Sunday, 21st March, 1999
Scripture: Galatians 3:1-14
Have you ever heard two people arguing where one says: "It doesn't matter what you do. Your actions will not make any difference. It is what you believe that counts." While the other says "Well, belief is not going to save the starving children. It doesn't matter what you believe so long as you act in a helping manner. After all we have the same God and the same destiny." One places the emphasis upon saving faith while the other places the emphasis upon obedient action. It is one of the great arts of life to balance belief and behaviour. It is the emphasis Wesley Mission makes upon Word and Deed: both are necessary.
1. SOME CLAIM WHAT YOU DO COUNTS MOST.
Some say "All you need to do is to obey the ten commandments." They quote James 1:22 "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. ..27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." Only they emphasise helping others rather than keeping themselves from being polluted by the world.
So they throw themselves into charitable deeds and actions aimed at benefiting humanity. They are good humanitarians. They are among the better people we elect to parliament and admire in places of prominence. If only we had better people the world would be a good place, right? Wrong! Obeying the ten commandments or two hundred commandments or three hundred and sixty five commandments as the Pharisees did will not make you right with God or this world a good place.
It would give us a better community, and it would solve some crime, but it would not enable us to be right with God or ensure that this world would remain a better place. Human effort cannot change the hearts of people or sustain the level of effort that is required. But good, secular humanists can help the lives of many people. "Well", someone replies, "that is better than what we have now. Why bother with God if we can have a better community just by obeying a whole bunch of commandments? Why not make people obey the commandments?" That's the rub. You can have all the commandments and laws under the sun, and people will still break them. If people break them what difference does it make? Only when you are right with God do you have the inner power, motive and resolve to keep the laws and the commandments. Otherwise you end up with people guilty of disobeying the law.
The problem, existed in The Apostle Paul's day. Some people thought never being anti-social in any way and obeying the strict Commandments of God, would be all required of them by God. They said: "it is what you do that counts, not what you believe. Acts of charity count more than right motives. It does not matter what your motives or intentions are, so long as what you do helps others."
Hence helpful and loving actions were what was acceptable to God, not right belief. You have it among many people who want to be inclusive so they accept people who do good deeds, regardless of what they believe. You have it among those who discount faith and belief and point instead to a person's good deeds as if they alone matter.
2. OTHERS CLAIM WHAT YOU BELIEVE COUNTS MOST.
Others say you do not have to keep the commandments and obey the laws just as long as your heart is right, you are right with God. They quote Gal 2:16 "We know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified." They say God does not judge our deeds but our hearts. Hence what you do does not count, so long as you are sincere. Behaviour is your business. If you say you are Christian that is all that is necessary. Your behaviour is your affair.
There is a move these days to make the Uniting Church Basis of Union, simply an interesting document to be consulted. This movement also wants to make sure that the phrase "the Word of God" refers only to Jesus Christ, and to refrain from ever using the phrase "the Word of God" as applying to the Bible. It is true, that the primary meaning of the Word of God is the incarnate Word, the Word made flesh. But we cannot know the Living Word outside of the Written Word. There is nothing that we know about the Living Word that is not consistent with the Written Word.
At first glance this does not mean much. But the difference is tremendous. If the Written Word which reveals the Living Word is not the Word of God, it is then only a guide to belief and behaviour and is nether inspired nor authoritative in matter of faith and morals. Consequently people can say they believe in Jesus and behave anyhow.
If the Written Word is nether inspired not authoritative then behaviour does not have to be obedient to the Bible commands. Anyone then is able to believe what they will and behave how they like. This dualism in some modern theology separates belief from behaviour. It separates Jesus Christ from the Written Word, the primary witness to Him. Separate the Written Word from the Living Word and you can say "I believe in Jesus" and live an immoral life. Then the Bible is only a guide which may be consulted alongside insights of psychology, theology and your own faith story and experience.
That is how immoral church leaders still in positions of authority in the church, justify their behaviour. The authority is the individual, not the scriptures. You have it among those people who want to be inclusive and accepting of people who say they believe, regardless of how they behave.
Rev Deane Meatheringham of South Australia, says this problem of the interpretation and authority of scripture is central to the Uniting Church's problems. He writes: "God and His Word are one. We should not succumb to the dualistic heresy which tries to separate God from His Word. Liberals and Pentecostals begin their theology from experience. The gospel, on the other hand, begins with the transcendent God who is not an extension of our dreams, experiences or faith. God is not under our control, but makes Himself knowable and interprets Himself to us as God... When people separate the Holy Scriptures from Christ, they do not hear God's voice. The Bible becomes a set of propositions outside a living relationship with Christ. We now control the Bible." Is this not heresy?
3. THE BIBLE BALANCES BELIEF AND BEHAVIOUR.
Belief in Jesus Christ is the only basis for our salvation. Gal 3:1-6 "You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? 4 Have you suffered so much for nothing--if it really was for nothing? 5 Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?
There is the contrast. Are you made right with God by doing good deeds or by believing faith? Obviously we are made right with God by our faith. But having been saved, we must obey His command-ments. Jesus said, "If you love me, you will obey my commandments". He did not say, "If you love me you can live as you like."Jhn 15:10 Five times Jesus said: Jhn 14:15 "If you love me, you will obey what I command." Jhn 14:23 "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. Jhn 14:24 "He who does not love me will not obey my teaching." Jhn 15:10 "If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love." There is a great emphasis on believing faith for salvation and obedient behaviour as believers. We are called to believe in the Living Word and obey the Written Word. You cannot separate Christ from the Script-ures. Belief in Jesus Christ based upon experience and feelings alone is always without foundation, direction and correction from the Scriptures.
Rev Fred Nile was a guest on the TV program "Hypothetical" with the lawyer Geoffrey Robertson last Monday. Nile was placed next to a well know lesbian who claims her Christian belief enriches her immoral behaviour, not restricts it. Robertson asked Rev Nile if he thought it desirable for Australia to have a Christian Prime Minister. Of course he did. Well, retorted Robertson, what about this lesbian Christian for Prime Minister. Her example might make an additional 50,000 Christians. She might also influence 5000 people to become Lesbians. Would he like that? Nile was caught. But a Christian Prime Minister should balance beliefs and behaviour which is what Rev Nile wants not a Prime Minister who believes some Christian truths, but doesn't obey all the demands of scripture which is how the lesbian Christian behaves.
The Christians who lived in central modern-day Turkey, in an area known as Galatia, were arguing that obeying the rules alone was sufficient. Today many are arguing that believing is enough and obedience to the commandments is irrelevant. Paul wrote further to them: 6 "Consider Abraham: "He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." 7 Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. 8 The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: "All nations will be blessed through you." 9 So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith." All salvation is of trusting belief, and our behaviour must express our faith according to the Scriptures. We need a balance between belief and behaviour. We need both Word and Deed. By God's grace we are saved by faith for obedience.
The old hymn put it well:
"Trust and obey, for there is no other
I heard of an American tight rope walker who strung a strong cable between two high office towers. The lunch-time crowd gathered below strained their necks to watch him walk with his balancing pole between the buildings. Then he took a wheel barrow and placed it upon the cable. He asked some standing at the top of the building: "Do you believe I can wheel this barrow across the gap?" They all called out "Yes, we believe you can do it." Then he said: "Will someone hop in?" Everyone backed away. They trusted, but not enough to obey!
What about your life? Do you claim to have faith yet not obey Jesus Christ's commands in the Written Word? Do you obey His commands yet not believe? You need to balance belief and behaviour.
REFERENCES USED IN THIS SERMON:
STIRRING TIMES INSIDE THE UNITING CHURCH.
Auburn Report April 1998.
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