Jesus and Works

You say, “I am innocent; surely his anger has turned from me.”
Behold, I will bring you to judgment for saying,“I have not sinned.”

Jeremiah 2:35 (ESV)

God used the prophet Jeremiah to confront the nation of Judah in its waning days before he delivered it into exile. In the second chapter, God seems to be criticizing Judah for “faith without works.” We look at it today and say it was presumption, but doesn’t that describe faith without works?

Judah, like Israel before them, had lost their devotion to God. This manifested itself in numerous ways, including their neglect of God’s command to not embrace the idols of the peoples around them. Yet they generally did not speak against God. Instead, they engaged in syncretism—adding to their religion from other religions. This smorgasbord approach avoided leaving God, and instead invited others into the bride chamber. Idolatry and adultery are commingled in the prophets because the parallels are very strong.

The people of Judah continued to give lip service to God while also following their own desires. The temple was still functioning, albeit with some unauthorized additions. The people still called on the name of the Lord, while also calling on the name of Ba’al, Ashtoreth, and others. To do this is to not follow God—who commands an exclusive relationship—at all. (Exodus 20:3)

Hold that thought and turn with me to the words of Jesus:

For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, “Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, “Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” But his master answered him, “You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Matthew 25:14-30 (ESV)

The one-talent servant seems like Judah. He understands enough to realize he shouldn’t use the money to throw himself a party. He hangs onto it so he can say that he still has it. He has “faith,” but it doesn’t lead him to any works. He is condemned for knowing the master’s character and yet not doing anything.

We are saved by God’s grace. We can do nothing to provide recompense for our sins. We are called to have faith, believing in the gift of God through Christ Jesus. But if that faith does not manifest itself in obedience, it is not faith and we are no better than Judah.

You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

James 2:24 (ESV)

There is no such thing as faith alone. Faith without corresponding action is just mentally entertaining an idea. Jesus said the same thing.

For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.

Matthew 16:27 (ESV)

Not according to what we have heard or read, nor where we attended church, nor even what creed we proclaimed. According to what we have done. Let us not be condemned like Judah for giving lip service to God without giving him the service of obedience to his commands.

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Filed under Discipline, Faith, Obedience

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