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Salvation: Two Equal and Opposite Errors and Why Getting Them Straight Matters

"You are saved by grace alone. But the faith which truly saves is not alone. It is always accompanied by evidence that that seed of faith has been put in you. The deeds of the flesh do not lead to salvation; but the deeds of faith should always be evidenced by those who believe."

Todd WagnerNov 8, 2009
Matthew 7:15-21

Messages In This Series (14)
The Lamb who Came is the Lion who is to Come: The Certainty of Christ's Return and Why it Matters
Todd WagnerDec 13, 2009
Fearfully Made for a Wonderful Purpose: Why You and Your Mission Matter (9 am service)
Nick VujicicDec 6, 2009
Fearfully Made for a Wonderful Purpose: Why You and Your Mission Matter (5:30 pm service)
Nick VujicicDec 6, 2009
Fearfully Made for a Wonderful Purpose: Why You and Your Mission Matter (11 am service)
Nick VujicicDec 6, 2009
Why it Matters that Eternal/Abundant Life Starts Now
Todd WagnerNov 29, 2009
The One Hope for You and for the World: Why it Matters that the Church is Healthy and Defined Correctly
Todd WagnerNov 22, 2009
The Person of the Holy Spirit: Understanding Who He is and Why That Matters
Todd WagnerNov 15, 2009
Salvation: Two Equal and Opposite Errors and Why Getting Them Straight Matters
Todd WagnerNov 8, 2009
Jesus: Who Do You Say He is and Why It Matters
Todd WagnerNov 1, 2009
Understanding Our Total Depravity and Why it Matters
Todd WagnerOct 25, 2009
The Image of God in Man and Why it Matters
Todd WagnerOct 18, 2009
The Character and Nature of God: Who He is and Why it Matters
Todd WagnerOct 11, 2009
Who Is the Trinity, and Why It Matters
Todd WagnerSep 27, 2009
The Truth About Truth: Where to Find it and Why it Matters
Todd WagnerSep 20, 2009

If you have not been here long, you don't know what we're up to, but if you've been here at all, you know we're in the middle of a little series called The Big XII. We're taking our love for football, love for all that happens in the fall, and using that as a little twist to talk about, "Do you want to know something that's really important?"

Here are 12 truths that if you compromise the impact and the application of these truths in any way, the implications for that, the effects on your life and the society which you lead and inform, are monumental. You don't want to trifle with these truths. You cannot call yourself a devoted follower of Christ, a biblical Christian, if in any way these truths are diminished in your life.

There's a reason we've gone about these the way we have, because they all build one on top of another. We talked about the very first truth…Truth is there, and it is knowable. If you don't believe it is, you're going to lead yourself and others around you into all kinds of chaos and ultimately make yourself slave to tyranny to solve that chaos. There is truth; it is knowable.

God is there, and he is not silent. God is great; God is good. Man has separated himself from God. As a result of that, we are diminished in our personage and in our intended glory. All of creation around us has been affected by that. The solution to that is not man doing his best to somehow re-achieve what he has lost. The solution to that is the great and good God himself, who comes into our perfect mess and gives a perfect provision to satisfy God's perfect justice and to express his perfect love.

What Jesus accomplished when he was here is what we're going to talk about tonight. Here is the great truth… If you trifle with this in any way, if you miss this to the right or to the left, you're going to have a real problem. The truth is…Salvation, a restored relationship with God, is accomplished by grace through faith alone. If you have a faith in that great and good God, that faith you are saved by alone is never alone.

If you don't understand these truths, then you're going to find yourself investing your life in five pillars, an eightfold path. You're going to find yourself in a works-based system. You're also going to find, when you gather this resume and submit it, that your resume is wanting because the one you are seeking to appease is not going to be pleased with your best effort, which is a flawed effort, because he is a perfect God.

You will find yourself exhausted, exasperated, constantly looking over your shoulder, and wondering what it takes to satisfy God. When asked the question, "Are you certain you are at peace with God? If you stand before him, how confident are you he would accept you?" you will never say, "I am perfectly confident."

I'll ask you, on a scale from one to ten, how sure are you you'll be accepted? You might really take a deep breath and go, "I think I'm an eight because I'm not as bad as a lot of other folks." You might try to take a humble stature and say, "I'm a six," but you won't give an answer God intends for you to give, which is, "I am absolutely certain I'm at peace with God." When folks ask me that question, "Todd, how sure are you you're going to go heaven?" I tell them. "Absolutely certain." They go, "Man, that is so arrogant. Who are you that you think God is satisfied with your life?"

I'm going to go, "I don't think God is satisfied with my life. I've acknowledged that my life could never satisfy God, but I know God is satisfied with the perfect provision of his Son. I have trusted in that provision. I've acknowledged my need for such provision. God has told me that in Christ he sees me as righteousness and blameless, so because I've placed my confidence in him and in his perfect provision, I am absolutely certain. It's not because of anything I have done."

If God did ask me the question, "Wagner, why should I let you into my heaven?" My answer would be, "You shouldn't. Except you said you would if I trusted in him who became sin on my behalf, that I might become the righteousness of God in him." I am not building a resume. I am responding in faith to what he has done for me.

Let me tell you a little story to kind of set this thing up. Most of us, when we think about grace and our need for it, think about others further down the righteousness chain from us and how desperately they need a Savior. The story goes about a pastor in, let's say, England. This pastor led a large church that was quite wealthy, and so it had several missional churches in the slum area, the inner-city area.

What happened is there were some pretty amazing stories of rescue and salvation in these missional churches. Every now and then the church would gather all together. The main mother church and then three or four of the missional churches would come and, as was their practice, share Communion together.

One day as that pastor was going down the line, as was their custom, to give Communion at a little rail in front, he noticed one of the leaders of his church, a man who was a justice, if you will, in their supreme court, was receiving Communion. He noticed right next to him was an ex-convict who had been saved through one of these missional churches. The pastor didn't even know if they noticed each other, but he went down.

As the pastor was walking home that day with his good friend the judge, the judge turned to the pastor and said, "Did you see today who I took Communion next to?" The pastor goes, "Yes, I did. I didn't realize you did." They walked a little bit further in silence. Then the judge said, "What a miracle of grace." The pastor said, "Oh, yes. What a marvelous miracle of grace that is." The judge listened to the way he said it, and he goes, "Let me ask you a question. Who do you think I'm talking about when I say, 'What a miracle of grace'?" He goes, "Well, the ex-convict, of course."

The judge said, "No. I'm talking about me. You see, that ex-con, when I was in a lower court, I personally sentenced him. I knew that man. I knew what his life was defined by, that he lived a life of thievery and burglary, that he was a stain on society and a curse to himself and his family. He was broken. He suffered under the judgment due him in society. He saw that his life led to imprisonment and lostness and pain. For him to cry out for help and mercy makes complete sense to me."

He said, "But I, since my earliest days, was taught to be a gentleman. I was taught that my word was to be my bond. I was trained in some of the finest schools. My parents always brought me to this church. I grew up in this church. At a young age, I began to receive Communion. What a miracle of God that he would make me aware of my need for grace and that there was nothing I could do in all my philanthropy, public service, and civic contribution that in any way appeased a holy God, that he could pierce through my pride and self-deception and show me I needed the broken body and shed blood of a Savior just like that convict. What a miracle of grace."

You see, gang, I want you to know something. At Watermark there are a number of guys who are ex-cons who are a part of our body. Many of them are becoming members, others who are just attending here. We're glad they're here. They are guys who have committed first-degree murder who are beginning to walk with Christ, guys who have committed all kinds of felonies and every kind of assault you can imagine. They are right here, and they are grateful.

They know God is mighty to save, but what a miracle of grace that some of you who haven't spent extended time in prison or who haven't been exposed in all the darkness of your hearts know you need a God who is mighty to save. You see, here is the truth. There are none of us in this room who do good. What do I mean by that? It doesn't mean everything we do is the fullest expression of evil. What I mean, again, is we are all depraved. We are deprived, there is a privation, in our hearts that keeps us from being pleasing to God.

I'm going to go back and read you, very quickly, a definition of total depravity. You need to understand this is you who I am talking about. This is your pastor. I will never have a resume I can turn in to God. This is what I said to you a couple of weeks ago. I want to show you how it builds, so you can be overwhelmed at the grace that is given to you.

Grace, by the way, is the Greek word charis. It's where we get the English word charity, except we get rid of the c sound an make it a soft ch. Charity is when you give somebody freely that which they don't deserve. Mercy is when you don't get what you do deserve. I want you to see we are all in need of getting what we could never earn and not getting what we have earned. Here is a good definition again of where we all come from. If it weren't for Christ, we would not have so great a salvation.

Total depravity is that sin has affected and infects all of what a human is, not just the body or mind or emotion, but every aspect of man's being. Our intellect is depraved. Our will is depraved. Our physical well-being is depraved. Our death is on us; it was not intended to be. Our physical well-being is depraved. Our conscience, our understanding, our vision, our love, our reason, our affections. They are all depraved. In other words, they are deprived of the fullness of glory they were originally created to have.

Therefore, we are unable to please God in any respect because God is only pleased by perfection. No part of man is perfect as a result of sin. When man said God is not great and God is not good, and they left God to define greatness and goodness on their own, in their own reason, in their own intellect, choosing to love what they love and pursue what they wanted to pursue, we became less than God created us to be.

When you leave true goodness to pursue other goodness, that goodness is compromised. It is not full anymore, so anything we do in our best efforts, you're going to find, isn't satisfying to God. So here we go. We lack good in ourselves, so when we are separated from God, we are unable to do anything that is perfectly and truly good. Although from our perspective, we are able to do things that appear good, to true goodness our righteous deeds are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64, verse 6).

It does not mean we are as wicked as wicked can be, or that we are continually and constantly committed to fully doing evil. It does mean that even the most altruistic act of man is flawed in its ability to justify us before God's perfect justice. It doesn't mean we are totally insensitive to goodness and wisdom, but it does mean our conscience, our goodness, and our reason have been corrupted and should not be trusted.

We are not basically pure with an inclination toward evil. We are flawed. We are flawed creatures in need of total recall and complete transformation. We need to be remade, not just reformed. We need to be crucified, not just brought back or curbed. We need to be given grace and mercy, not try and present to God a life of good works and merit.

This is what the Scriptures teach. The Scriptures teach that your good works don't satisfy God because they are not full of goodness and perfection. It is a depraved goodness. It is a weakened goodness. Even when you do your best, it is flawed. You are completely unable to be meritorious in your salvific effort before God, and yet God, being rich in mercy, has provided for you and me.

I want to show you from Titus, chapter 3, this little section of Scripture that talks about the fact that we once were foolish ourselves. In other words, we once left God, and we became disobedient, deceived. We were, as Titus 3:3 says, "…enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when the kindness of God…" Look at all these things that happened.

"The kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared." Verse 5: "He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life."

Gang, if you try and deviate from the biblical truth of Scripture, that man must be saved by grace through faith alone, you will be in a life of bondage to self-effort and self-deliverance that will never be accepted by a holy God. Your resume will be found wanting. This is why this little thing called the Romans Road takes these truths and bullets them home. Again, the Romans Road, to walk you through it, is a simple way to explain salvation to somebody.

Romans 3:23: "…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…" **In other words, because we have moved from God, we've adopted our own definition of goodness and righteousness. We depended upon our will, our reason, our intellect. We are less good than we should be, less glorious, and so we are offensive to God."…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…"**

What's the effect of that? When you separate yourself from goodness, from life, the wages of separation from life is death. That's what we've earned. "…but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 5:8 says, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."

He took what we intended for evil, our rebellion against him, and he revealed forgiveness, kindness, grace, love, and mercy, attributes of God we would never know. Even our rebellion has been a source of his revelation of goodness. His justice is shown. He can't just wink at our sin. He can't just take our best effort back. No. He is a perfect God, and so it takes a perfect sacrifice.

He revealed to us his perfect standard: the law. Even in the law he made a perfect provision for those who right away saw they could not accept the law. He put a sacrificial system to teach us there is a consequence to rebellion against God. It is life, and so innocent blood…pure lambs, pure bulls, pure goats, pure doves…were sacrificed to show us that innocent blood must be shed. Our blood is not innocent. We were saved by this blood sacrifice, but those sacrifices were continual. They never stopped, because there was never a perfect sacrifice that appeased the perfect God.

Then one day, the perfect Lamb came on the scene. He was introduced that way. The Lamb of God, pure and unblemished from the days of eternity, who can satisfy an eternal debt. That is why Jesus, unlike any high priest before him… A high priest never sat down in the Holy of Holies because the work there was never done.

There was a continual need for reminder of our sin and God's gracious provision, until the perfect sacrifice came. We sang it in the very first song today. When Jesus was done, he ascended into heaven. He was resurrected by God, and he sat down at the right hand of the Father. Why? Because it was finished. The perfect sacrifice came. God revealed his love for us, in that while were yet sinners, he sent the perfect sacrifice.

He tells us in Romans 10:9-10, "…that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses [agrees with God] , resulting in salvation." The Scripture says in Romans 5:1, "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." It says in Romans 8:1, "Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."

What would you do if you were the recipient of that kind of lavish mercy and love? The answer is you would respond with everything you had, if you understood that's what you've been given. You would surrender all, and you would follow him. That's what Romans 12:1 says. "Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present [your lives] your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is [the right response of worship given all he's done for you] your spiritual service of worship."

Now look. Here's the deal. The living part is easy. The holy part, not so easy. The problem with the living part, as one person well said, is living sacrifices often crawl off the altar. Can you relate to that? I've given my all. I said, "I stand, Lord, before you, surrendered." Yet this week, I crawled off the altar. I said, "I think I will worship a depraved sense of fatherhood. I will lead my family with intimidation and anger. When they exasperate me, I will let them know not to do it again." I crawled right off that altar of saying, "I will follow Jesus."

By the grace of God, when I realize that, I immediately repent, seek forgiveness, make amends, don't make excuses like, "You guys make me do that." No. Love is not provoked, is what I was reminded. I just had to say, "Whatever happened, I'm responsible for my choices in that moment, to not follow Christ and, therefore, not be a living and holy sacrifice as a lover as God intended me to be."

I am seeking to not be conformed to this world or to follow the patterns of my flesh, but to be transformed by the renewing of my mind, so that I might prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. That's the Romans Road. That's what God has for us. That's what he calls us into.

If you are here tonight and you don't have a firm understanding of your need for grace and the provision of grace made fully available in Christ, if you are building a resume or think you have to get your life together before you come to God, you will never be able to come. You will live racked with discouragement, anxiety, and uncertainty, not knowing if you've ever really made peace with God.

You define a cult by its understanding of the sufficiency of the blood of Jesus Christ, which is to say, you define a cult in a compromised faith system if you say that Jesus alone is not enough to provide for the need of man to be forgiven by God. If Christ isn't God, he wasn't perfect and, therefore, his sacrifice is not sufficient.

What a cult will do is diminish Christ so they can control you by telling you that you must follow their teachings and submit that resume and your obedience to those teachings, so you can be accepted by God if you're good enough and rightly associated with them. That is error. It will discourage you. It will lead you to bondage, and it offends God. If men can be saved by works, then Christ died needlessly. May it never be.

There are always two things people do because they don't understand this major truth. They, in effect, diminish the holiness of God, or they overestimate the goodness of man so the gap isn't that big. God can be appeased. He grades on a curve. Man can gain his way back. We can do better than others so God would accept us. This is what separates biblical Christianity from every other world system.

In a nutshell, we believe God teaches that religion is man's effort to work his way to God. It is what you do. But the Bible doesn't teach religion. The Bible calls you into relationship to celebrate what God has done, and to respond to that ocean of love by saying, "I accept your provision for me, who has been offensive to you and deserves death. That's all I deserve. It's all I have earned. Why you would love me and demonstrate your love for me, God, is a mystery I'll never get over, but I must accept. I see in this your glory, and I love you. I forsake my self-will and follow you."

There you have it. The fact that we are not constantly overwhelmed by that love suggests we don't understand our need, and we don't understand his provision. You are saved by grace through faith alone. It is necessary and alone able to satisfy God, but that faith which saves is never alone. You see, there has been another error.

That is folks who realize that once they come into a relationship with God, that he saves them by grace and works can't save, then they say, "Well, it really doesn't matter what you do on the backside or how you respond to Christ, as long as you acknowledge you need him as a Savior." That, my friends, is unbiblical and inconsistent. Let me read to you the words of Jesus. In Matthew, chapter 7, in verses 15 down through 21, he says:

"Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.

A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits." Now watch this. Verse 21: "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven…" Wow. "…but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter."

Let me say that to you again. This is Jesus. Just calling Jesus Lord, just walking into church, just singing a few great hymns, just saying, "Billy, I'm walking forward," just checking a box and saying, "I want to know more about a relationship with God through Jesus Christ," just praying a sinner's prayer and professing him with your lips, is not what makes you a Christ-follower.

You know what makes you a Christ-follower? You follow Christ. Now why would you follow Christ? Well, because you see him as Lord and Savior. You are saved by grace through faith alone, but the faith which saves is never alone. If you say, "Lord, Lord," but you never did the will of that Lord, he says, "Depart from me, for I never knew you."

Look. This seems to be a bit of a contradiction. If you think that's problematic, let me just let you read Galatians, chapter 2, verse 16. This is Paul. "Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law…" Nothing you do will ever make you right in God's eyes. "…but [you will be justified] through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified."

Why? Because the flesh is completely unable to keep the law. Even its best efforts are a depraved effort, and so it doesn't satisfy a holy God. You can only be justified through faith in Christ Jesus, but that faith in Christ Jesus (James, chapter 2, will tell us) is worthless unless it is informed by fruit. James, the half-brother of Jesus. Follow this with me.

A lot of people think James and Paul were at odds with one another, but you're going to find that what they are is they are friends who stand back-to-back, fighting a common enemy: Anybody who compromises the full intention of the gospel, the good news. Here we go. Look at verse 14. "What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?"

Here's what's going to be confusing as I go through James with you. When you read James and it's talking about works, he is not talking about works of faith. I'll say it to you this way. Deeds of the flesh don't save you. Paul and James were together on that, but Paul and James also shared a similar passion.

Deeds of faith that show God has, in fact, planted his truth, his Spirit, his salvation, and his life in you, have to be present in order for you to be an individual who has done more than just had a said faith and not a saving faith. This is really important. Your quality of life today… This is what Jesus says, "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." That is speaking both about eternal life in terms of quantity and eternal life in terms of quality.

Many of you ask me, "Todd, why am I not experiencing the abiding peace and fullness of joy of who Jesus is?" Answer: Because all you have done is assented intellectually to the idea that Jesus is a necessary provision for your sin, but you don't follow him. You have a said faith, not a saving faith. You have professed something that is true, but you don't possess a relationship with him. You say he's Lord, Lord, but you serve self, self and don't do the will of the Father. You bear the fruit of who it is you really worship, not what you circle as an answer on a quiz.

Here's the deal, gang. Biblical faith really is made up of three things. It's first of all informed by knowledge. Truth. Then you don't just take that knowledge, you go, "I agree that knowledge is truth. I would circle an answer on a test." But that isn't enough. Christ calls you to trust in that truth.

He calls you to actively allow that truth to inform every aspect of your life, not just answer a question. Not just agree to something, walk forward, and say, "He is Lord," but then to say, "He is Lord. I will follow him." Christ calls men to follow him, to believe he is the way, the truth, and the life. Question: How is a man saved? By following Jesus? No. By faith.

Let's go back to Paul real quick. Ephesians, chapter 2, verses 8 and 9: "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast." Look where Paul goes right after that. "For we are His [his masterpiece, his redeemed creation] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them." If we don't walk in them, then we are not in relationship with him.

Look at James. What James is arguing against is this. To a first-century Jew, who for his entire life tried to obtain righteousness through his own works, through his own effort, through circumcision, through festivals, worship, temple sacrifice, and all those different things and was a good Jew, Jesus came and said, "Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven."

Everybody threw their hands up and went, "Are you kidding me?" Jesus says, "No, I'm not kidding you because the best efforts of a Pharisee still fall short of perfection. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who realize they're bankrupt." Jesus calls them to understand their great need, but what happens is many of them abandoned the works of the flesh, acknowledged Jesus as Messiah, and then just said, "We are free now from religion." God said, "Rightly are you free from doing and from religion, but you are not free from following your Master."

You're not free in the sense that you say, "Now that I have said Jesus died for me, I can do whatever I want," because saying Jesus died for you is not what God is looking for. Trusting in him, asking that the relationship with him might be restored, is what God wants you to do. Acknowledge that you have left him, that you have redefined goodness and righteousness. You've redefined everything based on your own understanding, and it's brought pain, destruction, and death. God is saying, "Do you want to come back home?"

It's not enough to say, "Yep. Home is over there. Yep, that would be good if I went over there. Yep, if anybody wants to come back home, the Father through his grace has made a righteous sacrifice that would allow him to still be just and holy if he went back and expressed his love. I believe you can go back to the Father, and everybody should because there is life there. I need that life. I profess that if I went back, life would be there, but I'm still going to do what I want to do with the rest of the pigs." To them, James said, "No."

What James is writing against is the idea that there is no outworking of faith in your life. He said, "That kind of faith is no faith at all. That is just profession. See also my half-brother, Jesus. 'Depart from me. You knew of me, but you didn't know me.'" You are saved by grace through faith alone, but the faith which saves is not alone.

Now watch James. "If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,' and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works…" Again, not works of the law, but if it doesn't have an outworking of faith. "…is dead, being by itself."

Look at verse 19. "You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder." It's a demonic faith. The demons have knowledge and agreement that God is holy, but they don't have trust in him. Let me say this again. What Paul is talking about, primarily, is he is talking about the priority of faith in relationship to our being right with God, the priority of faith over works as a means of establishing relationship with God.

What James is writing against are those who don't understand there is proof if you really have faith. Now, gang, this is why the church is dead and ineffective. This is why many of you have professed something about God, but your life is still without joy, without abundance, and without freedom. You've said something about Jesus, but you have not followed him. It's messing up your everything. You are still separated from life.

If you trifle with this truth, if you try and earn acceptance through works, it's trouble. If you try and say, "Yep. You can't ever earn salvation. Just know it's there if you want it," and then don't follow that Savior, you cost yourself life. This is where the church has gone. Watch James. Verse 20: "But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?"

Again, let me say, he's talking here about if you have no works of faith. If your faith doesn't have outworking, if the roots of your faith are not embedded in truth and trust, it will never produce anything. It's dead faith. So, he goes and says, "Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working [was carried on to the end] with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected."

Look at this key verse, because what he does is he quotes from Genesis 15:6 here, the same place Paul quoted from in Romans 4:3. He says, "…ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS." Let me take you back to the story. "Abraham, I have given you the son of promise. I am God." "Here I am, Lord. What do you want?" "I want you to go, and I want you to offer the son of promise up as a sacrifice for me."

Then it says, because Abraham believed God, "Early the next morning…" First thing. No argument. He started marching up the hill with Isaac, as evidence he really did believe God. That works continued his faith. It says Abraham was saved, or declared righteous, by faith. We know that faith was there. Why? Because he walked up with Isaac.

As Isaac said, "Hey, dad, where is the ram for sacrifice?" he even said (here comes faith for you), "I don't know. God will provide it." I think Abraham thought if he had to eliminate his son, the God who promised his son would somehow take care of even Isaac's death. He'd bring him back to life. Abraham believed God, and so he continued where God told him to go, even if it did not make sense to him. He knew God was good. He was God, and Abraham was not.

Watch this. He's going to leave Abraham, and he's going to go somewhere else. He says you see also in the Scripture, in verse 25, "In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?"

What you have here is a woman who said, "I believe the God of the Jews is the real God, and not the god of this community of which I'm a part. I don't just say that. I'm going to show you that I want to count myself with you by letting out a scarlet thread to show you where I am. I'll hide you here as spies this night, and then I'll make provision for you to come. I will make a sign as an emblem of my faith so you can rescue me."

Now watch this. Here is James' point. Both the man and the woman, both the Jew and the Gentile, both the patriarch and the prostitute, both the godly and the godless, both the friend of God (is what Abraham is called) and the enemy of God, were made righteous by faith, a faith that worked itself out by following what he said as evidence that it was a true faith and not just a demonic profession or a delusion by somebody who would tell you, "Say this magic prayer. It doesn't really matter what you really believe."

What I want to do is give you two quick illustrations to wrap this up and drive this home. I'm making a case that if you're here and you're burdened by dead religion, to stop and to be filled with the wonder of his grace. Or if you are deluded by a dead faith that says something but doesn't act on that saying, and that belief is not activated in your life, you need to be spared from that. To trifle with that truth is to mess with your eternal, abundant, qualitative, quantitative life. You are saved by faith alone, but the faith which saves is not alone.

What we are trying to do is keep people from having one of two great and grievous errors. With my apology to Francis Chan who I got this balance beam illustration from, I can tell you that you could use it this way: It's like a fine tightrope of truth in Scripture. I want to read to you a quote from a guy named Alexander Ross, who talks about what James and Paul were really trying to do. He says, "They [James and Paul] are not antagonists facing each other with crossed swords; they stand back to back, confronting different foes of the gospel."

There's an error on this side, that you can save yourself by works, and there's an error on this side, that the deeds of faith are not important. This side says the deeds of flesh can save. That's error. You can't fall here. This side says the deeds of the faith don't need to be evident. That's error. Don't fall there. That's not why I have a balance beam up here. I have it because I want to show you guys the foolishness of how some of us might be living.

I want to share with you that what you're saying is, "Look, Jesus, I believe you are the narrow road. I am trusting in you." What Christ calls you to do is to walk with him and to let him be, in effect, your coach. A coach who should have you live your life in a way that, as you go through life, as scary as it is to be on the balance beam, folks should look at you like we look at the Nadia Comanecis of the world, the Mary Lou Rettons of the world, the Olga Korbuts. (Then you can see pretty much where my Olympics watching ran out.)

What you should do is like when I watch these gymnasts on this beam. I go, "Man, how do you do that? How do you live and flip with such exquisiteness, such amazing discipline, and stay on that narrow road?" There are some of us who kind of go, "You know what? I'm not going to follow my coach. I'm just going to be on this road."

You're going to go through, and this is going to be your routine. This is what you're going to do. You get up there, and you say, "This is the narrow road." You don't follow your coach. You don't listen to him. Then you kind of do this: "This is scary. I'm not sure I want to keep on this, but I'm up here with you." Then you kind of get down, and you just hunch down. You go, "Oh!" You just sit, and then you just kind of lie down. You go to sleep. You kind of hug the beam tight and feel really good about this Jesus.

The world looks at you, and they go, "That's not a very impressive routine." "Oh, but I'm a gymnast. I love my Jesus." They go, "You know, you look pretty useless to me up there. You look awkward in ways I don't want to really go into." Then some of us, you're going to be like this. You go, "I've got faith that this is how Jesus wants me to live up here on righteousness, while you guys are confused." Then all of a sudden, the Bible says, one day your routine is going to be over. This is where some of you are headed right now. You're going to get off, and you're going to come down.

You're going to stand before the judge. After doing that routine, you're going to salute. The judge is looking at you, and he's going, "I don't know what to do with that. I don't know how to score that. You got up there, and you just sat there. You just hugged it. There was no effort. There was no stunt. There was no following anything that was… You just grabbed it and stopped. I don't know what to score that."

Do you know what? Frankly, the people go, "If that's your gymnastic team, if that's what you're entering in the Olympics, what a shame to your country. What an embarrassment to your people, that you call that walking in life, that you call that something others would look at." When you see somebody who really walks on a balance beam, you marvel at it. You're filled with a sense of awe, a sense of wonder. You go, "Who are you that you can flip, that you can stay on that narrow path and do what no one else can do?" Even the Russian judge has to acknowledge that is a glorious life.

When all you do is say, "Well, I'm a gymnast because I go to a gym. I'm an expert on the balance beam because I get on the balance beam, and I just hold it." They look at you and go, "Oh, man, you are really deluded. You are an embarrassment to yourself and to the people you represent." You say, "But this is the balance beam. This is the straight and narrow way." They go, "That's not why you're on that straight and narrow way."

We all fall off of it, but we're in a community of friends saying, "Come on. Hop back up. It's okay." He says, "Every provision has been made for every mistake you'll ever make, but I'm going to train you to live, to flip, and to walk in a way that when you dismount over years of faithfulness, when you stand before your Savior and you give a salute, he is going to look at you, and he's going to say, 'Well done, good and faithful servant.'"

How many of us are right here on the beam, or think we're here, and we're just hugging onto a beam and calling ourselves a gymnast, waiting to dismount and say, "There we go, God. Aren't you impressed?" He's going to say, "I don't even know how to grade that. I don't know what to do with that. You said you represented me in the Olympics of life and, oh, that was a dead gymnast."

God calls you to trust him and to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Not to work for it, but to surround yourself with a community of saints, elders, and wise people who coach you, model for you, and help you. Falling off. Get back on. To live in such a way that the world says, "Who are these people who navigate life in that way, with such love, grace, mercy, kindness, gentleness, and self-control? They are separate from the rest of the world. Who is their coach?"

Our answer should be, "He is a great and good God. You can know him. He's the only one who can put you on the balance beam, and only God can teach you to go through life like this." If you're just hugging and holding, I would tell you that's not much of a routine. It's certainly not the expectation. Let me pray for you.

Father, I pray for my friends, that they would not trifle with this truth, that they would understand that to go to the left or to the right is going to lead to great error and delusion, but also to say they are mounted and to know that the deeds of the flesh can never appease you, that the deeds of flesh must have, in fact, some import and impact in their lives.

Father, I pray they'd stand, they'd begin to walk, they'd be coached, they'd surround themselves with a community of saints who can spur them on to begin to live their lives in a such a way that the world would look at them and go, "I have to acknowledge that. That is different. That is inspiring. There must be something divine at work there."

I pray this church, this people, this community, would live our lives in such a way that even the atheistic judge would have to marvel at what you're doing in our lives. May we represent you rightly as truth informs who we are. May we go and worship you this week. Amen.

Have a great week of worship.


About 'The Big XII'

"This series will cover twelve truths that if you don?t get exactly right, the ramifications and the impact on your life will be enormous. They matter today and eternally. If you want to call yourself an orthodox follower of Christ, these are truths that you cannot miss. These are twelve central, non-negotiable principles of theology and we will discuss what it means to embrace them, the alternatives to them, as well as the application of them. In other words, what it should look like when devoted, orthodox followers of Christ live them out." Todd Wagner