Category Archives: Crucial Questions

WHY IS FAITH WITHOUT WORKS DEAD?

James says, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (James 2:26). Faith without works is a dead faith because the lack of works reveals an unchanged life or a spiritually dead heart. There are many verses that say that true saving faith will result in a transformed life, that faith is demonstrated by the works we do. How we live reveals what we believe and whether the faith we profess to have is a living faith.

James 2:14–26 is sometimes taken out of context in an attempt to create a works-based system of righteousness, but that is contrary to many other passages of Scripture. James is not saying that our works make us righteous before God but that real saving faith is demonstrated by good works. Works are not the cause of salvation; works are the evidence of salvation. Faith in Christ always results in good works. The person who claims to be a Christian but lives in willful disobedience to Christ has a false or dead faith and is not saved. Paul basically says the same thing in 1 Corinthians 6:9–10. James contrasts two different types of faith—true faith that saves and false faith that is dead.

Many profess to be Christians, but their lives and priorities indicate otherwise. Jesus put it this way: “By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. So by their fruits you will know them. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers’” (Matthew 7:16–23).

Notice that the message of Jesus is the same as the message of James. Obedience to God is the mark of true saving faith. James uses the examples of Abraham and Rahab to illustrate the obedience that accompanies salvation. Simply saying we believe in Jesus does not save us, nor does religious service. What saves us is the Holy Spirit’s regeneration of our hearts, and that regeneration will invariably be seen in a life of faith featuring ongoing obedience to God.

Misunderstanding the relationship of faith and works comes from not understanding what the Bible teaches about salvation. There are really two errors in regards to works and faith. The first error is “easy believism,” the teaching that, as long as a person prayed a prayer or said, “I believe in Jesus,” at some point in his life, then he is saved, no matter what. So a person who, as a child, raised his hand in a church service is considered saved, even though he has never shown any desire to walk with God since and is, in fact, living in blatant sin. This teaching, sometimes called “decisional regeneration,” is dangerous and deceptive. The idea that a profession of faith saves a person, even if he lives like the devil afterwards, assumes a new category of believer called the “carnal Christian.” This allows various ungodly lifestyles to be excused: a man may be an unrepentant adulterer, liar, or bank robber, but he’s saved; he’s just “carnal.” Yet, as we can see in James 2, an empty profession of faith—one that does not result in a life of obedience to Christ—is in reality a dead faith that cannot save.

The other error in regards to works and faith is to attempt to make works part of what justifies us before God. The mixture of works and faith to earn salvation is totally contrary to what Scripture teaches. Romans 4:5 says, “To him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.” James 2:26 says, “Faith without works is dead.” There is no conflict between these two passages. We are justified by grace through faith, and the natural result of faith in the heart is works that all can see. The works that follow salvation do not make us righteous before God; they simply flow from the regenerated heart as naturally as water flows from a spring.

Salvation is a sovereign act of God whereby an unregenerate sinner has the “washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” poured out on him (Titus 3:5), thereby causing him to be born again (John 3:3). When this happens, God gives the forgiven sinner a new heart and puts a new spirit within him (Ezekiel 36:26). God removes his sin-hardened heart of stone and fills him with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit then causes the saved person to walk in obedience to God’s Word (Ezekiel 36:26–27).

Faith without works is dead because it reveals a heart that has not been transformed by God. When we have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit, our lives will demonstrate that new life. Our works will be characterized by obedience to God. Unseen faith will become seen by the production of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives (Galatians 5:22). Christians belong to Christ, the Good Shepherd. As His sheep we hear His voice and follow Him (John 10:26–30).

Faith without works is dead because faith results in a new creation, not a repetition of the same old patterns of sinful behavior. As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”

Faith without works is dead because it comes from a heart that has not been regenerated by God. Empty professions of faith have no power to change lives. Those who pay lip service to faith but who do not possess the Spirit will hear Christ Himself say to them, “I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers” (Matthew 7:23).

Prophet Nathan

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE BORN AGAIN?

The classic passage from the Bible that answers this question is John 3:1-21. The Lord Jesus Christ is talking to Nicodemus, a prominent Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin (the ruling body of the Jews). Nicodemus had come to Jesus at night with some questions.

As Jesus talked with Nicodemus, He said, “‘I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.’ ‘How can a man be born when he is old?’ Nicodemus asked. ‘Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again”’” (John 3:3-7).

The phrase “born again” literally means “born from above.” Nicodemus had a real need. He needed a change of his heart—a spiritual transformation. New birth, being born again, is an act of God whereby eternal life is imparted to the person who believes (2 Corinthians 5:17Titus 3:51 Peter 1:31 John 2:293:94:75:1-418). John 1:1213 indicates that being “born again” also carries the idea of “becoming children of God” through trust in the name of Jesus Christ.

The question logically comes, “Why does a person need to be born again?” The apostle Paul in Ephesians 2:1 says, “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins” (NKJV). To the Romans he wrote, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Sinners are spiritually “dead”; when they receive spiritual life through faith in Christ, the Bible likens it to a rebirth. Only those who are born again have their sins forgiven and have a relationship with God.

How does that come to be? Ephesians 2:8-9 states, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” When one is saved, he/she has been born again, spiritually renewed, and is now a child of God by right of new birth. Trusting in Jesus Christ, the One who paid the penalty of sin when He died on the cross, is the means to be “born again.” “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation: the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

If you have never trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, will you consider the prompting of the Holy Spirit as He speaks to your heart? You need to be born again. Will you pray the prayer of repentance and become a new creation in Christ today? “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:12-13).

If you want to accept Jesus Christ as your Savior and be born again, here is a sample prayer. Remember, saying this prayer or any other prayer will not save you. It is only trusting in Christ that can save you from sin. This prayer is simply a way to express to God your faith in Him and thank Him for providing for your salvation. “God, I know that I have sinned against you and am deserving of punishment. But Jesus Christ took the punishment that I deserve so that through faith in Him I could be forgiven. I place my trust in You for salvation. Thank You for Your wonderful grace and forgiveness—the gift of eternal life! Amen!”

Prophet Nathan

WHY IS BEING A GOOD PERSON NOT GOOD ENOUGH TO GET YOU TO HEAVEN?

If you ask most people what you have to do to get into heaven (assuming they believe in heaven or an afterlife), the overwhelming response will be some form of “be a good person.” Most, if not all, religions and worldly philosophies are ethically based. Whether it’s Islam, Judaism, or secular humanism, the teaching is common that getting to heaven is a matter of being a good person—following the Ten Commandments or the precepts of the Quran or the Golden Rule. But is this what Christianity teaches? Is Christianity just one of many world religions that teach that being a good person will get us into heaven? Let’s examine Matthew 19:16–26 for some answers; it is the story of the rich young ruler.

The first thing we note in this story is that the rich young ruler is asking a good question: “What good deed must I do to have eternal life?” In asking the question, he acknowledges the fact that, despite all his efforts to be a good person thus far, there is something lacking, and he wants to know what else must be done to obtain eternal life. However, he is asking the question from the wrong worldview—that of merit (“What good deed must I do?”); he has failed to grasp the true meaning of the Law, as Jesus will point out to him, which was to serve as a tutor until the time of Christ (Galatians 3:24).

The second thing to note is Jesus’ response to his question. Jesus asks a question in return: why is he inquiring into what is good? Jesus gets to the heart of the matter, namely, that no one is good and no one does good except God. The young man is operating under a false premise: that a good person is able to earn his way into heaven. To make His point, Jesus says that, if the young man wants eternal life, he should keep the commandments. In saying this, Jesus is not advocating a works-based righteousness. Rather, Jesus is challenging the young man’s suppositions by showing the man’s shallow understanding of the Law and human ability.

The young man’s response is telling. When told to keep the commandments, he asks Jesus, “Which ones?” Jesus continues to gently show the man the error of his ways by giving him the second table of the Law, i.e., the commandments that deal with our relationships to other people. You can almost sense the frustration in the young man’s response when he tells Jesus that he has kept all of these since his youth—he insists that he’s been a good person. The young man’s response is ironic. In saying he has kept all those commandments since his youth, he has broken the commandment regarding false witness. If he were truly being honest, he would have said that, as hard as he has tried to keep the commandments, he has failed. He has not been a totally good person. He has a shallow understanding of the Law and an inflated opinion of his own ability. Also, he has that feeling that he is not a good enough person, and he asks Jesus, “What do I still lack?”

Jesus then confronts the young man’s self-righteousness. He tells him that, if he wishes to be perfect—a truly good person—he must sell all that he has and come follow Him. Jesus has perfectly diagnosed the man’s “lack”—his attachment to his wealth. The man’s great wealth has become an idol in his life. He claimed to have kept all the commandments, but in reality he couldn’t even keep the first one, to have no other gods before the Lord! The young man turned his back on Jesus and walked away. His god was his wealth, which he chose over Jesus.

Jesus then turns to His disciples to teach them a principle: “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” This was shocking to the disciples, who held the common idea that riches were a sign of God’s blessing. But Jesus points out the obstacle that riches often are, in their tendency to fuel self-sufficiency. His disciples ask, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus answers by reminding the disciples that salvation is of God: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Who can be saved? If left up to man alone, no one! Why is being a good person not enough to get you into heaven? Because no one is a “good” person; there is only One who is good, and that is God Himself. No one can keep the Law perfectly. The Bible says that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The Bible also says that the wages of our sin is death (Romans 6:23a). Fortunately, God did not wait until we somehow learned to be “good”; while we were in our sinful state, Christ died for the unrighteous (Romans 5:8).

Salvation is not based on our goodness but on Jesus’ goodness. If we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead, we will be saved (Romans 10:9). This salvation in Christ is a precious gift, and, like all true gifts, it is unearned (Romans 6:23Ephesians 2:8–9). The message of the gospel is that we can never be good enough to get to heaven. We must recognize that we are sinners who fall short of God’s glory, and we must obey the command to repent of our sins and place our faith and trust in Jesus Christ. Christ alone was a “good person”—good enough to earn heaven—and He gives His righteousness to those who believe in His name (Romans 1:17).

Prophet Nathan

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO DRESS MODESTLY?

In describing the mode of dress appropriate for women in church, the apostle Paul exhorts them to dress “modestly” with “decency and propriety” then goes on to contrast immodest dress with the good deeds which are appropriate for those who profess to be true worshipers of God (1 Timothy 2:9–10). While the Bible only specifically addresses the need for women to dress modestly, the same teaching would apply to men in principle. Both men and women should bring glory to God in their manner of dress.

Modesty in the way we dress is not just for church; it is to be the standard for all Christians at all times. The key to understanding what constitutes modesty in dress is to examine the attitudes and intents of the heart. Those whose hearts are inclined toward God will make every effort to dress modestly, decently, and appropriately. Those whose hearts are inclined toward self will dress in a manner designed to draw attention to themselves with little or no regard for the consequences to themselves or others.

A godly woman endeavors to do everything with a “God-ward” perspective. She knows that God wants His people to be concerned for His glory and the spiritual state of their brothers and sisters in Christ. If a woman professes to be a Christian yet she dresses in a way that will unduly draw attention to her body, she is a poor witness of the One who bought her soul by dying for her on the cross. She is forgetting that her body has been redeemed by Christ and is now the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19–20). She is telling the world that she determines her own worth on a purely physical basis and that her attractiveness depends on how much of her body she reveals to them. Further, by intentionally dressing in an immodest fashion, displaying her body for men to lust after, she encourages her brothers in Christ to sin, something condemned by God (Matthew 5:27–29). Proverbs 7:10 mentions a woman “dressed like a prostitute and with crafty intent”—here, the woman’s heart condition is displayed by her manner of dress.

The Scripture says that we are to dress modestly, but what exactly does that mean in modern society? Does a woman have to be covered from head to toe? There are cults and religions in the world that demand this of women. But is that the biblical meaning of modesty? Again, we have to go back to the matter of the attitudes of the heart. If a woman’s heart is inclined toward godliness, she will wear clothing that is neither provocative nor revealing in public. Her clothing choices will not signal pride or ostentation and will not reflect negatively upon her personal testimony as a child of God. Everyone else in her circle may be dressing immodestly, but she resists the temptation to go along with the crowd. She avoids clothing designed to draw attention to her body and cause men to lust, for she is wise enough to know that type of attention only cheapens her. The idea of giving occasion for men to sin against God because of her dress is abhorrent to her because she seeks to love and honor God and wants others to do the same.

Modesty in dress reveals a modesty and godliness of the heart, humble attitudes that should be the desire of all women (and men) who live to please and honor God.

Prophet Nathan Emol

DOES GOD KNOW OUR THOUGHTS?

Thoughts are the most private parts of our human experience. No one else can know our thoughts unless we communicate them, so we tend to imagine that anything we think is safe, as long as it stays in our minds. But there is one Person who always knows what we are thinking; God knows everything about us, and He also knows our thoughts.

God knows our thoughts no matter who or where we are. Psalm 139 begins this way: “O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar” (verses 1–2). God searches the hearts and minds of people, seeking those whose hearts are turned toward Him (Jeremiah 12:31 Chronicles 29:17Acts 15:8). Two of the Ten Commandments deal with our thoughts. The first commandment is to have no other gods before the Lord (Exodus 20:3). That is a heart matter. The tenth commandment warns us not to covet what others have (Exodus 20:17). Coveting is also a sin of our thoughts. When Jesus walked the earth, He knew people’s thoughts and answered before they even verbalized their questions (Matthew 9:412:25Luke 9:4711:17). In this way, Jesus exhibited the divine trait of omniscience.

It can be intimidating to realize that God knows our thoughts. He knows the angry thoughts, lustful thoughts, vengeful ideas, secret greed, and hidden coveting. God also knows about those secret longings, hopeful desires, and private dreams. And He understands. First John 3:20 assures us that “if our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” Sometimes we are harder on ourselves than God is. He knows we are frail humans made from dirt and born with a sin nature (Psalm 103:14).

If we have given our lives to Christ, then we should find comfort in remembering that our loving Father knows us better than we know ourselves. God knows our desire to please Him (Psalm 37:23), even though we stumble at it. Within that loving relationship, we have confidence to cry, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23–24). We don’t have to be afraid of being vulnerable to our Creator. And there’s no sense in trying to hide things from Him. Whatever the issue, He already knows about it and wants us to feel safe enough to confess our thoughts to Him (Psalm 50:1591:151 John 5:14–15). God knows our thoughts, and He helps us to know ourselves better when we talk them over with Him.

Prophet Nathan Emol