Every single religion on the earth, except one (Biblically sound Christianity) have one element in common: they believe one can be saved or that one can advance spiritually through works.
The reason for this is that except for Judaism and Christianity, every single religion on the earth was established by man.
God established Judaism and Christianity. He knows that it is only His works that really matter and that really accomplish anything eternal. Therefore, He never required that works in themselves would be necessary for our salvation.
Now, we know that the Law was given and generations of Jews tried to make themselves righteous by DOING things properly.
I was once in a Bible class and the teacher read the first part of this verse to us:
“Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound.” (Romans 5:20a)
I was astounded. I was SURE the man had misquoted that verse, so I hurriedly opened my Bible to it and read it. Sure enough, it said that!
I had to go deeper. I asked him, “Why would God, Who hates sin, give the Law knowing that the offense or sin would increase?”
The teacher had me read the rest of the verse and the next one.
“But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:20b-21)
Now, the Law wasn’t given just for this reason but, basically, his answer was that mankind needed to see that even when given a relatively easy set of rules to follow people could not follow them perfectly. They could not do works to save themselves.
We needed Jesus. Physical works could not save us.
James asks a rhetorical question dealing with this very idea:
“Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?” (James 2:21)
Then he answers his own question:
“You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,’ and he was called the friend of God.” (James 2:22-23)
So, we are to do works but not for salvation purposes. Our faith (our ever increasing dependency upon and trust in Jesus) is to operate WITH the things we do.
This was a basic tenet of the first century Church, yet, it has always amazed me to see that very few Christians seem to serve anyone else at all. Most of us have heard the statistic that 80% of the work in any congregation is done by 20% of the people.
My experience is that this seems to be fairly accurate.
Did you know that our King Jesus is described several times in Acts as “Servant Jesus”? In those verses He is described as His Father’s servant.
I believe He was to His core, a servant. Listen to Him describe Himself:
“…Jesus called them to Himself and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28)
I read that recently and I remembered a scene in the Gospels that brought me to tears.
“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.” (John 13:3-5)
Peter objected to this because he knew that the house servant whose job it was to wash feet was the lowliest servant in the house. When Peter objected Jesus rebuked him and he repented.
Then Jesus had more to say:
“So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.’” (John 13:12-15)
I cried as I remembered this and thought, “Jesus, the King of Glory, humbled Himself and served someone else.”
The week after I was born again, years ago, in a small congregation in Mandeville, LA a man came to that place and taught us Bible basics for a few days.
One thing that stuck with me was that Jesus was a servant and that, because He was a servant, I should serve others. Even back then in my spiritual immaturity I understood that since we Christians are like Jesus our normal way of functioning is to function like He did while He was on the earth. So, I began to constantly be on the alert for ways to serve other people.
I have ever since then tried to let serving others become a lifestyle for me.
James asks some interesting questions about works and faith in his epistle.
“What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? (James 2:14-16 - NASB)
Really…is there any benefit in doing that (besides getting the person in need out of our face so we don’t feel uncomfortable seeing the need anymore)?
“Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:17)
Holy Spirit, through James, thought we needed to “get” this. This is why he said it again in James 2:20 and 26. The word “dead” comes from the Greek “nekros” which, in turn comes from “nekus” which means “corpse”.
(That makes it sound much worse, doesn’t it?)
What does a corpse do that adds to anyone’s life?
Nothing. It simply decomposes.
“But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.’” (James 2:18)
Whenever I read this verse I think James wrote this because he had actually had this conversation. I’m willing to bet that someone who wanted to get to heaven through his works had said to James, “You have faith, and I have works” as if there were two ways to be saved.
James responded that faith in Jesus and works were not mutually exclusive things. His response was to say, “I will show you my faith by my works.” In other words, our faith (our enduring trust and dependency) in Jesus is revealed to the world through what we do to serve others.
We reveal Jesus to the world by loving others – just like He did while on the earth and does from heaven. This is one big reason serving others is so important.
“You believe that there is one God. You do well.” (James 2:19a)
Lots of people, Christians and lost people believe this fact.
What James says next is an interesting comment: “Even the demons believe—and tremble!” (James 2:19b)
Demons have the exact same belief that there is but one God as do Christians.
The point James is making is that simply agreeing with a fact just affects our mind and (mostly) our emotions. It is only when Christians CHOOSE to do something based on that fact, and then actually act on our belief, that our faith produces something enduring.
“But do you want to know, O foolish (vain or empty) man, that faith without works is dead?” (James 2:20)
Many sects in Christendom (and all Christian-imitating cults) stress works for salvation but it is really works that flow out of faith that express the life of God through our lives.
James goes on to use Abraham and, then, Rahab the harlot as examples of people who did things based on their faith. Their works “justified” them. This did not “save them” but it DID render them righteous in God’s eyes.
We have something neither of them had; our human spirits are ALIVE with Holy Spirit dwelling within us. What we refer to as “our faith” is quite literally the faith of Jesus in His Father working inside us.
When His faith working through us brings us to perform good works in His name His righteousness is accounted to us. Our bodies used to be dead without the Spirit. James uses this fact to make a point about works:
“For as the body without the Spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” (James 2:26)
So, as Jesus lives in us He will provoke us to do good works as He sees fit. This is, essentially, how God’s Kingdom is built within us and, through us, on the earth.
This dynamic is a threat to satan and his works. Therefore, he will counter by inspiring passivity in the hearts of Christians. THIS is why 80% of the work in the Body of Christ is done by only 20% of the people.
If you find yourself voluntarily sidelined in the Church you might ask the Lord if you have unwittingly obeyed satan’s temptations to be spiritually passive and, therefore, physically passive as well. We can always repent of things like this. Every day is a new day in which we can begin to develop a new habit in Christ.
Now, if we are active in serving, satan’s fallback plan is to tempt us to do so with “strings attached.”
When we serve with strings attached we expect to see something happen when we serve.
This can be something benevolent like having a specific result in mind that might benefit the person we serve. Or it might be more selfish, such as serving so we will be noticed, so we can market ourselves for our own benefit, or so that people will admire us, praise us, or thank us for our serving.
We will know if we have unconsciously attached strings to our serving by experiencing negative emotions (resentment, anger, jealousy, and so on) when what we intended to make happen fails to materialize.
If we attempt to serve with strings attached anyone can yank the other end of the strings.
Sometimes this happens when people merely forget to thank or praise us or neglect to tell us how things turned out after we served them. Sometimes our intended result will happen but we may never see it. Sometimes other people will see the string and just give it a yank for the fun of it.
At any rate, we will find ourselves agitated, frustrated or angry because we didn’t get our payoff. (This is true even if we were unaware that we had strings attached.)
The truth is that by doing things expecting something in return we actually place ourselves in bondage to other people and/or expectations.
When you were born again satan lost a lot of ground in your life but he always has a fallback position. Even though we are no longer a slave to sin and in bondage to the world he is always looking for ways to draw us back into bondage.
Speaking to the Galatians the Apostle Paul spoke to their own movement back into bondage when he said this:
“O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” (Galatians 3:1)
Later, speaking to them (and to us) as heirs of God Paul speaks to the reality that before we were born again we “were in bondage under the elements of the world.” (Galatians 4:3) Now that we are born again and, therefore sons of God we are “no longer slaves”. (Galatians 4:7)
Then Paul asks a chilling question:
“But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again?” (Galatians 4:9 - NASB)
I quote these verses for a purpose: to cause us to be wary of how easy it is for us to go back into bondage after being freed by Christ. Later in the letter to the Galatians Paul gives us this warning:
“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1 – NASB)
Why do Christians serve? We don’t serve to be saved by our works because human works can never save anyone. Likewise, we do not serve to benefit from those we serve. We simply serve because it is our “new normal” in Christ.
I would hope, then, that as we mature in Him we would imitate Christ and serve others, but I am also aware of some of the pitfalls to doing so (such as trying to serve with strings attached).
We are no longer slaves under the elements of the world. Let’s purpose in our hearts to serve freely like Jesus did and remain free.
“Freely you have received, freely give. (Matthew 10:8b)
If we serve like this we will experience many blessings that just seem to accompany serving and we will not fall into the bondage that inevitably comes with serving with strings attached.
I hope this has encouraged you in some way.
Since I freely received this word I give it every bit as freely in service to the Lord Jesus.