Faith at work in the Church
Is the Church working? Why was Paul so concerned?
The Church is the mystery of the Bible. Never did the devoted expect that the message of God, originally given to the Jews, would be available to the entire world. Yet, this was mentioned by God as a part of the Abrahamic Covenant. In His covenant with Abraham, God promised that He would make Abraham great, that He would provide for a land and a nation, and that He would make Abraham’s descendants to be a great blessing.
Above that, God made the following proclamation:
“I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen 12:3)
Indeed, God the entire world will be blessed through the seed of Abraham. The seed was Jesus, the Christ—our Lord. And the blessing to the world would be manifest through the Church.
But questions arise and they must be answered. How does the world view the Church? Are we presenting a testimony to the world that glorifies God? After all, our purpose in this world is to live our lives to the glory of God.
So, is the Church working? There are some funny stories about the “goings on” in churches; the result is usually tragic. I recall a story about a church that was active and growing. They grew to the point of going into a building program. The rub began when two distinct positions developed regarding the color of the carpet. Now, both sides agreed the carpet should be blue. The problem was the specific hue of blue. No decision could be made, so they decided to use both hues—one hue on the left and the other on the right. As human nature goes, people ended up selecting a side. Soon these sides formed coalitions and they often stood against one-another. The love was gone and the church faltered and eventually shut down altogether. This is tragic. Did this situation give glory to God?
Paul was concerned about situations such as this. Paul wanted a unified body of believers living in God’s love and reflecting that love to the world. In Phil 2:1-4 we read:
“Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”
Our purpose is to live our lives to the glory of God. In Romans 14:1—15:7 we are given six principles regarding faith, as it should be working in the Church. Let me give a summary of each of these.
Principle 1: The levels of faith (Rom 14:1—5)
The Church consists of individuals exercising their personal faith. Real difference in faith exist. Some are strong; some are weak. It is a matter of liberty. Those who lack liberty (represented by the weak in this passage) are unable to exercise more liberty…they cannot do it. Those with liberty tend to despise or belittle while those who lack liberty while those who lack liberty tend to judge.
Paul uses two examples: eating and special days (Sabbath). Some can eat anything (meat) others are not free to do so. Some choose a special day to celebrate and worship and others don’t.
Today, the issues might be quite different. They could include the color of carpet, the type of music used in worship, etc. It is a matter of liberty…the weak are unable to go further, to eat meat. The weak are powerless, incapable—the weak require the support of the strong (Acts 20:35).
People tend to be strong in one area and lack liberty regarding other issues. In doubtful issues, those are issues without Biblical decree, we must be convinced in our mind and not judge others.
Principle 2: The object of faith (Rom 14:6-9)
Our faith must always be focused on the Lord. None of us lives to ourselves. We belong to the Lord. When we received Christ, we received Him as Savior and Lord. These are not separate events…they happened at the same time we believed in Him. Christ died for us, He rose again, and He is Lord. Since He is Lord, we must live to please Him.
To accept or receive someone else means that we should be hospitable toward—often to partake of food. Whom should you invite over for a meal? Are you in the habit of showing hospitality to others? “If then you count me as a partner, receive him as you would me.” (Philemon 17) Paul wanted Philemon to receive Onesimus as he would receive Paul. Indeed, Paul wanted Philemon to receive Onesimus as a brother in the faith and not as a run-away slave.
We should not live lives that do not honor our Lord. We should accept those who exercise their faith differently than us. Our lives should be directed by Him, not by people’s ideas or judgments.
All this because we are the Lord’s.
Principle 3: The accountability of faith (Rom 14:10-12)
Don’t others; rather be prepared to give an account before Christ (and to the world—1 Pet 3:15). Ours is not the job to judge one-another. Christ will judge. We shall all appear before Christ at His judgment seat.
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” (2 Cor 5:10)
This includes all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. All people will appear before God, either as a Christian after the Church is called home or at the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev 20:11-15).
At the believer’s judgment, our works in this life will be tested. We will not be called upon to give an account of our brother’s work—only our own. The outcome of our appearance before Christ will be either rewards (Rev 22:12) or loss of rewards.
Principle 4: The result of faith (Rom 14:13-21)
The outcome of our faith must be to build-up one-another. We do not accomplish this by judging others. Rather, we must resolve not to put an obstacle or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.
If we deliberately do something that makes our brother to stumble, we are not living according to the rule of love. In all things, we should pursue peace and we should work to edify others.
Don’t put the opposite of Christ in the way of others.
Principle 5: The conviction of faith (Rom 14:22-23)
Be certain of your faith because whatever is not done from faith is sin. Our convictions are born out of our faith in God’s word.
To build a complete faith in God, we must know His word and obey it. So, our personal Christian life is between our Lord and us—as individuals.
My responsibility is to make sure I am right with the Lord. Only then can I live by faith. Opinions are only those…opinions. My convictions must come from the true word of God—and that “rightly” interpreted.
Opinions are what we hold. Convictions are what hold us.
Principle 6: The motives of faith (Rom 15:1-7)
Ultimately, the Church must glorify God with one mind and one voice. Paul drives this point home in this passage:
We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.” For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God. (Rom 15:1–7)
The strong should bear the weakness of the immature to build them up in their faith. Therefore, our faith should lead us to receive one-another as Christ received us, to the glory of God.
Living in light of Christ’s return
How should I live in light of Christs return? Do I really believe this stuff? Do I really want to live a life of faith in Christ?
There seems to be so much to give up. What if the Bible is true and Christ will return and test my work? Shouldn’t this truth have some bearing on how I live my life? As I wait expectantly for Christ to return for His Church, how should I live? What does Christ expect from me?
Let’s quickly list ten principles for guidance regarding living a life of faith in expectation of Christ’s return.
- Don’t judge the work of others— “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.” (1 Cor 4:5) This seems very straightforward. Yet, this comes with a promise that we will receive our praise from God. But, this is also a warning that He will judge deeply into the counsels of the heart.
- Remember the Lord—“For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.” (1 Cor 11:26) We are living in a practice session. Every time we celebrate the Lord’s Table, we proclaim Christ’s death. In this way, we keep our eyes on Christ and not on ourselves. Even though we don’t take communion every day, we should remember Him every day.
- Respond to life spiritually—“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” (Col 3:1–4) Because Christ is returning, I must set my mind on things above and not worry about earthly matters. This doesn’t remove our responsibilities as we live in this place, but it does set our focus on what is eternal. Always commit your life for what is eternal.
- Relate to one-another in love—“And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you, so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.” (1 Thes 3:12–13) The Lord can cause our love toward one-another to increase and abound. This will led to our acceptance by God as blameless in holiness at the coming of our Lord.
- Recommit to the ministry—“I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (2 Tim 4:1–5) We are called to convince, rebuke, and exhort. But even more so, we must be watchful of the things of God. We must protect the true doctrine given to us by God in His Word.
- Encourage one-another—“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Heb 10:23–25) We must encourage one-another in an increasing manner as the Day approaches. We must refuse to neglect the Church or the assembling of the Church.
- Remain steadfast—“Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” (James 5:7–8) Our hearts must be established, i.e. stabilized. The day is at hand. We must patiently wait for that day.
- Purify yourself—“Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” (1 John 3:1–3) If you believe He is coming, you will be serious about your faith. If your hope is really in Him, you will purify yourself. That means you will make every effort to renounce sin and live a life of faith in the Lord. The time will come when we shall be like Him.
- Comfort one-another—“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.” (1 Thes 4:16–18) Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s and we shall be caught up together with Him in the clouds. Our love-ones who have gone on before us will be there; we will all be there. Could there be any words offering more comfort than these do?
- Reach the lost for Christ—“But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.” (Jude 20–23, NKJV) The Christian attitude is one of mercy towards the sinner, coupled with abhorrence of sin. Our faith in the Lord should drive us to such certainty of eternal damnation that we are compelled by the love of Christ to reach out to the most wretched sinners.
The take-home message
We must live out our faith so that we give glory to god. The way we live our lives does have an impact on the Church and ultimately the world. The works that I do should build up the body of Christ.
Therefore, your believe structure must guide the life you live. Put another way: If what you believe doesn’t affect the way you live then it doesn’t matter what you believe.
All to the glory of God.
What do you believe? How does your belief affect the way you live?