Are we Saved by Faith or Works, or a Faith That Works

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body. 2 Corinthians 5:10 NLT 

Early in my lay pastor ministry I was working one night with the district senior pastor when he received a call that an elderly lady in our church was dying. The senior pastor was mentoring me, and I  had learned a lot from him concerning solid Adventist biblical theology, especially about the cleansing of the sanctuary and the investigative judgment. I rode with him to the nursing home where Sweetie Mae was taking her last breaths. I watched as he held her hand and told her to rest in Jesus because He died for her and loved her. He asked if she loved Jesus, and she opened her eyes long enough to smile and then closed them for the last time. I had become good friends with this dear saint. I learned that over the years she had baked many goodies for the homeless, though she was most famous for her pies. She had given many Bible studies and taught Sabbath School. Yet as I watched the pastor take her hand as she was slipping away, he never once mentioned all the wonderful works she had performed. The only hope he gave her that night was that Jesus loved and died for her. Turned out that was all the hope she needed. She had just enough strength for one last smile when she heard the name of Jesus before falling asleep in His loving arms.

Sweetie Mae was saved by grace alone. Turns out not a single one of her pies contributed towards her salvation nor did any of the Bible studies or Sabbath school lessons she taught. Still it was because she was saved by grace alone that she had so much grace in her heart that made her want to bake all those pies and give all those Bible studies. You see grace-filled hearts perform grace-filled works.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.  Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Ephesians 2:8-10 NLT 

The good things we do don’t give us grace. Grace gives us the good things we do. Our good works – but maybe I should not call them “our good works.” Maybe I should call them the good works that Christ does through us – do not earn our salvation but, rather, are the fruits of our salvation. They are the evidence that we have received His grace. Grace-filled hearts perform grace-filled works.  2 Corinthians 5:10 tells us we will be judged by our actions. And Jesus tells us,  “Look, I am coming soon, bringing my reward with me to repay all people according to their deeds.’ Revelation 22:12 NLT

If we are saved by grace alone, why is Jesus judging and rewarding us according to our deeds? James can help us answer this question.

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing,  and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? James 2:14-16 NLT

So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone. James 2:24 NLT

Sweetie Mae was not baking pies and giving Bible studies so she could receive faith and grace. The faith and grace she had received motivated her to bake pies and give Bible studies. The good deeds God gave her were evidence that she was experiencing God’s grace.  The teachings of Jesus help us understand this point. 

“But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne.  All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left. Matthew 25:31-33 NLT 

Just like in Revelation 22:12 Jesus gives people their reward and separates the saved from the unsaved at His coming and not when each individual dies. The Bible clearly teaches that the dead rest in their graves until the resurrection. 

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. Matthew 25:34 NLT

What a comfort to know, during the investigative Judgment and the cleansing of the sanctuary, that Jesus has already prepared the kingdom for us from the creation of the world. It’s sad that many have a picture of Jesus judging us with skepticism. Jesus wants us in heaven! He has invited us! Surely he would not invite us if He did not want us all there! In the message to the church of Philadelphia Jesus p[resents an open door in heaven while His message to the church of Laodicea portrays our heart’s door which is closed. Heaven’s doors are wide open! It’s our heart’s door that needs to be opened. Here are more encouraging passages assuring us Jesus is preparing a place for us in His kingdom.

This truth gives them confidence that they have eternal life, which God—who does not lie—promised them before the world began. Titus 1:2 NLT

There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? John 14:2 NLT

Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. Ephesians 1:4 NLT 

Now I have heard it said that God only chose some to be saved at the beginning of the world but chose others to be lost. We will see in a while that God only intended for the devil and his angels to be lost. Again and again in Scripture we see that God is intending for us to be saved! 

For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ Matthew 25:35-36 NLT

After the invitation to His kingdom in Matt. 25:34 Jesus says why they are welcomed to enter in verses 35-36. Notice it is based on their actions. This coincides with what we read earlier in James 2. Our actions show where our faith is. Good actions are the fruit of grace. This has nothing to do with earning salvation by good works. Let’s continue…

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink?  Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing?  When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ Matthew 25:37-39 NLT

The righteous obviously were not doing these kind things in order to earn salvation. They were totally unaware that they were doing them directly for Jesus. They were just doing these things out of love without even thinking much less hoping for a reward. They are saved by grace alone just like my dear friend Sweetie Mae. Just like Sweetie Mae they were so filled with God’s grace that they all performed graceful deeds. 

“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’ Matthew 25:40 NLT 

The way we treat others shows how much we love God and appreciate His grace. At a Wintley Phipps concert I heard him say, “Our love for God is no greater than the love we have for the person on earth whom we care about the least.” Jesus teaches that the attitude we have towards the scum of humanity is the attitude we have towards Him. 

“Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. Matthew 25:41 NLT 

So does Jesus teach that He only chose a select few to be saved at the beginning of creation? No! He planned for everyone to be saved. He was preparing His kingdom for the entire world. While Jesus tells us He has gone to His Father’s house to prepare a place for us He teaches that the fire is prepared for the devil and his angels and no one else. Jesus tells those on His right that the kingdom was prepared for them, but He never told those on His left that hell was prepared for them. No! Hell is only prepared for the devil and his demons. All those on His left must have put up one massive fight against God’s grace in order to gain hell because it was never prepared or intended for them.

Do you know how hard it is to be lost? It takes a lot of work and effort. In order for you to be lost you have to fight, scratch and claw your way past the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit and every angel in heaven to get to hell. Heaven’s door is wide open, and Jesus says in John 12:32 that He is drawing all people to Him, but if we resist that love and fight hard enough against God’s grace, we can fight our way into hell, a place God never prepared or intended for us to be. 

For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’ “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’ “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’ Matthew 25:42-45 NLT

These never accepted God’s grace. How do I know? Because Jesus as well as James 2 teaches us that grace-filled hearts perform grace-filled works. This is why 2 Corinthians 5:10 says we will be judged by the things we do and Jesus says in Revelation 22:12 He will reward us according to our deeds. According to Ephesians 2:8-10, grace gives us good works. We don’t do good works in order to receive salvation. We are saved by grace so we can do good works. 

Galatians 5:6 speaks of a faith that works by live. I believe that’s the faith Sweetie Mar had. Sweetie Mae was so thankful for God’ amazing grace and loved Jesus so much she spent all of her health and strength baking for the homeless and giving Bible studies. As she lay dying the pastor held her hand and asked if she loved Jesus. With her last ounce of remaining strength she opened her eyes and smiled before slipping into her rest. Friend, do you love Jesus?

You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here.

I Don’t Follow Adventist Pastors. I Follow the Lamb.

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth. Acts 17:11 NLT 

In Revelation 22:8-9 John the revelator wanted to worship an angel.  What is interesting about this is John just warned the world against worshiping a man in Revelation 13. This just goes to show how easy it is for us to worship God’s created beings instead of God only. If John had to be reminded to only worship God we too need to be reminded not to worship and follow pastors. We must worship God and follow the Lamb. 

One morning last fall a former Adventist member on Facebook Messenger sent me a video of a former Adventist pastor who had left the church. My former Adventist friend thought that would “wake me up” to see that an Adventist pastor had studied his way out of the Adventist church. However it did not faze me at all. You see, I don’t follow Adventist pastors. So the fact that the video was by someone who was an ordained pastor of the Adventist church did not carry any weight with me. I follow the Bible and my conscience. So when an Adventist pastor leaves the Adventist church I am not going to follow him out of the church beings how I was never following him even when he was in the church. 

A few former Adventists have accused me of being Adventist just because I was born a 5th generation Adventist. Here are some things to consider. First I was not born a 5th generation Adventist. We are not born Adventist. We are not born anything. I decided on my own to become an Adventist. To say that I am an Adventist just because my parents and ancestors are Adventist is to ignore the fact that many in my same family are not Adventist. We all make our own choices regardless of the choices our parents made. As a matter of fact I do not know that my exact stand on every issue is the same as the stand my parents and grandparents had. We all have different ideas about Sabbath keeping just for starters. I don’t know that we are all in agreement about the 144,000 or exactly what our diet should be like. While we are all loyal Adventists if you put us all in the same Sabbath school class we would have some interesting disagreements and you may not realize we are related. That’s because we don’t follow our grandparents or each other. We follow the Bible. 

Another point to consider when former Adventist claim I am only an Adventist because I was born one is the fact that millions of first generation Adventists are joining our church family. You can’t say they are just Adventist because their families are Adventist because they are not. So to claim that I am just because I was born one is pretty much an attack on my intelligence. Its saying that while millions of first generation Adventists are smart enough to make their own choices I am not. Besides, this is all former Adventists making such accusations. If they could leave on their own free will don’t they think I can too? 

But I digress. From an early age I fell in love with the Bible. While many former Adventists attack Ellen White in an attempt to attack Adventism that does not faze me at all. In recent years I have not read all that much of Ellen White. Oh I believe she is inspired and has a message for our church. I lover her writings and believe was a prophet. I read her writings just not as much as my former Adventist friends think I do. I am not avoiding her writings as much as I just love reading the Bible! This is also why I am not into devotional books. I just love reading the Bible. During the quarantine while churches were closed I had a couple people ask me which Adventist pastors I was following on TV and social media. I was not following any of them. I was reading my Bible. I was actually saddened to find how many of my Adventist friends were watching 3ABN more instead of reading their Bibles more. 

In Genesis 2 God said if Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit they would die. In Genesis 3 the serpent simply says you will not die and for some reason that’s all it took to convince Eve. God’s Word against the serpent’s word and in Eve’s mind the serpent’s word trumped God’s Word. Why was Eve so easily convinced? Why so easily led astray? Paul gave Timothy a clue as to why people are so easily deceived. They want to be deceived. 

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear.  They will reject the truth and chase after myths. 2 Timothy 4:3-4 NLT 

Its always amazes me how I can study with someone in the Bible about the sanctity of the Sabbath and then they go to their Sunday pastor and without a lick of Scriptural evidence all he has to say is “It doesn’t matter” and they are convinced of the pastor’s word over God’s Word! Just as Eve was convinced by a simple lie “You won’t die.” 

It all boils down to this.

And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. Luke 9:23 KJV 

In the garden God taught Adam and Eve to deny themselves. Without one lick of evidence the serpent said they didn’t have to deny themselves. Without one lick of evidence Adam and Eve believed what they wanted to hear over what they knew was right. Today the Sabbath and Spirit of prophecy are under attack because like God in the garden, the Sabbath and Spirit of Prophecy both teach self denial. Mankind today does not like that teaching anymore than Adam and Eve did which is why mankind is so easily led astray. 

Yet I still have to practice self denial not because its taught by Ellen White or my favorite Adventist pastor. I practice self denial because the Bible teaches it.

I don’t follow Adventist pastors while they are in the church or out of the church. I follow the Bible. So when an Adventist pastor leaves the Adventist church it does not faze me. It does not make me question my Bible beliefs because Adventist pastors have nothing to do with my faith in God’s Word. During the quarantine while many were finding Adventist preachers on TV to follow I was reading my Bible. When former Adventist pastors are posting videos about why they left the church, by God’s grace I will just be studying my Bible. 

I don’t worship pastors in the church or who have left the church. I don’t follow pastors into the church or out of the church. I worship God alone and follow the Lamb.

You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here.

Trusting God’s Promises Alone

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

It is better to trust in the Lord Than to put confidence in princes. Psalm 118:9 NLT

When you read this week’s lesson on how Ahaz sought support from surrounding nations instead of God alone, did it remind you of times you trusted in people and they let you down? It did me. I almost hesitate to share this example with you because I am sure you have enough examples of your own! But because this is a blog post and I am expected to give examples I will share a couple.

I bought a used car at a car lot, and I was getting ready to drive away I told the salesman that I never thought to check the trunk to see if there was a spare tire and jack. The salesman grinned and assured me it was in there. So without checking, I drove away. Not a week later, while on the Interstate, I had a flat tire. As I pulled to the shoulder of the road I was patting myself on the back for making sure I had a spare and a tire jack. I opened up the trunk and saw the spare tire but no tire jack! I thought what am I going to do now? Before I could even call for help, it had already arrived. A friend who just happened to be passing by spotted me and pulled over in front of me. He had a tire jack. I was saved! Even though things worked out, I still went back to the car lot and gave the salesman an ear full. He apologized and gave me a tire jack out of the trunk of another car. I thought oh great now the same thing is going to happen to whoever buys this car. I don’t remember if I told the salesman to be sure and replace the jack in that car. Hopefully whoever bought that car actually looked in the trunk!  Through this experience,  I learned an important lesson. While man misled me and let me down, God still had my back. God caused a friend to pass by at exactly the right time.

A married couple I will call John and Jane were working with me in an Adventist conference many years ago. One of the conference leaders was not treating the employees fairly. When I went to confront the conference leader, John and Jane told me this conference leader was “The Lord’s anointed” and therefore could do no wrong. I knew better than that. We all make mistakes. None of us are perfect. The Bible also gives us plenty of examples of the Lord’s anointed still making mistakes and needing faithful Christian confrontation. 2 Samuel 12 gives us the example of Nathan confronting the Lord’s anointed. It was not a year later until this same conference leader seriously wounded John and Jane. Since their confidence was in the human leadership of the church, instead of God alone, they not only left their positions in the conference, but they left the church completely. Thankfully after a little over ten years God led them back to the church. Still they never would have left, if their confidence had been in God instead of man.

I think we all already know, but it bears repeating that the only way not to be disappointed by people is to never expect anything from them. A few years ago a church I had worked with a long time could no longer afford to keep me but still gave me a very generous severance check as a parting gift. Around that time a friend told me she was behind on her child’s tuition at the local church school and had no way to pay it. I decided since God was generous to me, I wanted to be generous as well. I went into the office to pay off my friend’s tuition bill. The school administrator asked if I wanted her to tell my friend who paid the bill. I thought for a second and then realized over the years many people have supported my ministry, and while some of them have come and gone, over time it was always God who was providing the support. I had learned to trust in God instead of specific individual contributors. I recognized that while God was using me this time to help my friend, that next time it may be someone else God uses. Therefore it was actually God who was supporting my friend and not me. I just happened to be the instrument He was using this time. I told the administrator not to tell who paid the bill. My friend needed to know that it came from God not from me. My friend needed to know she could trust in God and not that she could trust in me!

We all have heard people say after going through a trial, “No one helped me but God!” Well that is not necessarily throwing shade at their friends. It is very possible God did not cause anyone else to help because God did not need anyone else to help. Like a center fielder calling the left fielder off as he catches the ball by yelling “I got it!” God may be waving our friends off by yelling, “I’ve got it!” It’s not that the left fielder was unwilling to help. He just wasn’t needed. Likewise sometimes God wants us to know He is all we need. He is ultimately the one taking care of us. He loves us. The healthiest thing we can do is to not trust people or hold them accountable for our wellbeing. Let’s trust God alone and hold Him totally and entirely accountable for our well-being.