IT CAN’T BE THAT EASY

That was how the young couple I was training in FAITH Evangelism responded. They had accompanied me to make an evangelistic presentation to a family. The teenage daughter, after hearing the presentation, decided she wanted to repent of her sin and trust Christ. After a simple prayer, she became a follower of Christ.

When I asked for feedback about the training experience, the young man said becoming a follower of Christ couldn’t be that easy. We want to make it a difficult process. We add rituals, ceremonies and festivities to show we are sincere. A Syrian officer named Naaman contracted leprosy. A Jewish servant girl told him to go to Israel to see the prophet Elisha to get healed. Elisha sent a servant out to greet him and tell him to go dip seven times in the Jordan River and he would be healed. Naaman went away angry. However, his servant stopped him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” (2 Kings 5:13).

One criticism of “Sola Fide,” or faith alone, is that once people “pray the prayer,” they can live any way they want. “Once saved, always saved” or perseverance of the saints does not mean that at all. Once people believe in Christ, a change needs to occur as a demonstration of that faith. Both the Apostle Paul and Apostle James point to Abraham to prove their points. Paul says Abraham was justified by faith alone. James said that his deeds justified him. There is no conflict. It is not a case of faith or works, but a faith that works. Abraham was credited with righteousness twelve years before he was circumcised and four hundred years before any one of the laws was given to Moses. He could not have kept the Sabbath, Passover, or any feasts, yet he was considered righteous because he believed. So how did he demonstrate his faith? He packed up and moved to a land that God had not yet even revealed to him.

When God approached Noah to tell him that he was going to destroy all flesh, he told Noah to build an ark large enough to carry all the kinds of land-dwelling animals. God gave him the dimensions and told him how to prepare for the coming deluge. How did Noah demonstrate his faith? Genesis 6:22 says that “Noah did according to all that God commanded him.” He went from being a farmer to being a ship builder. As James stated, he showed his faith through his actions.

As Jesus approached the town of Jericho, he encountered a man named Zacchaeus up in a tree. Zacchaeus desired to see Jesus, but the crowd would not permit it. Jesus told him to come down and take him to his home. There Jesus participated in a hospitable meal. Zacchaeus said, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.” Jesus responded, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham.” What did Jesus mean by “a son of Abraham”? Wasn’t Zacchaeus already Jewish? Galatians 3:6-7 says, “just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ Therefore, know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham.” True sons and daughters of Abraham are not those who keep Jewish rituals and festivities, but those who simply believe what God says.

Notice the changes in all three of these lives. Abraham left the place where he felt at home and moved to a place that God had not yet revealed to him. Noah’s belief in what God told him motivated him to begin building a ship. Zacchaeus’ faith motivated him to restore those whom he had defrauded and give generously to the poor. Their lives drastically changed.

Believers often use Ephesians 2:8-9 to justify spiritual inactivity: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Yet they forget to add verse 10: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” We are not saved by works, but for works.

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Years in the Making

 

Bad habits can develop slowly over long periods of time. Small effects accumulate, and a picture that we do not like begins to develop. Suddenly we decide we need to do something about it, and we want immediate results.

One example is weight gain. Here we are one month into the new year and some people have already given up on their resolution to lose weight and get in shape. Perhaps years of bad eating habits, eating junk food, or simply overeating even good food, has led to being overweight. After several years in the making, suddenly we want an instant fix. We go on starvation diets trying to lose weight quickly.

While success may come quickly, it seldom lasts. After a period of strict dieting, we often bounce back into the old habits that led to the weight gain in the first place. A permanent habit change must take place if we are to lose the weight and keep it off. Being overweight is a health issue we need to deal with realistically.

Smoking is another health issue. Whatever reason a person gives for smoking is not valid. There is simply no good, logical reason to smoke cigars, pipes or cigarettes. Now before you come down harshly on me and say that I should be more empathetic because I do not know what smoking is like, I must confess that I did try smoking for a while in the summer of 1972 right before I began high school. I wanted to be cool and accepted, so I listened to my friends’ advice. I tried cigarettes and even those little cigars, but all I got out of it was sick. I could not breathe well, and it affected my ability to swim (I wanted to be like Mark Spitz). So, I quit. I did not care what my friends thought of me. I thought they were foolish for smoking.

After years of smoking, people develop various forms of breathing ailments or even cancer. Suddenly they want prayer for a miracle to overcome lung cancer. They want an instant solution to their problem that has been years in the making. It is not that easy.

As a pastor, I have often dealt with people who bring personal problems to me to solve for them. About twenty years ago, I spent several hours talking to a man who came to me with a marital problem. If I remember correctly, they were not actually married. The main issue was that he had been living with a woman without the formality of marriage. They had a child together out of wedlock. At the time he was talking to me, the girl was about twelve years old. His common-law wife had left him to move in with a deputy sheriff and took the little girl with her. This man came to me wanting me to tell him how to solve his problem so he could get his daughter back.

I asked him if he was a Christian. He said yes. “So, you realize,” I asked him, “that your actions were sinful?” “Yes,” he replied, “But…” He continued to explain to me how the situation had developed, how his wife had left him for another man, and he wanted me to help him find the daughter and get her back.

“You have spent at least thirteen years creating this mess,” I said, “and now after one meeting with me, you want me to tell you how to solve it?” Problems that are years in the making often cannot be solved overnight. The way to solve these problems is to prevent them in the first place. Had this person followed biblical principles, those problems would not have arisen. He would not have been sitting there with me, his life in a shambles, seeking answers as to how to fix it.

Sadly, I never saw that man again. I never did find out how the issue was resolved, if ever. Life holds enough heartache for us even when we live by God’s principles. How much worse things go when we deliberately forsake God’s ways, develop problems, then go seek a pastor or a counselor to tell us how to get a quick fix.

In the devotional magazine, Open Windows, Tan Flippin wrote, “When you choose to travel down the pathway of wisdom instead of taking other routes, life just seems to go more smoothly and you save yourself a lot of headaches and heartaches…we can base our decisions on greed, selfishness, and without forethought and prayer” (LifeWay, 01/20/17). Choose wisely the way in which you will walk, because small decisions made today can affect the very outcome of your life tomorrow. Those problems may be years in the making.