Listen to James: The Gospel of Works by Tullian Tchividjian
“He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly, who despises the gain of oppressions, who shakes his hands, lest they hold a bribe, who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed and shuts his eyes from looking on evil, he will dwell on the heights; his place of defense will be the fortresses of rocks; his bread will be given him; his water will be sure.” (Isaiah 33:15–16 ESV)
Faith far too often is mechanical, intellectual (only), theoretical. But the man who is transformed by God’s grace is truly different; faith moves from theoretical to a passionate pursuit. The kingdom of God is for these people, people who have been transformed. Grace laced people are transformed so that they walk righteously, speak truthfully, hate oppression, cheating & bribery, and oppose evil – even when it is sanctioned by the law. This man is near God, he is strong, secure, satiated. Has your heart been transformed by the grace of God or has your faith been something that you have only known in your head?
“And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way; even if they are fools, they shall not go astray. No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. And the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” (Isaiah 35:8–10 ESV)
God will provide a clearly marked highway for his sovereignly elected redeemed and ransomed people. This highway will be marked with a sign post called the “Way of Holiness.” This highway leads to the presence of God; there will be no threats or difficulties on this road. The redeemed will walk in gladness and joy; gone are sorrow and sighing, difficulty and hardship. This is the restoration of the rhythm & rest found in Eden – in High definition. This is when Jesus makes all things new, as they should be (Revelation 21:5).
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All religions are fundamentally based in human performance. The follower must pray often or correctly enough, be moral enough, have enough piety or zeal, give enough, sacrifice enough, love enough, serve enough and adhere to countless other requirements as prescribed by their religion. Regardless of whether this is a formalized religion or a far less structured religion; all religion is based on human performance in an attempt to earn heaven, acceptance, approval, or blessing from God (or gods). Some religions aren’t attempting to earn approval, but are only trying to keep their deity from raining down wrath from on high.
Therefore, it is no surprise that a large number of people, many who would profess to be Christians, bring this same orientation to Christianity. Many misunderstand Christianity, believing that it is founded on the same principles as every other religion – human performance and adherence to a code of conduct & morals. This is not true of Christianity. Christianity’s foundations are not built upon human performance, but God’s performance on our behalf (grace). Christianity requires that we do the one thing that we are all hardwired to hate: depend on something other than our own abilities. Christianity requires that we place our ultimate trust in something outside of ourselves – the performance & sacrifice of Christ. Christianity requires that we bring nothing to the table to barter with God, except for our failures and shortcomings (sin). Christianity requires a recognition that we have nothing to contribute – even our faith is not produced by our own effort. Christianity requires that we do that which is so counter-intuitive to is: abandon our own performance.
When Christians understand that there is nothing that they can do to earn God’s acceptance, they become liberated to joyfully live their lives with abandon and obedience. It was not our performance or ability that earned God’s acceptance in the first place and it is not our performance or ability that maintains God’s approval even after we are saved. Our approval & acceptance by God is earned by the performance of Christ, period. We do nothing to gain His approval – ever (not to earn salvation or to stay in His good graces after salvation). Our ability to perform and obey has nothing to do with God’s acceptance of us. The more we understand this, they more we will be moved to obey.
“For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”” (Isaiah 30:15 ESV)
“Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.” (Isaiah 30:18 ESV)
God calls His people to return, repent and rest in Him and He will provide for and protect them; their strength was to be found in quietness and trust in God (30:15). But the people were unwilling (v 16) and depended, instead, upon the perceived strength and power of their Egyptian protectors (v 16-17). So how does God respond? With wrath, with judgement, with His strong oppressive arm? No, God responds in unmerited favor – He responds with radical grace (v 18)! Don’t miss the fact that He is still a God of justice, but He has determined that He will extend mercy and grace. These rebellious, idolatrous, heard hearted people (sound familiar) were constantly rejecting the loving, protecting hand of their God in lieu of every idol that they could find and yet, God mercifully and patiently extends grace! The fact that the sovereign Creator of all things is merciful to any of His treasonous creatures is foreign to me, but it produces worship. It is, indeed, the kindness of God that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4).
“Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”” (John 8:47 ESV)
“but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock.” (John 10:26 ESV)
“For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”” (John 18:37 ESV)
“We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” (1 John 4:6 ESV)
These passages highlight a liberating truth. That truth is that God is the One that works in the hearts of men so that they can hear His words. The pressure to convert or convince is not ours to carry; carrying this pressure serves as poor motivation to labor faithfully, joyfully & dependently. We should work tirelessly, study faithfully and prepare diligently, but only those who are of God hear God’s words. What a relief! It doesn’t depend “on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” (Romans 9:16 ESV). Now, let’s go labor with all of our might because God just might allow us to play a part in His cosmic plan – not because He needs us, but because it glorifies Him to use such an incapable people as us and brings us profound joy in the process!