Friday, July 1, 2011
Faith, Hope, Love, and Works
1 Cor. 13:13 And now abideth faith, hope, and love. These three. But the greatest of these is love.
What kind of works are most edifying to the Lord? This question has crossed my mind on more than one occasion. One of the hardest things I've been dealing with, as I have grown closer to the Lord, is this innate tendency I have to want to earn His love, which I know is not Scriptural, but for me, just seems to come so naturally.
I've pretty much spent my whole life trying to earn the love of those around me. I have always had issues with low self-esteem and personal insecurity. Truthfully, I never felt I was worth much, and deemed myself unworthy of anyone's love unless I earned it, which meant going out of my way to please people, and not being able to accept kindness without some feelings of obligation. I don't think it had as much to do with an ulterior motive on their part as it had to do with feeling unworthiness on mine.
For those of you who have struggled with this, you know the kind of frustration this creates...never being able to let anyone outgive you, and feeling guilty if they did, as if you were taking something that you were not entitled to. It was this weird mix of self-centeredness and self-loathing, with the focus being on myself, and how unworthy I felt.
Anyhow, this is a mindset that I have struggled with for so many years, that when I came to the Lord, I found it creeping into my own relationship with God. It's weird, because everyone knows that you can never outgive God -- emotionally, materially, or spiritually -- yet here I was, trying my hardest to win His love, in my futile attempts to do more and more to please Him. In a way, I was trying to earn His favour, and I found myself slipping subtly into a kind of works-based relationship...what could I do in my own efforts to please Him?
Eph. 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and not of yourselves. It is a gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.
I thought I knew that Scripture. I knew that my salvation did not depend upon my own works...that nothing I did could bring me closer to Heaven....but I just couldn't grasp the fact that I couldn't make God love me anymore, or any less, than He already does. This was such a hard concept for me, because I was so used to trying to earn the favour of people, and feeling so unworthy of their love. In essence, I was trying to please the Lord by my own efforts.....many of which were not done in the right spirit:
Rom. 8:8 So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Even though I loved God, the things that I was doing for Him...I was completely in the wrong spirit. I was trying to earn God's favour and love through a works-based salvation, rather than resting in Him, and allowing Him to work through me. It was such a struggle, because the more I would try to do, the more I realized how small my efforts were, compared to what He did for me on the cross.
So, then, what kind of works please God? So many of my efforts were fueled by the wrong motivation -- I was trying to earn God's love by doing things that I thought would please Him. Even my obedience was in the flesh, because I was trying to do it in my own strength, more out of fear than love...not fear of punishment, but fear that He somehow would love me less if I wasn't perfect.
The Bible says that no one can please God in the flesh, so obviously, works done in the Spirit are the only ones that please Him....but how do we know our works are being done in the Spirit? The apostle Paul describes the work of the Spirit in the verse that I initially quoted:
1 Cor. 13:13 And now abide faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love.
I have noticed that the Bible mentions all 3 of these in conjunction with our works – what we do for one another and our service to the Lord. Faith, hope, and love are qualities that are manifested through our actions – the things we do, and the way we treat others.
1 Thess. 1:3: Remembering without ceasing, your work of faith, labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father.
The Bible says that God will test each man’s work by fire, to see of what sort they are (1 Cor. 3:13). In different places, the Bible mentions all three – faith, hope, and love – as a motivating factor for the things we do in the Spirit.
(1) Works done in faith
Hebrews 11:6 tells us that without faith, it is impossible to please God. Verse 2 tells us that by faith, the elders obtained a good testimony. Faith without works is indeed dead, but works without faith are meaningless...so, what is faith?! Hebrews 11:6 explains the action of faith:
He who comes to God must believe that God is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
In both Hebrews and James, Abraham is held in high esteem as a man of faith. He was both justified and declared righteous because of his faith. In turn, that faith produced the works that justified him – but it wasn’t the actions themselves that justified him. He was justified because of the faith that inspired them.
James 20:21, 22 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by his works faith was made perfect?
The word perfect here indicates “to add to something that is not yet complete, in order to render a thing full.” Our works bring our faith to completion. When our actions spring forth from a heart of faith, they are pleasing to God. Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son because He had faith in God’s promise, that He would bless Isaac and make him a great nation. When our works done out of faith in God, and His promises, they are pleasing to God.
So, what are practical works of faith? One very practical example of this would be tithing. When we give to the Lord, and trust Him to provide all of our needs, this is a work of faith. The apostle Paul, in His second letter to the Corinthians, tells us not to give grudgingly, for God loves a cheerful giver. Giving of our finances, especially in times of hardship, is a work of faith.
When we are going through trials, it is easy to give into worry and discouragement. It is even more difficult to worship the Lord when we are going through very difficult circumstances. Even so, God’s word tells us to, and to do so is an act of faith. It is putting your trust in God, and glorifying Him, believing in His promise to “never leave us nor forsake us.” Abraham obeyed God, and because of that obedience, God declared him righteous – in right standing with God.
James 20:22 says that his faith was working together with his works. His faith was a working faith, which produced works. When our lives produce these works, they are acceptable to God. Works of faith are produced when we believe on the promises of God, and act on this belief.
(2) Works done in hope
Paul, in Titus 2:13, urges us to live righteously, “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.” Most people think of hope as a sort of wishful thinking, but the Bible defines it more as a kind of confident expectation. The Bible describes the manner of a life defined by hope:
Rom. 8:24, 25: For we were saved in this hope....but if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance
Hope is what gives us the will to persevere, in even in the midst of tribulations. Hope looks beyond our circumstances and looks toward the promises of God, which are unfailing and true.
Heb. 6:11, 12 And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
Hebrews 6:15 tells us that after Abraham patiently endured, that he obtained the promise given to him by God. Hope is what causes us to endure, to not grow weary in well-doing. Job is also held up as one who persevered in the midst of painful trial, because of his hope in the Lord (James 5:11).
James 5:7 talks about the farmer, who “waits for the precious fruit of the earth,” patiently, until the rain comes. Not only is the farmer confident that the rain will come, but labours in patient continuance. He labours BECAUSE he is expectant of the rain, and is hopeful. As Christians, we are to do the same. Works done in hope are works done in perseverance.
Romans 2:6 tells us that God gives eternal life to those “who by patient
continuance in doing good seek for glory, honour, and immortality,” and will render to each one according to our deeds. Because we possess that blessed hope, we persevere in the midst of trials. We remain faithful to God, and serve others, despite our circumstances. Hope is what caused the persecuted church to continue on in the faith, and why those who are threatened, even tortured, endure.
Works done in hope are works done in the face of persecution, tribulation, or hardship. When we are mocked and scorned because of our faith – when we stand up refuse to compromise, even if it means losing something like a promotion or social standing – when we boldly share our faith, even if it means ridicule from those we may love or respect – these are works done in hope. Our hope is in Christ. We know that God’s promises are true, and that He if we suffer for doing good, and reproached for the name of Christ, we are blessed (1 Peter 1:14).
Heb. 12:1, 2 Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
(3) Works done in love
Heb. 6:10 For God is not unjust to forget your work and labour of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister
1 Cor. 13:13 says that the greatest of these (faith, hope, and love) is love. Love is what defines us as Christians, and should define our works as well - love for Christ, and love for others. While faith and hope involve our relationship with Christ, love involves our relationship with others. James 2:14-16 gives us a practical example of these kinds of works:
If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?
Christ’s works were motivated by love. When we consider our Christian service, most of us think of charitable works. Of all three, these are probably the most tangible, as they are done on a human level. It is difficult to discern the level of a person’s faith, but not too difficult to discern the level of his/her love. Most of us can tell between a genuine act of love, or something contrived.
Hebrews 10:24 instructs us “to consider one another, in order to stir up love and good works.” That word “consider” means to “consider attentively, focus one’s mind upon.” We are to always be mindful of one another, and each other’s needs...in a spirit of love, because we are brothers and sisters in the Lord. The Bible describes these kinds of works, and gives several practical examples:
Rom. 12:10 Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another
Gal. 5:13 For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another
Rom. 13:8-10 Owe no one anything but to love one another, for he who loves one another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder”....are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilment of the law.
Love is kindly affection. It is serving one another. It is seeking the welfare of others, and putting their needs above ours. In 1 Corinthians 13, the apostle Paul lays out several examples of Godly and charitable acts, then explains that without love, they are all futile.
1 Cor. 13:3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing
No amount of sacrifice or humanitarian endeavours will profit us if there is not a spirit of love behind them. In 1 Cor. 12:31, Paul calls love “a more excellent way.” This is because all actions, all works, done in love are a fulfilment of the law. Galatians 5:13 tells us that we serve one another, through love, because we have been “called to liberty.” Our works are not to be done by constraint of the law, but by the Spirit of God working in us. It is His Spirit that equips us with the love necessary to do works of sacrifice, humility, and selflessness.
Because we love Christ, we also love one another, and it is Christ’s love working through us that enables us to love one another.
1 John 4:12 If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us.
Christ working in and through us enables us to love one another, and do works motivated by a spirit of love. The Bible teaches that because we love Christ, or rather, because He loves us (for it is God’s love in us that enables us to love Him), we love one another. It is our reaction to God’s continuous action of love in our lives.
Our love for Christ, and for one another, materializes in our works. We pray for and encourage one another. We reach out to others when they are hurting, and help them when they are in need.
1 John 3:17 But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?
In the second letter to the Corinthians, Paul tells the church that he is testing the sincerity of their love by the diligence of others – diligence in works which spring forth from a heart of love. Love manifests itself in works, and these kinds of works are pleasing to God.
Our works will be tested
1 Corinthians tells us that, in the end, every man’s work will be tested by fire, and the manner of each person’s work will become clear – “of what sort it is.” The word “sort” means manner, or quality. The fire will purify them, removing all dross, all impurities. Works that are done with impure motives will be burned up as hay, wood, and stubble. Those done in a manner pleasing to God – in a spirit of faith, hope, and love – will remain.
The works described here are not the same as works of righteousness, or rather, self-righteousness, that Paul refers to throughout the epistles. The kind of works that please God are those that come from pure motives, springing forth from sincerity and a right relationship with Him.
The Bible tells us that we are God's workmanship, created in Christ for good works (Eph. 2:10). So, then, the works that we do...they are the works of Christ that He does through us. Faith, hope, and love are character traits that signify the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.