idea that Jesus is a creature so it is apparent that the Arian view is false. Therefore, Jesus must have meant that, while Jesus was on earth, he was lesser in position not different in essence with the Father.

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness and found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!”  (Phillipians 2:5-8 NIV).

What Is Temptation?

July 26, 2019 by  
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By Warren Mueller –

Have you ever wondered about the temptation of Jesus by the devil in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-10)? The Bible says God does not tempt anyone and cannot be tempted (James 1:13).   Furthermore, Jesus was tempted “in every way just as we are—yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Since Jesus is both God and human, how can these verses be reconciled?

Webster’s Dictionary defines tempt as to test or to try to persuade, induce, entice, allure, especially to something sensuously pleasurable or immoral; to provoke. The Greek word peirazo used in the previous verses means to test, entice, examine, prove or test. In both of these definitions, there is the dual sense of a trial and enticement to do evil. Jesus fasted for forty days in the wilderness before the devil tempted him three times. The first time, the devil enticed him to turn rocks into bread which appealed to his hunger. The second time, the devil tried to use Scripture to trick Jesus and so tested his knowledge of the word. The third time, the devil offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if he would worship the devil which was a spiritual attack to short cut God’s plan of redemption. The devil tempted Jesus physically, mentally and spiritually to put his needs first instead of choosing the path set before him by God the Father. Thus, the actual underlying temptation was whether Jesus would assert his will or be obedient to that of his Father. This is the essence of the trial aspect of the temptation.

The enticement to do evil involved: 1) appeasing the flesh in replacing his hunger pains with the pleasure of food (and a full stomach); 2) appealing to his mind to assert himself as king by commanding angels to save him from a fall; and 3) worshipping the devil in exchange for being king of the world would be an enticement to short cut God’s plan of redemption and avoid the cross (i.e. spiritual separation from the Father as sin bearer).

This explains how Jesus could be tempted or tested yet without sin. In other words, he was tested but not persuaded to sin.  Jesus said and did what the Father commanded (John 5:19). Thus, I believe that Jesus could recognize temptation as soon as he was confronted with it because he had a higher view. When we are tempted, we tend to focus on the pleasure (immediate gratification) to be had and rationalize what we know is wrong.  Temptation tends to narrow our view in that we think mainly of ourselves. James says that our desire to do evil leads us to sin which results in death (James 1: 14-15).  Therefore, temptation is a trial or test that has some enticement for self-gratification.   Temptation begins as a test that has some appealing aspect that if entertained and acted on, results in sin. Temptation in and of itself is not evil but it ends in sin when we choose immediate pleasure despite the consequences and choose self rather than God. Jesus was tempted or tested but he did not allow the temptation to progress to sin.

Lord Jesus please help us to see you in everything we think, say and do so that we will not focus on ourselves and our desires.  Help us to run the race of life with our eyes fixed on you and always ask, “What would Jesus do and how can I please you?”

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