1 May 2015

Faith: Active or Passive?

Is faith an active or passive principle? Does faith rest or work? Does it receive or give? I think that faith could be both active and passive, depending on the particular circumstances.

Faith is an attitude of confidence, reliance and trust in another person. A patient lying on the operation table trusts the doctor if he does nothing and lets himself in the hands of the surgeon. Here faith is passive. Following surgery, the same patient will show trust in his physician only if he obeys his advice and takes the medicines as prescribed. Now faith is active.

To take another example, picture a poor beggar sitting on the sidewalk. A rich man stops in front of him, reaches in his pocket and hands out some money. The beggar shows trust in the generosity of this man by simply receiving the gift, without attempting to pay or earn it in any way. Here faith does not work, it simply receives.

But faith must work actively in other circumstance if it is genuine. Does an athlete really believe in his coach if he ignores his advice? Of course not! He trusts him only if he obeys his instructions and does what he is told!

The same applies in our relation to God. He finds us in abject spiritual poverty. The Bible describes God’s people as those “who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness” (Romans 5:17). The faith by which a person is justified does not attempt to work or earn righteousness (Romans 4:5); faith simply receives God’s precious gift!

But grace does more! God shows favour to his people by forgiving them freely and by taking them under his care to transform them into the image of his Son. He is their master, teacher and coach. By grace God “trains us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:12). Now faith cannot be passive! It listens to God and actively follows his commandments, it prays and struggles against temptations, and it eagerly performs good works to help others and please God. In the Christian life, faith is synonymous to obedience. What really matters is “faith working through love” (Gal 5:6).

Both aspects – passive and active – characterise genuine, saving faith. By faith a person rests on Christ and receives the gift of salvation for which he did not work. But works he never ceases to do for his faith in his Lord is real.

30 March 2015

I Thirst!

The cry Jesus uttered from the cross briefly before he died, ‘I thirst!’ testifies to his true humanity. Jesus is the eternal Son of God, yet he also became human just like us, except for sin, and as a man he experienced suffering and pain.

He had not taken any drink for several hours; he was also exposed to the elements and bled from the wounds in his body as he hang on the cruel cross. No wonder he cried out, I thirst!

During his public ministry Jesus said, “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become min him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13). What a paradox! He who promised to give living water to others now had parched lips; he who created the waters was now pleading for a drink!

His agony and thirst were necessary to obtain our redemption.
  • He humbled himself that he may lift us up with him to glory (Philippians 2:8).
  • He became poor that we might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9).
  • He became sin for us that we might become righteous in him (2 Corinthians 5:21).
  • He was cursed that we might be blessed (Galatians 3:13).
  • He experience darkness to bring us to light (Matthew 27:45).
  • He suffered thirst that we might receive the water of eternal life (John 19:28).
Yet even at this dark moment of suffering and humilation, we behold a ray of glory. When Jesus expressed his thirst, the Roman soldiers brought him some vinegar to drink. Unwittingly they were fulfilling a messianic prophecy. ‘My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaw (Palm 22:15); and again, ‘for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink’ (Psalm 69:22).

The fulfillment of this prophecy, as well as many others, testify that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah promised by God in the Holy Scriptures. Jesus is truly the Son of God, the Saviour of the World.

He who once suffered thirst is now in heaven and he pours showers of blessings and grace on all who believe in him. “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:37, 38).

If your life is dry and empty, come to Jesus. He will give you the Holy Spirit that you may know God and satisfy your soul with his love.

1 March 2015

Abe, Ben and Carl

(Gospel e-Letter - March 2015)

Last month’s gospel e-letter (Who's going to heaven?) was intended to stimulate discussion on the all-important subject of salvation. Three characters, Abe, Ben and Carl, represent millions of Christians worldwide. Here they are again:

  • All three believe in the Lord Jesus and the principal truths of the Christian faith, including the doctrines listed in the Apostle’s Creed; they also believe the promises of salvation written in the Bible.
  • Abe and Ben are baptised, attend church and pray regularly. Both of them are zealous for good works, and try to avoid sin, though they admit that sometimes they fail. Abe is motivated by love and gratitude to God for his grace and salvation. Ben also thanks God for his goodness, and additionally, he is also motivated to do good works to merit more graces and eternal life.
  • Carl prayed to receive Christ as Saviour. He is not baptised, does not attend church regularly and has not yet submitted to Christ as Lord. His life has not changed since he was born again. He trusts in the finished work of Christ on the cross. Carl is convinced that salvation is by faith alone. 

Abe is a true Christian. He believes in Christ and upholds biblical truth; he also manifests the fruits of the Spirit. His life abounds in good works out of gratitude to God. Even his struggle against sin is evidence of his new heart.

Ben is a devout Catholic. In many ways he is like Abe. The crucial difference is the motive for his good works. He is attempting to merit grace, and that casts doubt on whether he is completely trusting in Christ alone for salvation. He insists of paying, in part, for the free gift of eternal life procured by Christ. He performs works of penance to make satisfaction for his sins, effectively denying that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin. But what about his good life? Isn’t that evidence that he is truly saved? No, not necessarily. The apostle Paul was a very religious and moral person before his conversion. He could say that he was blameless in his keeping of the law. Not until he threw away all confidence in himself, his works and his merits, that he was justified by faith in Christ.

Carl is Christian in name only. His faith is dead and so is he. There is no hard evidence of a renewed heart. Did he receive Christ when he prayed? Was he really born again? No! No-matter what he says. His life – which is still the same as it was before – contradict his claims. Somebody may have told him that he may accept Christ as Saviour and then receive him as Lord later on. That is a lie. Christ is Lord of every one of his people; the redeemed are bought with his blood, they do not belong to themselves, they are the purchased possession of the Lord. It is a contradiction to say that Christ is your Saviour but not your Lord. His sinful disregard to Christ’s authority is the sure evidence that Carl is still the slave to sin.

Abe is on his way to heaven, and the Lord will keep him safe until he arrives at the Father’s home. The Lord Jesus may also bring Ben and Carl to salvation.

Ben needs to understand that grace is an unmerited favour, it cannot be earned by our works. Maybe one day he will receive the gift of salvation with empty hands and a grateful heart. He needs to trust completely in Christ alone.

Carl needs to learn that the grace that brings salvation also trains the saved to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age. God’s purpose in salvation is not just forgiveness and a place in heaven, but also freedom from the power and pollution of sin, to live for the glory of God.

Lord willing we will be meeting our three friends in the coming months to evaluate their spiritual condition in the light of God’s Word. We do well, every one of us, to seriously think and pray about our own relationship with the Lord.

1 February 2015

Who’s Going To Heaven?

(Gospel e-Letter - February 2015)

What do you think about the following three professing Christians? Let us call them Abe, Ben and Carl. Who is in a saving relationship with the Lord? Who is on the road to heaven?
  • All three believe in the Lord Jesus and the principal truths of the Christian faith, including the doctrines listed in the Apostle’s Creed; they also believe the promises of salvation written in the Bible.
  • Abe and Ben are baptised, attend church and pray regularly. Both of them are zealous for good works, and try to avoid sin, though they admit that sometimes they fail. Abe is motivated by love and gratitude to God for his grace and salvation. Ben also thanks God for his goodness, and additionally, he is also motivated to do good works to merit more graces and eternal life.
  • Carl prayed to receive Christ as Saviour. He is not baptised, does not attend church regularly and has not yet submitted to Christ as Lord. His life has not changed since he was born again. He trusts in the finished work of Christ on the cross. Carl is convinced that salvation is by faith alone. 
What do you think about Abe, Ben and Carl: who (one or more) is on the way to heaven?

Poll results (during February 2015):



1 January 2015

New every morning

(Gospel e-Letter - January 2015)

At the end of the year and the beginning of another we wish each other health, prosperity and a happy New Year. Many of us also take a good look at ourselves, identify areas that need to change, and make plans and resolutions to improve our lives.

The new year gives us hope of renewal. But in itself time alone cannot carry the weight of our hopes. The year may be new, but we and the world we’re living in isn’t getting any newer. If anything we’re getting a year older.

No, our hope is not found in the new year, in ourselves or in our own strength. Where then may we find a genuine hope that will not disappoint us? The Scripture invites us to look unto the eternal and unchangeable God, who sustains and renews us by his grace.

    The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
        his mercies never come to an end;
    they are new every morning;
        great is your faithfulness.
    “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
        “therefore I will hope in him.”
                                     Lamentations 3:22-24.

The Lord is an eternal spring of living water, daily refreshing our soul with his love and mercy. Just like the sun rises every morning, so the Lord renews his goodness to his people and fill our heart with joy. It is no wonder that the prophet confesses the Lord as his portion and his hope.

Therefore at the beginning of the new year, and in every day of our lives, let us trust and hope in the Lord. Then we can face tomorrow with courage and confidence. We do not know the future, but we know the Lord, which is much better. We know that he is good to his people, he keeps his promises, he will never leave or forsake us, and he will bring us safely home.