OUR RESPONSE TO GOD'S GIFT

OUR RESPONSE TO GOD’S GIFT Copyright Š 2006 Trumpet Ministries, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright Š 973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

There are verses in the New Testament that inform us salvation is a gift, there is nothing whatever we can do to earn it. There are other verses that tell us if we do not behave in a certain manner we will be cast into the outer darkness, or we will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

How do we reconcile this seeming contradiction?

It is a fact that God’s salvation always has been a gift which the recipients did not earn by their efforts. This was true of God’s dealings with Abraham. This was true of God’s election of the nation of Israel and of the giving of the Law to Moses. It is true of grace under the new covenant.

But in every case those who received or who now are receiving the gifts of God must respond in the manner God prescribes, whether in the written Word or in a personal word to them. Although the gift is unearned, if the prescribed response is not made accurately and diligently, the Divine gift does not profit the person or persons to whom it is presented.

OUR RESPONSE TO GOD’S GIFT

Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. (Romans 1:5)

"The obedience that comes from faith"!

There are verses in the New Testament that inform us salvation is a gift, there is nothing whatever we can do to earn it. There are other verses that tell us if we do not behave in a certain manner we will be cast into the outer darkness, or we will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

How do we reconcile this seeming contradiction?

The following are examples of apparently contradictory statements.

What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: "Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him." (Romans 4:1-8)

Pretty plain, isn’t it? It appears a man can continue in wicked behavior, and if he trusts God who justifies the wicked, then his faith is credited as righteousness. This is based on the fact that when God offered the gift of numerous children to Abraham, Abraham believed what God had promised, and therefore was credited with righteousness.

Is this all that the Scripture says on the subject?

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe—and shudder. You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. (James 14:26)

I would judge from the above that Pastor James was reacting against those who had been taught by Paul.

I do not believe there is any question that the Book of James is just as inspired by the Holy Spirit as is true of the Book of Romans. Perhaps most Christians would agree with me in this. But one seems to be contradicting the other.

"To the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness."

"Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead."

"The man who does not work but trusts God . . . his faith is credited as righteousness."

"Faith . . . not accompanied by action is dead."

Modern Christian teaching has seized on the first and ignores the second. The Holy Spirit has provided the necessary balance but we have ignored it—probably because of the difficult in reconciling the two positions. The result can be witnessed in our day by the fact that the average Christian believer does not understand what role righteous conduct plays in his salvation. It appears every person on earth, with the exception of Christians, understands what constitutes righteous behavior.

The American government is morally corrupt because of the confusion in the Christian churches concerning the relationship between godly behavior and salvation.

In the balance of this present essay I intend to show that both positions are equally of God and that the reconciling factor is our response. Salvation is a gift, but in order to profit from the gift we must respond correctly. By correctly I mean in the manner prescribed in the New Testament.

I hasten to add "in the manner prescribed in the New Testament" because the reader may believe he has responded correctly by believing and receiving the truth of the atonement and therefore is without blame before God forever.

However, this is not the prescribed way in which to receive the gift of salvation. We indeed have to believe and receive the truth of the atonement; but then, according to the New Testament, we have to deny ourselves, turn away from the world, take up our cross, and follow the Lord Jesus every day. In addition we have to follow the Holy Spirit as He guides us in crucifying our sinful nature that we might become a new creation in Christ, a new creation that bears the fruit of the moral Nature of Christ in Himself and in others.

We think our concept of the prescribed response satisfies both Paul and James. We are standing with Paul that salvation cannot be earned. We are standing with James that if our faith is to be alive it must produce action.

Are there other verses in which Paul repeats his insistence that we are made righteous by naked belief, not doing anything to earn our salvation? Yes, there are; but not nearly as many as there are exhortations to righteous conduct, found in the Gospels, in the Epistles, and in the Book of Revelation.

He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, (Titus 3:5)

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. (Ephesians 5:3-6)

I do not believe any of my readers would care to adopt Titus 3:5, written by the Apostle Paul, and then reject Ephesians 5:3-6, also written by the Apostle Paul.

But Titus seems to be claiming that we are saved apart from righteous behavior while Ephesians 5:3-6 seems to be stating if we behave wickedly we have no inheritance in the Kingdom of God.

Now some may claim one or the other is not addressed to Christians. I will not dwell on this objection because I think it is frivolous. Such an attitude would lead us into a chaotic interpretation of the Bible.

The issue I am raising is not merely academic. It makes a great difference in our Christian walk whether we believe there is no salvation apart from moral transformation—that if we continue in our sinful nature we are going to experience tragedy and suffering, now or in the Day of Christ, or in both instances.

I am stating in order to receive the benefit of the gift of salvation we must do what is commanded by Christ and His Apostles. We must take up our cross and follow Christ. We must present our body a living sacrifice. We must do all that is commanded in the New Testament. If we do not we will not be saved. This is what I am teaching.

I am stating further that if we, once having started on the way of righteousness, turn back, we are risking the loss of our salvation. No person who having put his hand to the plow then turns back is fit for the Kingdom of God. God said this.

It is a fact that God’s salvation always has been a gift which the recipients did not earn by their efforts. This was true of God’s dealings with Abraham. This was true of God’s election of the nation of Israel and of the giving of the Law to Moses. It is true of grace under the new covenant.

But in every case those who received or who now are receiving the gifts of God must respond in the manner God prescribes, whether in the written Word or in a personal word to them. Although the gift is unearned, if the prescribed response is not made accurately and diligently, the Divine gift does not profit the person or persons to whom it is presented.

Here are a few corollaries of the above:

(I realize my use of terms are not defined this precisely in the Bible, but they are presented here only for the purpose of clarity of thinking.)

Faith, or lack of faith, has to do with our attitude toward God. We believe in the existence of God, we love God, fear God, and trust that God is seeking our good, and want to please God; or else we do not.

Belief or unbelief is our acceptance or rejection of facts, such as the fact that Christ died to make an atonement for our sins and then was raised bodily from the dead.

Now, as regards the gift of God, what matters is our response. The correct response, the response that brings salvation, is prescribed in the New Testament, and sometimes in a directive from God given to us personally through the Holy Spirit. If we respond in the prescribed manner we receive salvation. This is obedience to God. If we do not respond in the prescribed manner, this is disobedience to God. We then do not receive the gift of God. It is "obedience that comes from faith" (Romans 1:5) that bring salvation to us.

Our response will be obedience if we believe in the existence of God, if we believe what God has said, if we love God, fear God, and trust that God is seeking our good, and want to please God.

Our response will be disobedience if we:

Do not believe in the existence of God.

Do not believe what God has said.

Do not love God, fear God, or trust that God is seeking our good.

Do not want to please God.

Are ignorant of what God has said or have been taught what is false.

Are apathetic or lukewarm toward life.

Are bound with sin to the extent we cannot respond in the prescribed manner.

The above is a kind of breakthrough in my understanding. I presented it yesterday morning in a pastoral sermon.

I have been thinking for years about the emphasis the Apostle Paul placed on the fact that righteousness comes by faith apart from works, and then the seeming contradiction presented by the bulk of the New Testament writings.

Paul stated clearly that putting our faith in Christ is comparable to Abraham believing the promise of God concerning his offspring. Both actions bring right standing with God apart from any effort on our part to earn right standing, other than believing what God has stated.

Paul stated just as clearly in several passages, as do the Gospel accounts and the epistles of the other Apostles, that those who continue in their sinful nature, not obeying the commands of Christ and His Apostles, will reap destruction.

We know there are no contradictions in God’s Word. So I have been searching for a simple way in which to reconcile the two fully scriptural positions.

I think the Holy Spirit is using the parable of the talents to clarify my thinking. This parable is full of meaning for the Christian.

Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. "Master," he said, "you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more." His master replied, "Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!" The man with the two talents also came. "Master," he said, "you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more." His master replied, "Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!" Then the man who had received the one talent came. "Master," he said, "I knew you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you." His master replied, "You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so when I returned I would have received it back with interest. Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matthew 25:14-30)

Let’s break this parable down and take a look at it.

Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. (Matthew 25:14)

It appears we are speaking here of the Lord Jesus Christ returning to the Father, and giving "his property," Kingdom gifts and abilities, to His followers.

Because Christian scholars cannot reconcile the New-Testament statements concerning the proper role of works in our salvation, they may insist that the parable of the talents could not possibly apply to Christians.

But think! If the parable of the talents does not apply to Christians, then we should cut it out of the New Testament. It is serving no purpose as far as we are concerned.

Then what other parts of the Gospels should we remove? The necessity for the born again experience? John 3:16? Abiding in the Vine? The other parables of the Kingdom? The Sermon on the Mount? The description of the coming of the Lord?

However, if the parable of the talents does apply to Christians, very serious problems arise concerning current Christian doctrine, as we shall see.

Notice that the talents were gifts. They were not earned. So it is that our salvation through Christ and our Kingdom abilities are not earned, they are given to us freely. Freely we have received and freely we are to give.

To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. (Matthew 25:15)

Here we see two facts. One is that every Christian is given a portion of the Kingdom of God. The second is that some believers have more ability than others and are entrusted with more Kingdom wealth than is true of other believers.

The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. (Matthew 25:16,17)

These two diligent servants got busy and invested their gifts. This would compare to a Christian praying, meditating in the Word, and then following the Holy Spirit into some form of Christian service. He is taking what he has been given and is helping build the Kingdom of God with it.

But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. (Matthew 25:18)

Here is a believer who has been given the gift of salvation, and then has buried it. He spends his life as seems good to him but neglects to seek the Lord diligently that he might discover God’s plan for his life. There are numerous Christians who do little more than make an affirmation of faith, believing this is how the righteous are to live—by belief in a theological position.

After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. (Matthew 25:19)

The above verse is of extreme importance! The common Christian belief is that when the Lord returns we will not be reproved, rather we will be touched with a magic wand and transformed into a mighty king destined to rule the universe with Christ. We may have been lazy and disobedient during our life on earth, but who cares? We are saved by grace. The Lord will make us warriors in the Kingdom when He returns.

There is not one passage of Scripture that tells us this. Rather, the emphasis of the Scripture is that the Lord will settle accounts when He returns. In that day we will reap what we have been sowing. What we have done and have become will be revealed. Those who have pleased the Lord will inherit eternal life. Those who buried their talent will be dealt with harshly.

I know what I am saying is not taught commonly. Nevertheless it is the truth of the Bible, and believers will ignore it only to discover in the end that it is what the Scriptures teach.

The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. "Master," he said, "you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more." (Matthew 25:20)

When we are diligent with the Kingdom wealth Jesus gives us it begins to multiply. We may begin by just attending church. But as we pray and wait on the Lord, asking for more of His Holy Spirit, asking for gifts and a ministry that we might build the Body of Christ, it is not long before an opportunity for service comes our way.

As we are diligent in the work of this new opportunity, praying, serving with all our might, a further opportunity will present itself. Try it and see if this is not so.

His master replied, "Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!" (Matthew 25:21)

As far as I know, the expression "Well done, good and faithful servant," which is employed frequently in Christian circles, is found only in the parable of the talents.

The reward for being faithful with a few things is to be put in charge of many things.

Sometimes we Christians simply do not understand why we have been called out of the world. It is that we might be a member of the royal priesthood.

The great majority of the people of the earth wander in confusion, not having a clue to the reason for their existence. Philosophers have speculated on the nature and purpose of man on the earth, but the philosophers change their opinions from one period of time to the next.

The only people on earth who can find their purpose for existence are the Christians. We are those whom God has called from the ranks of mankind that we may be trained as rulers. Then, when God raises the mass of mankind from the dead, we will be able to help those who are saved find the reason for their existence and be able to relate properly to God.

Once we are called as a saint, a holy one, we have no other calling. From that point forward we are to place the primary emphasis of our life on seeking the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. We are priests of God and He desires to conform us to the image of His Son. We know who we are, why we are experiencing what we are experiencing, and where we will go if we respond to the gift of salvation by obeying God. We know what our future will be for eternity.

Therefore our reward for faithfulness will be to be given a place of responsibility in the Kingdom of God. God loves the nations whom He has created and He is looking for those who will govern them righteously, wisely, and compassionately.

The God of Israel spoke, the Rock of Israel said to me: "When one rules over men in righteousness, when he rules in the fear of God, He is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning, like the brightness after rain that brings the grass from the earth." (II Samuel 23:3,4)

We Christians speak much of ruling with Christ. To rule with Christ is a gift. But if we do not respond by obeying God in every detail, that gift will be of no profit to us.

The man with the two talents also came. "Master," he said, "you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more." His master replied, "Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!" (Matthew 25:22,23)

Christ will be happy when He returns and receives rulership over the saved nations of the earth. We will share in that happiness provided we have responded correctly to our gift by putting it to good use.

We see right here the resolution of our seeming contradiction between faith and works. Right standing and salvation are an unearned gift given to us apart from our earning it. But we will be called to account when the Lord Jesus returns to see if we have diligently responded to the gift in the appropriate manner

Then the man who had received the one talent came. "Master," he said, "I knew you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. (Matthew 25:24)

Notice that the man with the one talent knew Christ is a hard man, a businessman, that He demands interest on His investment. I am afraid numerous Christians, because of unscriptural teaching, do not understand Christ is a hard man and requires interest on His investment.

So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you." (Matthew 25:25)

Although knowing his master would come and demand an accounting, this person went and buried his gift. So it is true that the fearful and timorous believers, because of their fear and timidity, are double-minded. They are inconsistent.

For example, when it is pointed out to them that the Christians who have suffered throughout history and yet are suffering have not been raptured into Heaven, they still coast along in the hope one day all of their troubles will be left behind as they, in their lukewarm state, fly upward to rule with Christ in Heaven.

It must be true that they are afraid to think! Why do they not say to themselves, "There is a lie in my right hand. A Christian is being slain every three minutes at this time, and yet I will be caught up at any moment so I will not have to suffer"?

Why can’t they see the inconsistency of their position?

The one-talent individual hands back to the Lord what he was given, knowing all the while that the Lord requires interest on His investment. So it is today that the believers hope to be raptured into the Presence of Christ. Yet the New Testament condemns their manner of life. They have never denied themselves. They have not turned away from the world. They are not following the Lamb each day. Yet they are hoping to be caught up into the Presence of Jesus. They must realize they are not living as a Christian should. They are too fearful or too unconcerned to examine their inconsistency and begin to do something about it. Just like the man with the one talent.

His master replied, "You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? (Matthew 25:26)

The message today is that no Christian need have any fear of the Judgment Seat of Christ. We are saved by grace, so even though we have not behaved as we should, we will pass through the Judgment Seat without harm.

This attitude comes from taking the few verses of Paul that reason with the Jews concerning looking up from the Law of Moses and receiving the righteousness of Christ, and ignoring the numerous New Testament passages that warn us against concluding that we do not have to respond correctly to the gift of God.

"You shall not surely die"! What a deadly message goes forth from the Christian pulpits of our day!

They keep saying to those who despise me, "The LORD says: ‘You will have peace.’" And to all who follow the stubbornness of their hearts they say, "No harm will come to you." (Jeremiah 23:17)

Israel has always had its share of false teachers and prophets.

"You wicked, lazy servant!"

"Ah, but no Christian would ever hear such a thing from His Lord!"

Why not, I ask you, why not? Whom is the Lord speaking to anyway? To some mythological creatures? He is speaking to His servants, both Jews and Gentiles. He is speaking to His elect, His royal priesthood.

If we have been wicked and lazy the Lord is not going to exclaim, "Well done, good and faithful servant"!

What nonsense is preached today?

Zion needs to wake up. The alarm of war is sounding and we are asleep. The coming days will be filled with spiritual oppression beyond our ability to cope, unless we really are dwelling in the secret place of the Most High.

The Lord condemned him with his own words: "You knew I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed."

This picture of Christ is just as true as that of the gentle Shepherd holding the little children in His lap. We Americans need to understand the Lord can be a stern king as quickly as a gentle shepherd.

He will demand interest when He returns, from me and from you. Will we be able to show a return on His investment in us?

Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so when I returned I would have received it back with interest. (Matthew 25:27)

He will demand an accounting when He comes. This is an excellent balance to the current overemphasis on the receiving of right standing apart from any works on our part.

Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. (Matthew 25:28)

Now here is a fearful thought. If we do not use the Kingdom abilities that have been given us, they will be taken from us. No doubt it would be distressing to experience the removal of that part of our personality that interacts with Christ. Yet, that precisely is what will take place if we are not faithful and diligent with what has been given to us so freely.

Notice that our portion is taken from us and given to the believer who has ten talents. Now he has eleven and we have none. He is rejoicing before the Lord and we are bereft of the little we had at one time.

For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. (Matthew 25:29)

The above seems unfair, but that is the way it is in the Kingdom of God. Those who demonstrate they can take the things of God and bring about an increase in what God desires will have abilities after abilities, wisdom after wisdom, authority after authority, power after power, heaped upon them. God is building a Kingdom and He is looking for able people who will accomplish what He is seeking.

As for the person who was given a little gift of Kingdom wealth (and no gift of the Kingdom is actually of little worth), even that portion will be removed and he or she will have nothing with which to serve the Master. Such a state is to be avoided at all costs. Don’t you agree?

And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matthew 25:30)

It appears the outer darkness, as recounted in the Gospels, is reserved for the Lord’s servants. Whether it is the same as Hell I do not know. Whether it is temporary or permanent I do not know. I have to teach only that which is specified in the Scriptures.

No doubt those in the outer darkness will be able to see in the distance the Lamb and His servants rejoicing in the light and glory of the Kingdom of God. Such love, peace, and joy as scarcely be imagined.

Being the type of fearful, timid, whining people that they are, those in the outer darkness will become filled with rage. They will weep in their frustration and gnash their teeth in anger. They are wicked, lazy, and worthless. The Lord has driven them from His Presence whether or not they have "accepted Christ." We need to understand this today!

Let us insure that we are not found among them. They are not pleasant to be with in the present world. They will not be pleasant to be with in the world to come.

In this brief essay we have attempted to reconcile Paul’s teaching of unearned righteousness with the tenor of the New Testament, which is the creation of a new person who reveals the moral image of Christ in his or her personality.

Both positions are the Word of God. Both are essential to the building of the Kingdom of God. The "unearned" position will lead to every evil work and an eternal spiritual babyhood if it is not balanced with the "prescribed response" position. The "prescribed response" position, if not properly balanced, can lead to the believer’s being beaten down by Satan as he accuses the believer of his sinful nature.

God knows what He is doing. The New Testament is inspired by the Lord—every word of it. All of it is necessary. When we favor one position over the other, and attempt to deduce truth from our axiom without giving full weight to the necessary balance set forth in the New Testament, we destroy the work of the Kingdom. This precisely is what has taken place in our day.