A Christian’s Relationship with Sin

There is something fundamentally different between a Christian, and a non-Christian. Something that goes deep to the core of the person and changes them.

Everyone is born a sinner (Romans 3:23), which is someone who “transgresses against divine law” (Oxford Dictionary). This is the spiritual state that we are all born into. We are slaves to sin, spiritually dead. In this state we are only concerned with things of this world, the things of the flesh, and we are enemies of God.

“For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.” – ‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:7‬ ‭ESV‬‬

While we are still sinners, while still being enemies of God, we are offered this wonderful gift of salvation. But do we really know what that means?

We have many in our culture who call themselves Christians because they go to church, give tithes, and try to live a good life, according to our cultural standards. But is that all there is to being a Christian? Is it nothing but us trying to live a good life, and to live up to some religious obligations and moral code?

A Christian is more than that. At that moment of forgiveness we are not simply forgiven of our sins but that dead, and rotting sin nature within us is made alive and set free from sin. This is a very real change that makes a Christian something new from that moment on.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” – ‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭5:17‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

This change within us completely changes our relationship to sin. No longer are we slaves to sin, but we are set free from that sinful nature. Instead of being proud of our sin and eager to hold onto and justify those sins that we enjoy, now we are disgusted by sin. We see it for what it truly is and we try our best to get rid of it from our life. Not out of some moral obligation but because we truly want nothing to do with it.

It is this relationship to sin that sets Christians apart from sinners.

“You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.” – ‭‭1 John‬ ‭3:5-6‬ ‭ESV‬‬

No, this isn’t saying that a Christian doesn’t ever sin. Pay close attention to the phrasing, particularly the words “abides” and “keeps on”. “Keeps on” in reference to sin, and “abides”, which has a similar but deeper meaning, in reference to following God. (We will be discussing this deeper in an upcoming article.) 1 John says the same thing but using a different word. Can you pick it out?

“Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” – ‭‭1 John‬ ‭3:7-10‬ ‭ESV‬‬

In this passage the word Practice stands out and it is an important part of what is being said.

prac·tice

ˈpraktəs/

noun

1. the actual application or use of an idea, belief, or method as opposed to theories about such application or use.

2. repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it.

verb

1. perform (an activity) or exercise (a skill) repeatedly or regularly in order to improve or maintain one’s proficiency.

2. carry out or perform (a particular activity, method, or custom) habitually or regularly.

(Oxford Dictionary)

To practice something, is to “keep on” doing it. Habitually, regularly, repeatedly.

“Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” – ‭‭John‬ ‭8:34‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Before we are a Christian we are a slave to sin and we continue to do it. Usually we have a moral code that we come up with where the things we enjoy doing are seen as okay, and the things we don’t like are seen as the line that nobody should cross. We do have a few things we see within ourselves that we try to change to make us better people, according to some cultural standard, but we have this whole list of things that God says is a sin that we justify and try to make ourselves happy to live with. We practice those sins, not realizing that we are a slave to it. Trapped in a way that makes it impossible to escape, if we even wanted to.

And then we became a Christian, and all of that changed.

“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,” – ‭‭Titus‬ ‭3:3-5‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Not only have we been regenerated, changed to the core, but we have the Holy Spirit within us. These things are not just some fanciful wishful thinking to sound spiritual and religious. These are very real changes.

“How can we who died to sin still live in it? … We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. … So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.” – ‭‭Romans‬ ‭6:2, 6, 11-13‬ ‭ESV‬‬

A Christian is someone who has been awakened to the war that we have with sin and we no longer want to hide it or justify it, we want to get rid of it!

“You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” – ‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:9-10‬ ‭ESV‬‬

This is the battle. Flesh versus spirit. Paul shows this struggle in Romans 7.

“For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” – ‭‭Romans‬ ‭7:14-19‬ ‭ESV‬‬

This is the process of justification, the process of God working in us to get rid of the sin within us to make us holy, as God is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16). This is the struggle. We are not perfect and will never be perfect while in these bodies, but by the grace of God we do have a real chance against the flesh nature of our bodies so that the life of a Christian is no longer marked by a practice of sin, but by a practice of righteousness and holines. We may stumble from time to time, but our walk is one of righteousness.

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” – ‭‭1 John‬ ‭1:5-10‬ ‭ESV‬‬

This passage sums up the struggle well, going back and forth to say that we are not perfect, but we have been cleansed, forgiven, made new. We no longer walk in darkness.

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” – ‭‭1 John‬ ‭2:1-6‬ ‭ESV‬‬

This is the life of the Christian. Not one of boasting and bragging about how good we are, because we know that on our own we are filthy sin filled creatures. But we boast in Jesus Christ, because by His mercy and grace, we have been cleansed and made new. Not by our own works, but entirely by His work within us.

“But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” – ‭‭Galatians‬ ‭6:14‬ ‭ESV‬‬

This is why Christians try our best to live righteously. Not out of some religious obligation, but because sin disgusts us and we want nothing to do with it. Because God is holy and we want fellowship with Him.

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – ‭‭Romans‬ ‭12:1-2‬ ‭ESV‬‬

When a Christian tells a non-Christian that they are a sinner and need repentance, it isn’t because Christians think they are better than others. It is because we truly care about people and want them to know this freedom from being a slave to sin. We want them to know God and His loving kindness and forgiveness.

A Christian doesn’t walk around in shiny white robes, pointing out every spot and blemish on others clothing and telling them they had better clean themselves up. A Christian is someone who knows how dirty and awful their own sin is, and wants to share about the God who, despite our filth, gave us new clothes and washed us and called us sons and daughters. We just want to share with you that you too can be washed clean and set free. Not because of me, or anything I can do, or because I’m better than you, because I’m not. But because of God. He is the one to be praised for this awesome gift.

Sinner, I beg you, let go of those shackles you are holding on to trying to justify and accept your sin. It’s killing you, weighing you down, and you can never free yourself. But the one with the key stands ready to help any who lift up their hands and ask for forgiveness.

He died to get that key that will free you.

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” – ‭‭Galatians‬ ‭5:1‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – ‭‭Romans‬ ‭6:23‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Is Christianity a blind faith?

Many non-Christians love to point out how Christianity is nothing but a “blind faith”. They say that because God cannot be seen, heard, or touched, we cannot ever know for sure that He exists. Since there is a lack of physical evidence of God, then any rational minded person would never believe in God and, therefore, we just blindly believe what we were told.

Websters defines blind faith as:

belief without true understanding, perception, or discrimination

A common way that it is defined is to say that someone believes in something without any evidence. You believe because you are told, and that’s it.

So I have given this subject a lot of thought because it’s important. If God is real, and He interacts with us like the Bible says (i.e. Jesus, the cross), then there should be evidence somewhere that He exists. Or do I believe everything that I believe simply out of blind faith?

After thinking about it for a while, I realized that there are a few things I believe in blindly.

Heaven, for one, is something I have a blind faith in. I have absolutely no proof that heaven exists. It doesn’t affect my life, I can’t reach down and touch the streets of gold and I don’t know anybody who has been there and come back to tell me about it. But I believe in heaven because the Bible says it is true. I do realize the weakness of that argument, so I must continue my search. Is everything I believe about Christianity just blind faith?

Then I thought about angels. There are stories all throughout the Bible about angels. Angels that fight behind the scenes, and even ones that appear to man. But I have never seen an angel, nor have I ever interacted with one. And as they are not part of the natural world you really can’t test for them. So I realized I also blindly believe that angels exist.

But the single most important factor of Christianity to consider is God. Everything hinges around Him. If He doesn’t exist, then my faith is completely worthless and I’m wasting my life on this Earth.

So the question: Do I blindly believe in God?

I have never seen him, never felt Him physically. I have never heard his voice or seen His hand write on my wall. So at first I would say that I do believe in him blindly.

But then I thought about my wife. Do I only believe my wife exists because I see and hear her? Or is there something deeper?

I can’t see God like I can see my wife, but even if I were blind and could never see her I would know she is there. It’s the same with any of the physical senses. I don’t need to hear or feel her to know that she is in my life. I can see the impact that her presence has on me, both in how it changes me and how it changes my environment.

And it’s the same with God.

How, exactly, has God affected my life in such a way that I know He exists? The biggest reason is how God has changed me to be more like Him, which is completely contradictory to my own nature.

There have been times in my life where I have been hurt and betrayed in terrible ways. I was hurt so badly that I swore I would never forgive them. I would even get pleasure from thinking of harm being done to them. This, is me. This is my heart. You hurt me and I couldn’t care less what happens to you.

But that isn’t the heart of God. And as I follow God, He changes me.

If you are not a Christian it is almost impossible for you to understand or believe the change that I’m talking about. I’m not talking about religious change that comes from me trying to follow a book. I didn’t read in the Bible that we need to completely and utterly forgive people and then try my best to forgive these people that harmed me. I wasn’t trying to be a “good” Christian because I read some laws and did my best to follow them.

No, as I seek God and draw closer to Him, He changes me. A change that is very real, and can be explained by nothing other than supernatural power. A change so complete that I’m brought to my knees instantly knowing that I did wrong, and not just knowing what I had to try to do to forgive these people, but instantly I had the ability to forgive them. My heart was changed and it could only happen because of God.

But it goes beyond just a changed heart. I managed to get through high school without falling into any major temptation that is common among teenagers. Not just that, I managed to get through high school without falling into any temptation that I wanted to fall into.

I can promise that I didn’t avoid drinking, drugs, and being intimate with a girl because I had a wanted to be a good little kid. Don’t get me wrong, I did want to be a good kid, but those desires quickly get overruled when you face peer pressure or when a cute girl starts making obvious passes at you.

As I have grown older I have seen how much pain is caused by giving in to such temptations, and I’m so thankful that God gave me the strength to withstand those temptations. Because I know my heart and I know that in my own power, I’m not strong enough to resist temptation.

Pornography is such a problem in our culture today that over 70% of men and 30% of women confess to viewing pornography. Over 43% of all Internet use is for pornography, with related subjects being the most searched for terms on Google and other browsers. [1] [2]

These issues plague not only our culture but our core humanity, and we give in. Because it’s so easy, it’s pleasurable, and because we are increasingly being told that there is nothing wrong with it. In some places that I have worked pornography is talked about openly and it is fully accepted that “everyone does it”. To not partake makes you the weird one.

Yet, by God’s power alone, I have been able to escape these traps or avoid them altogether. Not by human power because someone gave me a list of rules to follow.

I have prayed to God for guidance and seen Him answer prayers. I have seen how God had healed my sister, who had burns all over her body to the point where the doctor cancelled the skin graft operation, after our pastor prayed over her. I have seen friends obsessed with sex in high school turn their lives over to God and their heart became completely transformed. I have seen 2 Corinthians 5:17 in action.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭5‬:‭17‬ NKJV)

And there is even more real evidence of God in my life. I have felt God’s love. I have had my heart broken for things that God’s heart breaks over. I have felt the presence of God when going through tough times. Feelings that are not of me, that don’t exist in my own heart apart from God.

These things are real, not just the attempts of a mere man trying to follow religion and do all of the right things. I know my heart, I know what I’m capable of. And I praise God that He doesn’t just write me off as a lost cause but that He, the maker of the universe, cares about me and helps me. He changes me.

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 ‭2‬:‭10‬ NLT)

So no, there is no way you could ever convince me that God is not real. My faith in Him is not blind.  Because God changes lives.

But you have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you… (‭1 John‬ ‭2‬:‭27‬ NLT)

Do you have a story to share about how you KNOW that God is real? I want to hear about it.

Do you really believe?

What we believe, as Christians is crucial.  Faith is what salvation and our relationship with Christ are based on, and faith has everything to do with what we really believe.

So I ask you, do you really believe that what you believe is really real?

And Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD counted him as righteous because of his faith.  (Genesis 15:6)

Do you really believe in the gospel message, or do you just acknowledge it without having faith in it?  Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between the two.

We can demonstrate the difference between faith and belief with a chair.  You can look at a chair and say you believe that if you sit in the chair it will hold your weight, but you do not really have faith in it unless you go over and sit in the chair.  Only then do you display that you have faith the chair will hold you.

That is a decent analogy, but how exactly does it apply to our faith?  I sit my butt in a pew at church every Sunday, isn’t that showing that I have faith?

My favorite analogy is that of two guys getting onto an airplane.  Both are greeted by a flight attendant addresses them with a smile on her face saying “there is a high probability that this plane will crash during this flight.  You will want these parachutes.”  (At this point I would be getting off the plane personally, but these guys are tough, they can handle the risk.)

So they get on the plane, but only one guy puts on the parachute.  He isn’t scared at all, not hanging on for dear life, he just put on the parachute and went about his business.  The other guy just tossed the parachute in the back of the plane and went about his business.

Now I ask you, which of these guys had actually believed the plane might crash?  The guy who put on the parachute, right?  How do you know he had faith?  It is because of his actions; he acted according to what he believed.

So how do we apply this to our Christian faith? By our actions.  You can tell one who has faith because he acts like it.

Actions of faith

Faith saves us, but only faith that produce actions.

So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”(James 2:17)

Avoid Sin!

The number one action that shows a person really believes in God is how they live their life; a life of righteousness.

Sin is serious, but we tend to down play, to make it seem like it is really nothing.  To us it may be nothing if we lie, cheat, watch pornography, are a homosexual, have sex outside of marriage, or any other sin. To us, these may seem like nothing, but to God they are horrible!

We can see this all through the old testament.  Read the laws and you will see there are huge penalties (i.e. death) for sinning.  Why?  Because God really hates sin.

The New Testament still talks about how much God hates sin and demands we avoid it.  One passage we will look at is the book of 1 John.

God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. (1 John 1:5-6)

My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth. But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him. That is how we know we are living in him. Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did. (1 John 2:1,4-6)

These passages should make it clear, living for God means we will avoid sin.

Loving God

I really want to focus on verse five of the passage above. “But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him.” (1 John 2:5)

We do not avoid sin to gain salvation or impress God, but because we love Him.  I buy gifts for my wife from time to time, not to impress her or try to win her love, but I do it because I love her.  In the same way, we must live our lives absent of sin (as much as humanly possible at least, more on this in a minute).

To understand why this is an act of love towards God we need to understand more of what sin is, or more importantly who God is.

God is perfect, no darkness is in Him, no sin, no blemishes; everything about Him is absolutely perfect.  God is Holy, set apart.  And to sin is to do something contrary to His nature.  Sin is horrible.

Sin is an incredibly disgusting act in the sight of God that goes against His perfect holiness.  Even the best we can do, most righteous deeds, are nothing more than “filthy rags” to Him (Isaiah 64:6).  How much more filthy are our sinful deeds to Him?

Our sin also hurts God.

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)

Jesus was tortured, literally tortured, beaten, and killed, why? Because of our sin.  And you can honestly tell me that you want to choose to live in sin over living for God, and that God is okay with it?

One way we justify this is to separate the act of sin from the person committing the sin.  We say “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”  I think Leonard Ravenhill brings a fresh perspective to this topic.

“I don’t believe there is a man on the whole TV that preaches salvation. They preach forgiveness. Forgiveness is not salvation. … “Oh you know the Lord loves you just as you are.” Well then why get changed? Commit adultery as much as you like. He still loves you. Be a cheat, be a liar, be a thief, and be a failure. He still loves you. But there’s a scripture. Isn’t it the Psalms 7… where it says “God is angry with the wicked every day.” I heard somebody quote today “God loves you but hates your sin” that’s bunken. God hates you for committing the sin. Is God going to take your sins and judge them at the Judgment and leave you alone?”

This is why, if we love God, we must avoid sin.  If we don’t then we are just fooling ourselves.

If you are living in sin right now, as in purposely doing something you know is wrong, then you are choosing sin over loving God.  Christians are ambassadors, we take the name of God and we represent Him on this Earth, you are saying that you want Him to be the Lord of your life.  Yet you choose your filthy disgusting worthless sin over Him?

That fact alone has to disgust God greatly!

Living in Sin vs slipping up

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that we will ever be perfect this side of heaven, for we are still in these sinful bodies.  What I am talking about is the purposeful, intentional, and continuous choice to sin.

No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. (1 John 3:9)

The choice to keep looking at pornography, the choice to keep watching those shows on tv that have “questionable” content, the choice to sleep with someone you are not married to.  It is your lifestyle, things you choose to keep on doing.  You cannot have a lifestyle of sin and serve God at the same time.

You Must Make God Number One

To sum it up, you absolutely MUST make God first in your life.  There is no way around it.  Jesus did not die on the cross to save us from sin just to allow us to continue sinning.  He freed us from sin so we could stop sinning, so we could serve Him.

Faith, Works, and Salvation

Have you ever been so scared by a passage in the Bible that you could not sleep at night?  This has happened to me more than once, most recently by this passage in Matthew.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ – Matthew 7:21-23

Sometimes reading that passage makes me stop and think “Is that talking about me?”  When I die, will Jesus say to me ‘Well done good and faithful servant,’ or will He say ‘Depart from me, I never knew you?'”  This question can be scary, very scary.

For one, you do not want to be doing everything you can to serve God, only to find out you missed out on the most important thing, the treasure that God actually wanted from you.  But also you do not want to go through life thinking that everything is fine, only to reach the final moments and find out your one way ticket to heaven was nothing more than a sham, sold to you by Satan and your betraying flesh.

What it means to be “Saved”

When a Christian says he or she is “saved”, what does that mean?  What is it exactly that we are saved from?

The most obvious answer that comes to mind is that we are saved from hell, to heaven (John 3:16).  But more than that, we are saved from sin, to righteousness – to good and righteous works God has called us to do (Romans 6:18, 22, 2 Timothy 1:9, Ephesians 2:10).  But one of the most important things we are saved for, is for the glory of God. That’s right, we are saved so that God can get glory (Romans 15:7, 1 Corinthians 10:31, Philippians 2:9-11).

How many people will be saved?  Not many.

Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. – Matthew 7:13-14

Examine Your faith

Salvation is important. It brings God glory, empowers us to do the good work God has for us, and it saves us from the damnation we deserve.  But it is clear that only a few will find it, and many will think they have found it but will be deceived (Matthew 7:21-23).

For this reason Paul tells us to examine ourselves to make sure that we are saved.

Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified. But I trust that you will know that we are not disqualified. – 2 Corinthians 13:5-6

What Faith is Not

This brings us to a crucial point. The few passages we have looked at so far makes it seem like faith and works are the same thing.  But they are not.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should  boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9

This passage shows us there is a difference between faith and works. Faith saves us, not works.  Remember the first passage we looked at, Jesus rebuked people who were doing good works, but lacked faith, lacked a relationship with Jesus.  Jesus said “I never knew you” which shows us that it is the relationship God wants from us, not our works of healing, casting out demons, building churches, or giving to the poor.

Works themselves mean nothing.  Isaiah 64:6 says that our good works are worthless, that “all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.”

Are Works Meaningless?

Those passages make it clear that it is only by faith that we are saved, our works mean nothing.  So are works not important?

Actually, works are crucial to a Christian’s faith.  “Wait a second” you are thinking, “You just said works mean nothing, we are not saved by works and all our good works of righteousness are as filthy rags, how can they, at the same time, be crucial to a Christian?”  It does seem a bit contradictory at first, but dig deeper in to scriptures.

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 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? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? – James 2:14-20

So we are saved by faith, not by works, yet faith without works is dead and such a faith does not save you… confused yet? Just hang on a little bit longer.

Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.  He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.  But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked. – 1 John 2:3-6

This is a cause and effect situation here. What came first, the chicken or the egg?  Which comes first, the faith or the works?

You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. – Matthew 7:16-18

And there Matthew sums this all up so nicely for us.  When we accept Christ, when we put faith in Him, something real happens, we are literally changed, transformed, the old person has passed away and a new being is created (2 Corinthians 5:17).  This does not mean that we never sin (that topic will be covered in another article).  The only way we can be sin free is to be in a new body, as long as we are trapped in these earthly bodies we will sin (Romans 7).

But our spirit is made new and the Holy Spirit indwells within us.  It is this which gives us the desires to do good works and gives us the ability to do good works.  Good works do not save us but they are the evidence that we are saved.

Just as a good tree only produces good fruit, a Christian, someone who is saved by faith, produces good works. Not because the works are required for salvation or give us merit at all, but because our nature changes completely.  It is something we can not help.

When I was in college – several years ago – I was a math major. In High school I could do math without a calculator.  I could solve the most complex calculations in my math class with nothing more than an occasional scratch piece of paper, but I could not write to save my life.

Just recently I took an algebra class and struggled through it.  I could not comprehend the math. I barely got a B in Algebra and Trig, and ended up getting a C in my pre-calculus class.  But I aced every one of my English and writing  classes and (so I am told) I write fairly well.

This is an example of my nature changing.  I went from being a math wiz to being a writer.  No amount of work on my part can change what I am.  I can practice and get by at math, but it will not come as naturally as writing does to me now.

In the same way a Christian cannot defy his or her nature.  When we are still stuck in sin we cannot do good works except by our effort, it was a struggle, but now, after salvation, the good works are a natural response, just like breathing.

This shows how it is possible that works are important to our faith and salvation but do not save us, because they have nothing to do with the salvation part, they are just an example of that salvation.

How do I examine myself?

So how then, do we go about examining ourselves?  The only thing I can say is to pray and read the Bible.  Examine your life, your actions, your check book (where you spend your money), your thoughts, everything, against scripture.  Are you living in sin that needs to be repented of?  Are you doing works in the church on a daily basis but missing that relationship with God?  Are you doing good works but feel that it is a burden to you?

Examine yourself, see what is keeping you from having a relationship with God, what is keeping you from the Bible.  Use natural works, the ones you enjoy and are not a pain to perform to see if it is a natural response or something you are (subconsciously) trying to fake.

Romans 10:17 says that “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” I cannot stress enough how important the word of God is in our seeking God.  Read it every day, even more often in times of examining yourself spiritually.

*Photo by Jon Zenor, Copyright 2010 Jon Zenor Photography.*