Preaching a Faith that Works
Inspire your church to be transformational agents in the world.
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Preaching can be a risky business. There are ample opportunities for those of us who preach to make a huge mess. Preaching is the art of talking to and about God in public. Imperfect people talking to and about a perfect God from an inspired and infallible book: risky!
"Why is it risky?" you may ask.
It is risky because we are the weak link in this scenario. God is perfect and so is the Word. Then there is us, the preachers, in all of our mistake-laden but redeemed glory. Once we add to the mix the congregation, who is also complicit in the need for Jesus to come and redeem, you have a recipe for some serious problems.
I often remind Crossroads Community Church (my family of faith in Vancouver, WA and Portland, OR) that there is a sermon I am attempting to preach and there is a sermon that they are hearing. Unfortunately, all too often, those messages are different. Why are they different? They are different because every hearer fills in the gaps with their own ideas, issues, thoughts, and agendas. That is why preaching can be so challenging.
One of the most challenging issues to preach with clarity is the issue of faith and works. We all are aware that the apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote many of his letters to focus on this most important biblical distinction. If it was of such importance to take up so much room in the New Testament, then we must make sure we not only preach these truths but also make sure we explain the nuances that are contained within them.
Salvation is by faith apart from works
The Good News, the gospel, is that salvation is by grace, through faith, and is apart from works. This is also the only hope for humanity. Let us proclaim that glorious truth with as much winsome passion as possible. This reality places Jesus center stage. We are saved because of Jesus' perfection. The work of the cross and the empty tomb were so perfect and complete that "it is finished." There is nothing that we add to the equation.
The Christian message is that Jesus is the perfect, sinless Lamb of God. He lived the life that we should have lived, a life we have failed to live. Because of his perfection, Jesus was able to die in our place. Because of Jesus' sinless nature, death could not keep him because he was not deserving of death. Jesus was resurrected, fully defeating the two great predicaments humanity finds itself bound by: sin and death.
Salvation comes when a person choses to identify their life with Jesus. When that happens, God sees that person robed in the righteousness of Jesus since Jesus shares his righteous with his own.
Writing those words causes me to stand in awe of the grace of God. As preachers, we must never tire or be dispassionate about proclaiming the glorious gospel of salvation by faith in Jesus that is apart from works. Salvation is God's free gift.
I tell preachers that if you fail to preach salvation apart from works then you actually missed the point of the text you are preaching. Maybe you did an amazing job explaining history, sociology, or psychology, but the only way to preach Christianity is to preach salvation in Jesus apart from works. That is the gospel.
Faith without works is dead
If the gospel is salvation separate from works, then what role do works actually play? I am glad you asked. God inspired James chapter two for a very good reason!
We have to remember always that faith without works is dead. What that means is that although a person is not saved by works (the works done have no salvific effect), works play a vital role in authenticating that a person is saved.
When Jesus redeems a person and places his Holy Spirit within them, people will live as Jesus lived; people will live self-sacrificially, loving and serving others. That is huge.
A truly saved person will live differently. They don't live differently to get saved. They live differently because they are saved. Do you see how important that distinction is? To preach a faith and works message obscures the glorious good news that salvation is apart from works. When we proclaim that works follow salvation as a fruit of salvation, then things change.
Salvation absolutely transforms a person's life in every conceivable way. If Jesus is Lord, then he is the Lord of a person holistically. That transformation will cause a person to live drastically different than they would outside of Christ.
Do you now see how James can say that faith without works is dead?
We preach faith that works
If the Christian gospel is not faith or works (because salvation is faith apart from works) or faith and works (because faith leads to works), then what is the gospel?
I believe that we want to preach faith that works!
Week by week our pulpits should be filled with the hopeful message that biblical faith works. Our salvation is a free gift but upon our reception of this gift, Jesus so radically transforms our lives that we begin to live differently. We begin to "simply respond to Jesus," as we say at Crossroads.
Jesus is inviting all of us to partner with him to transform everything. As we respond to his invitation, we begin to do the work of God's kingdom. We never think that we are doing the work so that God will accept us. We do these things because God has already accepted us in Christ. We respond to Jesus in immeasurable gratitude for so great a salvation.
If you want to see this faith that works on display, check out Ephesians 2:8-10. The passage says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." Paul clearly states that salvation is by grace, through faith, not of works. Then in verse 10 he tells us that we were created in Christ for good works that God prepared us for beforehand. That is faith that works.
I realize that there might seem to be a tension within these concepts, but when we embrace the biblical revelation in its fullness, we never have to favor any part of these nuances. We are called and equipped by the Spirit of God to proclaim a faith that works. We know that salvation is a free gift that is impossible to attain by any amount of works. We also know that faith without works is not a truly biblical faith, thus it is dead. But we see a faith that works.
When this truth is proclaimed in the assembly of believers, the church truly leaves the building, scattering into communities and the world in the name of Jesus as transformational agents. The church becomes truly unstoppable when it allow Jesus to lead it into a faith that works.
Daniel Fusco is the Lead Pastor of Crossroads Community Church in Vancouver, WA.