Tag Archives: works

Was it all wrong?

Okay, now we have left the legalist church/organization/teacher.  Now what?  Where do we stand?  Do we throw out everything we learned?  How do we sort out all of this?  Does it all just need to go?

I have been getting a lot of these questions lately.  Doug Phillips and Vision Forum are gone.  Bill Gothard has resigned and the future of IBLP is in question.  Churches and ministries and teachers that had all the answers suddenly don’t even have answers for themselves.  At the same time, the message of God’s love and grace are being shouted from the housetops and people are hearing that it isn’t about their performance after all.

But we were immersed in the performance doctrines.  We learned them throughout our lives.  We judged others and ourselves by them.  We grieved when we couldn’t measure up and wondered about those who didn’t even seem to try.  We worked so hard to do well and sacrificed to go to the conferences, seminars and the right churches.  If we can’t trust the ones who spoke to us in the name of the Lord, who can we trust?

Besides, it all came out of the Bible, didn’t it?  We understand that it didn’t seem to work for the teachers, but shouldn’t it still work for us?  Or is it all bad?

Was it all wrong?  No.  But it was all touched by the error.  It’s a little like baking cookies and putting in soy sauce instead of vanilla.  The rest of the recipe is just right, but the mistake affects the whole batch.  The strange taste can be found in every bite.  The only way to move forward is to put together a new batch.

Yet, when you begin to bake the new batch of cookies, you find that most of the ingredients and proportions are just the same as before.  The sugar was fine.  The flour was good.  The amount of butter, salt, and baking powder was just right.  So much was right.  If you can remember what the error was, you should be able to avoid it in the future.

Obviously, baking cookies does not compare with building a way of thinking about life and relationships and spirituality.  But the error of legalism is usually confined to a few toxic teachings that affect the applications and effectiveness of the perspective.  In fact, a simple wrong substitute might have caused the whole problem.

Many of us were brought up in an atmosphere of fear and shame.  Sometimes it came from our parents.  Sometimes it came from school or the community.  Sometimes it was just the lie in our own hearts.  We learned that condemnation was normal and deserved, even if we didn’t like it and tried to reject it.  We learned little about real love, because whatever love we experienced was bound up by conditions and expectations.

What little we learn of the fundamental lie and the evil one who promotes it is that it stems from fear and pride, an unwillingness to rest in the provision and love of God.  If I were to risk simplifying the lie, I would suggest: “I can and I should do it myself.”  That lie has been cultivated into our humanity for all of history and is an integral part of our world.  It should not surprise us when we see it everywhere, nor when we learn that we have been affected by it.  Our parents lived in it as did their parents.  The world’s thinking and most of the thinking of the church has been affected by it.  The lie is everywhere.  From Eve to the Antichrist, the lie has permeated our world.

So it also should not surprise us that we would naturally gravitate toward teachers and churches where the lie was just under the surface.  We hate the lie.  We hate feeling insecure and inadequate.  Yet, those feelings are so familiar.  It is difficult for us to accept teaching and influence that doesn’t have something of those feelings for us.  But we don’t want it on the surface, at least not at first.  We want to hear about love and acceptance, but we subconsciously look for performance and shame.

But that was the lie.  Now we have discovered the truth!  The lie was substituted for love.  Shame and performance are not part of the good news.  God loves us and sent His Son to be our hope.  He has provided all that we need “for life and godliness.”  What the Father has done for us in Jesus is enough.  We are not condemned and no longer need to live in fear, shame, and inadequacy.  Jesus is our hope, our righteousness, our life.  The truth has set us free.

And now what?  Now we go back to the building blocks of our faith and learn again.  This time we will be watching more carefully.  This time we know that the soy sauce smells and tastes different from the vanilla.  We know that the lie will damage everything, so we will avoid it by prayer and wisdom.  We will see that the Lord has invited us into a relationship because He loves us and He will give us all that we need for that relationship to be a lasting reality in our lives.  We will remember His love for us and how it defines everything of our faith and lives.

Yes, it will be tempting to stay away from the faith altogether.  My heart grieves for those who have tasted the recipe that included the lie.  Now that they have spit out the vile thing they don’t want to taste anything that looks like it.  We understand and sympathize.  We have some of the same feelings.  We will be much more sensitive to the taste in the future.

Much like we would if we were baking the new batch of cookies, we will remind ourselves of the former error.  We will be telling ourselves to avoid the lie.  We will speak words of affirmation and truth along the way.  We will tell ourselves and others about the love of God, the forgiveness of sin, the freedom of our relationship with Jesus, and the assurance of His faithfulness.

And if we smell the lie again, even in something we have accepted, we will search for it and get rid of it.  We will denounce it over and over until it no longer affects our thinking.  Then we will rest in the knowledge that the Lord has been with us and has guided us into the truth we need to experience His love and the joy of our salvation.

All that needs to go is the lie.

I would love to read your comments!


Filed under Freedom, grace, Legalism, Relationship

Good Works? pt 2

(We are making the move back to CO and the office, school, church, etc.  Please enjoy these posts from the archives.  You are welcome to comment as usual and I will respond on the other side.)

The question I received asked about Ephesians 2:10, the verse just after a wonderful assurance of God’s grace where Paul says that we were “created for good works.”  Doesn’t God expect us to be out doing good works now that we are saved by Him?

What about good works?

What a great question!  It seems obvious that “good works” are important to the Lord.  No respectable teacher of grace would dismiss the call to good works.  However, there are a few things to understand.

First, the verse you mentioned helps us to understand the order of things.

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

“Created in Christ Jesus” is a reference only to those who are believers.  In Christ we are new creation.  So this has nothing to do with becoming saved.  These good works come after salvation and have nothing to do with getting us saved.  You are right about that. Titus 3:5 says much the same thing.  There are many verses that support this.

However, there are at least four more points that should be noted.

1.  The Scriptures speak of two kinds of “good works”.  There are those we perform by human effort; the ones we do.  Then there are those performed by the strength and will of the Lord, whether in us or not.  It will be important to discern the difference as you read.  One is of little value; the other is everything.  I will try to note the difference by referring to “our good works” and “His good works”.  Understand, however, that both may look like they come from us.

Paul seems to separate the two by calling one “works” and the other “grace”, at least when he is teaching about the difference.  Interestingly, he says that it is the works system that is set up against grace.  When Paul thinks of the law, he is thinking of a system of our good works.  He makes a strong case that these works, this human effort or performance, are contrary to grace.  Our works lead us to expect spiritual blessing from God as a wage (Romans 4:4).  Thus, if our good works were counted, our spiritual blessings would no longer be of grace (Romans 11:6), and we would be entitled to our boasting.  So there is a difference between the works we do in the strength of our flesh and the works God does in and through us.

Point 2 is next…


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Good Works pt 6

This set of posts began with a question about God’s call to good works.  Misunderstanding this call has caused a great deal of frustration and wasted energy for God’s people.  No doubt many good things have been accomplished, but many of those who have accomplished these good things have suffered needlessly.  I close with some thoughts on the blessing of God’s rest.

Over the years I have heard many people try to explain what part of the Christian life is His and what part is ours.  I would say simply that my whole Christian life is His part and my part is just to be with Him.  As I say that, though, I realize that this is probably the most difficult thing for any of us to accept.  Our Christian training was so full of what we were supposed to do for the Lord that we just “know” that some measurement will be based on our performance.  Our “interpretation grid” has been set on one thing and it is a real challenge to be open to anything else. 

So let me end with a question.  Have you ever found that rest Jesus promised?  It is no surprise that few Christians understand this passage for the life we live today.  Yet, this is the promise Jesus has for you.

28Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  29Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  30For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”   Matthew 11:28 – 30 (NKJV)

 Here’s a great benediction from Hebrews.  Notice Who does the work:

 20Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant,  21make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.   Hebrews 13:20 – 21 (NKJV)


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Good Works pt 5

The question I received asked about Ephesians 2:10, the verse just after a wonderful assurance of God’s grace where Paul says that we were “created for good works.”  Doesn’t God expect us to be out doing good works now that we are saved by Him?

4.  His good works, seen in and through our lives, flow out of our relationship with the Lord.   We are called to good works for the joy of participating with Jesus; because they are a natural part of walking with Him; because they are the way He often chooses to show Himself to others.  There may be many reasons for us to pursue good works, but we are never to go out to do them on our own as some kind of gift to Him.

Because they are relationship-based, they can be hindered as that relationship is allowed to suffer.  In other words, we are called to keep ourselves ready and available (2 Timothy 2:20-21).  I think that means that we should seek Jesus and live in close relationship with Him.  There is no question that good works are important in the Christian life.  They just don’t earn us anything.  Instead, they are the joy of walking with an active and giving God.

Also, because they are relationship-based, His works will reflect His heart.  I maintain that grace is the message of the whole Bible, that God never wanted His people to think that they could gain righteousness on their own.  That’s why I feel free to look at Old Testament passages like Micah 6:8.

He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?  Micah 6:8 (NKJV)

Of course we will “do justly” and “love mercy” because these are the concerns of God’s heart.  If we “walk humbly” in relationship with our God, these things will be part of our lives.  He will lead us into them and perform them through us.  Does He require these things of us?  Well, not to be saved or to be spiritual.  He expects them simply because, if He is in us, they will happen.

So, our good works will not bring us salvation, will not keep us saved, and will not add to the righteousness God has given us.  Any good works seen in us are actually the evidence of God at work in us.  Good works (His) will be seen in us as part of our relationship with Him.

Conclusion is next…


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