By Al Baker
But someone may well say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ (James 2:18)
With some fifty percent of Americans claiming to have had a born again experience, and with thirty percent saying they are evangelicals1 should we not expect a mighty societal impact resulting in a more just society, the abolition of abortion, the rejection of gay marriage, just to name a few things? And should we not also expect fewer divorces among us? Should we not expect our children to live out their profession, to walk in a manner worthy of their calling? Sadly this is not the case, which begs the question — why not?
Could it be, on the one hand, that we have an ill-informed faith in our country? By this I mean at least two things. First is unbiblical faith (any religion or philosophy outside the pale of Christianity) like Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, animism, or the enlightenment, Darwinian world view. And second is a heretical faith (any offshoot of Christianity that is anti-Trinitarian, that denies the hypostatic union2, and that denies the five solas of the Reformation3 like Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, or Roman Catholicism.4
And on the other hand we have an unreformed faith. I mean two things here as well. First, many evangelical churches are man-centred or Arminian, believing the fall into sin did not completely eradicate man’s ability to reason his way to God, or to have the ability to choose Christ on his own free will initiative. I suggest that a man-centred faith is an unreformed one that leads to shallowness and superficiality in ones’ understanding of what God has wrought in salvation. Are there exceptions to this? Of course there are, but this seems to be the rule. And then unreformed churches can in fact have a God-centered faith but regrettably this faith is often an empty one. That is, we know our doctrine, we glory in studying and reading it, in teaching it, but it seems not to transform us into humble, gracious, and kind people. I have known my share of those who are ‘Reformed and mad about it’ or who are ‘grace based and over-bearing with it.’
James and Paul, contrary to what Martin Luther thought, are not at odds with each other. Paul, writing Galatians around 49 to 51 A.D., was dealing with the Judaizers who claimed that the Gentiles in Galatia had to become Jewish to be saved. Paul comes down hard on this, saying that anyone who preaches a different gospel is anathema (Gal. 1:9). James, on the other hand, writing some ten years earlier, long before Paul is on the scene, is dealing with antinomianism (those opposed to or against the law of God, who believe they can go on sinning because they have God’s grace). Paul says that man is justified by faith alone, while James says faith that justifies never stands alone. Paul is all about the root of faith and James wants to see the fruit of faith. Paul is all about saving grace and James is against cheap grace. Paul says that there is no pre-conversion fruit that saves while James says there must be post-conversion fruit that proves we are saved.
Bottom line — our problem in the evangelical church comes down to this — true faith is a living faith that transforms mind, emotions, and will. True faith begins and ends in the heart (Ezek. 36:25-27). The prophet Ezekiel lays out the gospel paradigm we see developed in greater detail in the New Testament, namely regeneration (the heart of stone is replaced by a heart of flesh), justification (I will sprinkle clean water on you and you will be cleansed), and sanctification (I will put my Spirit within you so that you obey my commandments). To go further, living faith always transforms our mind, emotions, and will (Rom. 6:17). Paul says that we have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16), meaning that we begin to see the Triune God, the world, man, ourselves, and the eschaton (end times) from God’s perspective. And this living faith also transforms our emotions. With the Psalmist we consider God’s presence as the loveliest of all and we desire to be there at all times (Psa. 84). We thus are able to rejoice in the Lord no matter what happens (Phil. 4:4-5), to consider it all joy when we encounter various trials (James 1:2-4). Finally, this living faith transforms our wills. We are able and willing to give our bodies as living and holy sacrifices to God (Rom. 21:1-2).
And this true and living faith which James demands from us comes alive through the ministry of the Spirit. Paul commands us continually to be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18), comparing it with drunkenness. Now we know that an inebriated man thinks, talks, walks, feels differently. He is under the influence of a foreign substance. Likewise one who is filled with the Holy Spirit thinks, speaks, walks, and feels like God. I have also suggested earlier5 that the fullness of the Spirit is something worthy of our pursuit. Barnabas and Stephen had it (Acts 11:24, 6:5), and this fullness describes or characterizes these two men. It was a state of being, a way of life with them. We need the filling but we also desperately need the fullness of the Spirit. This is what makes our dead faith a live one. We see the fullness of the Spirit portrayed throughout the book of Acts and in the epistles where we are told to speak truth to one another (Eph. 4:15), to show mercy to others (Acts 11:29), and to share the gospel with the lost (Acts 8:1ff).
How do we get to the fullness of the Spirit? The filling of the Spirit is to the fullness of the Spirit as drunkenness is to alcoholism. A man drunk with wine is temporarily under the influence of alcohol which alters his thinking, speaking, walking, and feeling. The alcohol eventually leaves his body and he returns to normal. One can be filled with the Spirit in the same manner, but due to sinful rebellion, lose the Spirit’s influence. The alcoholic, on the other hand, is satiated with alcohol. He must drink. He is physically addicted to the alcohol and goes into withdrawals if he is denied it. Furthermore, his life is characterized or dominated by his addiction. He cannot be understood apart from it. And he must take a ‘nip’ every few hours. So no matter where he is – at work, in a meeting, on a trip – he finds a way to get a quick nip to keep him going. The more he drinks the more he craves another drink.
My dear friend, we gain the fullness of the Spirit – a life characterized by joy, boldness, and efficacy in ministry – when we crave the Spirit like an alcoholic craves another drink. How do we get there? As we drink more and more frequently of the Spirit (John 7:37-39, Isa. 55:1-3) then we crave him more and more. So, purpose to take a nip of the Spirit throughout the day. Come to see how desperate you are for his presence and power. Come to see the beauty of drinking deeply from the living water of Jesus that flows within you. As you do, then your life will increasingly be characterized by the fruit of the Spirit — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. This kind of true and living faith, that which James is calling us to, alone will transform us and make the societal impact we all long to see.
1. It is no longer easy to determine the definition of an evangelical but historically it has meant one who believes in the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, Jesus as the only way of salvation, heaven for those who believe on Christ and hell for those who do not.
2. From the Greek hupostasis, meaning substance or essence, that Jesus is of the same divine essence or substance as the Father and the Holy Spirit, though he also became human flesh. He is the God-Man. He has two natures, both divine and human. See the Desiring God website for a simple explanation of the topic, ‘What Is the Hypostatic Union?’, December 19, 2007.
3. Sola Scriptura (only Scripture is authoritative), Sola Fide (justified by faith alone), Sola Gratia (justified by the grace of God alone), Solus Christus (saved only by Christ), Soli Deo Gloria (all for the glory of God).
4. I am not putting Roman Catholicism on a par with Mormonism or the Jehovah Witnesses. I have many Roman Catholic friends who have saving faith, but we still ought to realize that the five solas of the Reformation and the counter-reformation Council of Trent still remain at odds with one another after nearly five hundred years of controversy, that the Roman Catholic Church’s anathema on the Reformation still stands.
5. See my devotional entitled The Fullness of the Spirit, Desperately Needed, October 28, 2010 archived at www.christcpc.org.
Rev. Allen M Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.
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