The previous post discussed the incomplete discussion of the idea of works and grace using the work of Bryan Chapell. A lot of the issue is relating obedience as the requirement of the Lord, when faith has always been the requirement of the Christian (Romans 3:22-24). Faith is belief in God’s words which reflects action, not just mere assent. Pursuing Christ as to works is always a mistake (Romans 9:32), as is saying “I have works, therefore I have faith”. As it is written, without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). It could be said that the burden of faith is not a reflection of doing the right things, but making the right choices. In the end, obedience is not the issue, but the reasons we obey are the issue. To that end, Chapell was completely correct in his assessment of generating a works-based religion by pushing obedience, but neglects that obedience should be a fruit of our choices.
The problem with those Chapell takes issue with, as well as Chapell himself is pushing works as the whole issue, when it should be a belief that spurs results. Admittedly, pushing a works-based view is much easier, but lazy. As Paul writes: “by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” (1 Corinthians 15:9-11) This is notable in several of the Scriptures, including a number of Jesus’ own teachings. For this post, Matthew 18:21-35 is a useful teaching that will illustrate a choice in faith as opposed to works.
Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven. (Matthew 18:21-22)
Jesus starts out with a simple command as Master, one that we can easily relay into works and quit. But Jesus goes on to tell a parable, which is instructive:
Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. (Matthew 18:23-27)
There are no coincidences on why certain things appear in Scripture and the fact that Jesus felt more needed to be said is instructive (note that “kingdom of heaven” phrase). We are presented with a story with some choices, reflective of the Gospel. Most will not need much explanation for a venue such as a blog post, so I’ll just present them with some brief descriptions.
1. We can choose/not choose to acknowledge the debt before us. This is a choice relating to the sin debt we all possess. Most Christians of all thought will recognize those who are at this point of choice to be “unsaved”, though there’s more to it than that Scripturally.
2. We can choose/not choose to acknowledge the debt can’t be paid. Notably the word “ten thousand” here is murioi (G3463) which means “innumerably many”. The main point behind the story is that it’s a big debt that can’t be paid. There are “Christian” faith traditions that believe that accepting Christ involves getting a second-chance to “get the works right this time” or that it involves the opportunity to “work the debt off” instead of having to pay up all at once. This is the danger that Chapell was addressing rightfully in his work. When we realize that we can never do or pay anything of ourselves, the gateway to mercy and grace begins to open up.
3. We can choose/not choose to believe we are forgiven freely. The consequences of these choices become more endemic to those who are in churches now. The fact that we are given grace and mercy is something that is foolish to our minds, as we expect and even turn the things of love and grace into obligation (the main defect with marriage that renders it vile). Religion, as always, is an opportunity for wicked men to control others and burden them under yokes (Matthew 23:3-4) instead of show the way to freedom from the burden of sin outside of Christ (Matthew 11:30). In other words, this is the fullness of realizing that our works don’t get us anywhere with the Lord. Unfortunately, so many that call upon the Lord are trapped in trying to “measure up” to God (what the sin/Law standard in fact is), when it simply can never be done.
But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. (Matthew 18:28-30)
4. We can choose/not choose to respond in full belief of the mercy/grace we are given. This choice is where the common Churchian of today fails. The idea that in turn nothing is required of us is what is turning the vast majority of those who profess Christ into reprobates. We were bought by Christ’s blood (Hebrews 9:14) in order to pay the debt, so we become His. This is the matter of faith set before us, and the requirement of us. If we wish to be counted dead in Christ to be raised to newness of life, then our actions need to reflect it. To explain the issue, simple obedience isn’t the issue, it’s that we obey for the right reasons in recognition of what has been done for us. In other words, we can do all the right things and still fail for wrong reasons. We will always fail in perfect obedience, but we can always measure up in perfect motivations towards him.
So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. (Matthew 18:31-34)
Note the result of the servant’s actions – the result of a incorrect faith. Note how the Lord in the story puts it: It’s not that the servant failed to forgive, it’s that he failed to recognize what the Lord has done for him! This is always our measure, and the main concern of our Lord constantly in Scripture: “That they may know who I am”. This is where the whole “relationship with Jesus” line started, though blown into a complete false gospel by the implications of the word “relationship” as Jesus’ own concept (discipleship) used throughout Scripture was cast aside.
So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses. (Matthew 18:35)
And here lies the application to us. It’s not a warning to obey, but a call to faith. The simple question is reiterated by Jesus and others throughout the whole New Testament (Matthew 25 being another example). It’s not “Have you obeyed?”, but “What have you done with what I have given you?” This question applies to both issues of mercy and grace.
Have you responded in a way to bring fruit to the kingdom? Or have you responded in such a way to trample the blood of Christ? This is the issue that is neglected in the pulpits today.