There is never a famine on wickedness. At every turn we are able to hear reports of bad things being perpetrated by bad people. Most of us have even been victimized, even if in a small way, by someone. We have been yelled at, gossiped about, or worse. The young Christians of Thessalonica were no exception. They had ridicule and persecution at times leading to their deaths. Paul when teaching this infant church, warned them against many things, taught them about the power of the Lord in their lives to rest and overcome even when the circumstances of life never changed. One of these teachings centers on the fact that evil people do evil things and that while the natural response is to fight back, as Christians, we are no longer bound as slaves to evil. Therefore we can love our enemies. This message talks to that point. I pray it will be a blessing to you.
Published on Thursday, November 26th, 1914.
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington.On Lord’s day Evning, February 21st, 1861
Bath Road Baptist Church
“Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead,WHATEVER the statement of James may be, it could never have been his intention to contradict the gospel. It could never be possible that the Holy Spirit would say one thing in one place, and another in another. Statements of Paul and of James must be reconciled, and if they were not, I would be prepared sooner to throw overboard the statement of James than that of Paul. Luther did so, I think, most unjustifiably. If you ask me, then, how I dare to say I would sooner do so, my reply is, I said I would sooner throw over James than Paul for this reason, because, at any rate, we must keep to the Master himself, the Lord Jesus Christ. We ought never to raise any questions about differences of inspiration, since they are all equally inspired, but if such questions could be raised and were allowable, it were wisdom to stick fastest to those who cling closest to Christ. Now the last words of the Lord Jesus, before he was taken up were these, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature,” and what was this gospel? “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved.” To that, then, we must always cling, but Jesus Christ has given a promise of salvation to the baptized believer, and he has said, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, and whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”
— James 2:17
Here it is clear he promises everlasting life to all who believe in him, to all who trust in him. Now from the Master’s words we will not stir, but close to his own declaration we will stand. Be assured that the gospel of your salvation as a believer, with a simple confidence in Jesus Christ, whom God raised from the dead, will save your soul, a simple and undiluted reliance upon the life and death, and resurrection, and merit, and person of Jesus Christ, will ensure to you everlasting life. Let nothing move you from this confidence: it hath great recompense of reward. Heaven and earth may pass away, but from this grand fundamental truth not one jot or tittle shall ever be moved. “He that believeth in him is not condemned, but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed on the Son of God.”
The fact is, James and Paul are perfectly reconcilable, and they are viewing truth from different standpoints; but whatever James may mean, I am quite confident about what Paul means, and confident about the truth of the two.
A second remark. James never intended, for a moment, nor do any of his words lead us into such a belief, that there can be any merit whatever in any good works of ours. After we have done all, if we could do all, we should only have done what we were bound to do. Surely there is no merit in a man’s paying what he owes; no great merit in a servant who has his wages for doing what he is paid for. The question of merit between the creature and his Creator is not to be raised; he has a right to us; he has the right of creation, the right of preservation, the right of infinite sovereignty, and, whatever he should exact of us, we should require nothing from him in return, and, having sinned as we have all, for us to talk of salvation by merit, by our own works, is worse than vanity; it is an impertinence which God will never endure.
“Talk they of morals, O! thou bleeding Lamb,
The best morality is love of thee.”
Talk of salvation by works, and Cowper’s reply seems apt:–
“Perish the virtue, as it ought, abhorred,
And the fool with it, who insults his Lord.”
What James does mean, however, is this, no doubt, in brief and short, that while faith saves, it is faith of a certain kind. No man is saved by persuading himself that he is saved; nobody is saved by believing Jesus Christ died for him. That may be, or may not be, true in the sense in which he understands it. In a certain sense Christ died for all men, but since it is evident that many men are lost, Christ’s dying for all men is not at all a ground upon which any man may hope to be saved. Christ died for some men in another sense, in a peculiar and special sense. No man has a right to believe that Christ peculiarly and specially died for him until he has an evidence of it in casting himself upon Christ, and trusting in Jesus, and bringing forth suitable works to evince the reality of his faith. The faith that saves is not a historical faith, not a faith that simply believes a creed and certain facts: I have no doubt devils are very orthodox; I do not know which church they belong to, though there are some in all churches; there was one in Christ’s Church when he was on earth, for he said one was filled with devils; and there are some in all churches. Devils believe all the facts of revelation. I do not believe they have a doubt; they have suffered too much from the hand of God to doubt his existence! They have felt too much the terror of his wrath to doubt the righteousness of his government. They are stern believers, but they are not saved; and such a faith, if it be in us, will not, cannot, save us, but will remain to all intents and purposes a dead, inoperative faith. It is a faith which produces works which saves us; the works do not save us; but a faith which does not produce works is a faith that will only deceive, and cannot lead us into heaven. Now this evening we shall first speak a few words upon:–
I. WHAT KIND OF WORKS THEY ARE WHICH ARE NECESSARY TO PROVE OUR FAITH IF IT BE A SAVING FAITH.
The works which are absolutely necessary are, in brief, these: First, there must be fruits meet for repentance, works of repentance. It is wrong to tell a man he must repent before he may trust Christ, but it is right to tell him that, having trusted Christ, it is not possible for him to remain impenitent. There never was in this world such a thing as an impenitent believer in Jesus Christ, and there never can be. Faith and repentance are born in a spiritual life together, and they grow up together. The moment a man believes he repents, and while he believes he both believes and repents, and until he shall have done with faith he will not have done with repenting. If thou hast believed, but hast never repented of thy sins, then beware of thy believing. If thou pretendest now to be a child of God, and if thou hast never clothed thyself in dust and ashes; if thou hast never hated the sins which once thou didst love: if thou dost not now hate them, and endeavour to be rid of them, if thou dost not humble thyself before God on account of them, as the Lord liveth, thou knowest nothing about saving faith, for faith puts a distance between us and sin; in a moment it leads us away from the distance between us and Christ; nearer to Christ, we are now far off from sin. But he that loves his sin, thinks little of his sin, goes into it with levity, talks of it sportively, speaks of sin as though it were a trifle, hath the faith of devils, but the faith of God’s elect he never knew. True faith purges the soul, since the man now hunts after sin that he might find out the traitor that lurks within his nature; and though a believer is not perfect, yet the drift of faith is to make him perfect; and if it is faith to be perfected, the believer shall be perfected, and then shall he be caught up to dwell before the throne. Judge yourselves, my hearers. Have you brought forth the fruits of repentance? If not, your faith without them is dead.
Works of secret piety are also essential to true faith. Does a man say I believe that Jesus died for me, and that I hope to be saved, and does he live in a constant neglect of private prayer? Is the Word of God never read? Does he never lift up his eye in secret with “My Father, be thou the guide of my youth”? Has he no secret regard in his heart to the Lord his God, and does he hold no communion with Christ his Saviour, and is there no fellowship with the Holy Spirit? Then how can faith dwell in such a man? As well say that a man is alive when he does not breathe, and in whom the blood does not circulate, as to say that a man is a believer with living faith who does not draw near to God in prayer, that does not live indeed under the awe and fear of the Most High God as ever present, and seeing him in all places. Judge yourselves, ye professors. Are ye neglecting prayer; have ye no secret spiritual life? If so, away with your notion about saving faith. You are not justified by such a faith as that; there is no life in it; it is not a faith that leads to the Lamb and brings salvation; if it were, it would show itself by driving you to your knees, and making you lift up your heart to the Most High.
Another set of works are those which I may call works of obedience. When a man trusts in Jesus, he accepts Jesus as his Master. He says, “Show me what thou wouldst have me to do.” The Father shows what Christ would have him to do. He does not set up his own will and judgment, but he is obedient to his Master’s will. I will not tonight speak of those who know not their Lord’s will, who shall be beaten with few stripes, but I do fear me there are some professors who are living in wilful neglect of known Christian duties, and yet suppose themselves to be the partakers of saving faith. Now a duty may be neglected, and yet a man may be saved; but a duty persistently and wilfully neglected, may be the leak that will sink the ship, or the neglect of any one of such duties for the surrender of a true heart to Christ does not go such and such a length and then stop. Christ will save no heart upon terms and conditions; it must be an unconditional surrender to his government if thou wouldest be saved by him. Now some will draw a line here, and some will draw a line there up to this, and say, “I will be Christ’s servant”; that is to say, sir, you will be your own master, for that is the English of it; but the true heart that hath really believed saith, “I will make haste, and delay not to keep thy commandments; make straight the path before my feet, for thy commandments are not grievous.” “I have delighted in thy commandments more than in fine gold.” Now, sons and daughters of sin, professedly, what say you to this? Have you an eye to the Master, as servants keep their eye to their mistress? Do you ever ask yourselves what would Christ have you to do? or do you live habitually in the neglect of Christ’s law and will? Do you go to places where Christ would not meet you, and where you would not like to meet with him? Are some of you in the habit of professing maxims and customs, upon which you know your Lord would never set his seal? You say you believe, you have faith in him? Ah! sirs, if it be a living faith, it will be an obedient faith.
Living faith produces what I shall call separating works. When a man believes in Jesus, he is not what he was nor will he consort with those who were once his familiars. Our Lord has said, “Ye are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” Now Christ was not an ascetic; he ate and drank as other men do so that they even said of him a gluttonous man and a wine-bibber, because he mingled with the rest of mankind; but was there ever a more unearthly life than the life of Christ? He seems to go through all the world a complete man in all that is necessary to manliness, but his presence is like the presence of a seraph amongst sinners. You can discover at once that he is not of their mould, nor of their spirit, only harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners. Now such will the believer be if his faith be genuine, but this is a sharp cut to some professors, but not a whit more sharp than the Scripture warrants. If we are of the world, what can we expect but the world’s doom in the day of the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ? If ye find your pleasure with the world, you shall meet your condemnation with the world; if with the world you live, with the world you shall die, and with the world you shall live again for ever, lost. Where there is no separation there is no grace. If we are conformed to this world, how dare we talk about grace being in our souls; and if there be no distinguishing difference between us and worldlings, what vanity it is, what trifling, what hypocrisy, what a delusion for us to come to the Lord’s table, talking about being the Lord’s sons, when we are none of his? Faith without the works which denote the difference between a believer and a worldling is a dead, unsaving faith.
Now I have not said that any believer is perfect. I have never thought so, but I have said that if a believer could be a believer altogether, and faith could have her perfect work, he would be perfect, and that in proportion as he is truly a believer, in that proportion he will bring forth fruit that shall magnify God and prove the sincerity of his faith.
One other set of works will be necessary to prove the vitality of his faith, namely, works of love. He that loves Christ feels that the love of Christ constraineth him; he endeavours to spread abroad the knowledge of Christ; he longs to win jewels for Christ’s crown; he endeavours to extend the boundaries of Christ’s and Messiah’s kingdom, and I will not give a farthing for the loftiest profession coupled with the most flowing words, that never shows itself in direct deeds of Christian service. If thou lovest Christ, thou canst not help serving him. If thou believest in him, there is such potency in what thou believest, such power in the grace which comes with believing, that thou must serve Christ; and if thou servest him not, thou art not his.
This proof, before we leave it, might be illustrated in various ways. We will just give one. A tree has been planted out into the ground. Now the source of life to that tree is at the root, whether it hath apples on it or not; the apples would not give it life, but the whole of the life of the tree will come from its root. But if that tree stands in the orchard, and when the springtime comes there is no bud, and when the summer comes there is no leafing, and no fruit-bearing, but the next year, and the next, it stands there without bud or blossom, or leaf or fruit, you would say it is dead, and you are correct; it is dead. It is not that the leaves could have made it live, but that the absence of the leaves is a proof that it is dead. So, too, is it with the professor. If he hath life, that life must give fruits; if not fruits, works; if his faith has a root, but if there be no works, then depend upon it the inference that he is spiritually dead is certainly a correct one. When the telegraph cable flashed no message across to America, when they tried to telegraph again and again, but the only result following was dead earth, they felt persuaded that there was a fracture, and well they might; and when there is nothing produced in the life by the supposed grace which we have, and nothing is telegraphed to the world but “dead earth,” we may rest assured that the link of connection between the soul and Christ does not exist.
I need not enlarge. We should just put it into that one sentence: “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord. Bring forth, therefore, works meet for repentance.” And now we turn to the second point with more brevity:–
II. SOME FACTS THAT BACK UP THE DOCTRINE THAT “FAITH WITHOUT WORKS IS DEAD.”
These facts show that it is evident to all observers that many professors of faith without works are not saved. It would be very ludicrous, if it were not very miserable, to think of some who wrap themselves in the conceit that they are saved about whose salvation nobody but themselves can have any question. I remember a professor who used to talk of being justified by faith who was most assured about it, when he contained most beer. Such professors are not at all uncommon, sad is it to say so. They seem at the moment when their condemnation seems written on their very brow to all who know them, to be most confident that they themselves are saved. Now, brethren, if such cases are convincing and you entertain no doubt, but decide in their case, apply the same rule to yourselves, for although you may not plunge into the grosser vices, yet if you make your homes wretched by your selfishness, if you fall into constant habits of vicious temper, if you never strive against these sins, and the grace of God never leads you out of them; if you can live in private sin, and yet pacify your conscience, and remain just as you were before your pretended conversion; when you sit in judgment and pronounce the verdict on others, feel that you pronounce it upon yourself, for surely for one sin that is openly indulged in, which is manifested to you in the dissipation of your fellow-creatures, it is not hard for you to believe that any other sin, if it be constantly indulged and be loved, will do the same to you as it does to him. You know men who have not faith, but have a sort of faith, are not saved. It must be true, or else where were the Saviour’s words, “Straight is the gate and narrow the way, and few there be that find it”? For this is no straight gate and no narrow way, merely to be orthodox and hold a creed, and say, “I believe Jesus died for me”; but it is a very narrow gate so to believe as to become practically Christ’s servants, so to trust as to give up that which Christ hates. Truths which Jesus bids us believe are all truths, which, if believed, must have an effect upon the daily life. A man cannot really believe that Jesus Chris has taken away his sin by such sufferings as those of the cross, and yet trifle with sin. A man is a liar who says, “I believe that yonder bleeding Saviour suffered on account of my sins,” and yet holds good fellowship with the very sins that put Christ to death. Oh! sirs, a faith in the bleeding Saviour is a faith that craves for vengeance upon every form of sin. The Christian religion makes us believe that we are the sons of God when we trust in Christ. Will a man believe that he is really the Son of God, and then daily and wilfully go and live like a child of the devil? Do you expect to see members of the royal court playing with beggars in the street? When a man believes himself to possess a certain station of life, that belief leads him to a certain carriage and conversation, and when I am led to believe I am elected of God, that I am redeemed by blood, that heaven is secured to me by the covenant of grace, that I am God’s priest, made a king in Christ Jesus, I cannot, if I believe, unless I am more monstrous than human nature itself seems capable of being, go back to live after just the same fashion, to run in the same course as others, and live as the sons of Belial live. We see constantly in Scripture, and all the saints affirm it, that faith is linked with grace, and that where faith is the grace of God is; but how can there be the gift of God reigning in the soul, and yet a love of sin and a neglect of holiness? I cannot understand grace which abideth for ever to the inner man; and for this man to give himself up to be a slave of Satan is a thing impossible.
Faith, again, is always in connection with regeneration. Now regeneration is making of the old thing new; it is infusing a new nature into a man. The new birth is not a mere reformation, but an entire renovation and revolution: it is making the man a new creation in Christ Jesus. But how a new creature, if he has no repentance, if he has no good works, no private prayer, no charity, no holiness of any kind, regeneration will be a football for scorn. The new birth would be a thing to be ridiculed, if it did not really produce a hatred of sin, and a love of holiness. That kind of new birth which is dispensed by the Church of Rome, and also by some in the Church of England, is a kind of new birth which ought to excite the derision of all mankind, for children are said to be born again, certified to be born again, made members of Christ and children of God, and afterwards they grow up, in many cases, in most cases, let me say, to forget their baptismal vows, and live in sin as others do. Evidently it has had no effect upon them, but regeneration such as we read of in the Bible changes the nature of man, makes him hate the things he loved, and love the things he hated. This is regeneration: this is regeneration which is worth the seeking: it always comes with faith, and consequently good works must go with faith too. But we pass on to the last matter, which is this:–
III. WHAT OF THOSE MEN THAT HAVE FAITH, AND THAT HAVE NO GOOD WORKS?
Then what about them? Why, this about them, that their supposed faith generally makes them very careless and indifferent, and ultimately hardened and depraved men. I dread beyond measure that any one of us should have a name to live when we are dead; for an ordinary sinner who makes no profession may be converted, but it is extremely rare that a sinner who makes a profession of being what he is not is ever converted. It is a miserable thing to find a person discovering that his profession has been a lie. A man sits down, and he says, “Why, I believe,” and as he walks he is careful, because he is afraid of what others might say. By and bye, he begins to indulge a little. He says, “This is not of works; I may do this, and yet get forgiveness.” Then he goes a little further away. I do not say that perhaps at first he goes to the theatre, but he goes next door to it. He does not get drunk, but he likes jovial company. A little further and he gets confirmed in the belief that he is a saved one, and he gets to much confirmed in that idea that he thinks he can do just as he likes. Having sported on the brink without falling over, he thinks he will try to say, if Satan wants raw material of which to make the worst of men, he generally takes those who profess to be the best, and I have questioned whether such a valuable servant of Satan as Judas was could ever have been made of any other material than an apostate apostle. If he had not lived near to Christ, he never could have become such a traitor as he was. You must have a good knowledge of religion to be a thorough-faced hypocrite, and you must become high in Christ’s Church before you can become fit tools for Satan’s worst works. Oh! but why do men do this? Oh! what is the use of maintaining such a faith? I think if we do not care to get the vitality of religion, I would never burden myself with the husks of it, for such people get the chains of godliness without getting the comforts of godliness. They dare not do this, they dare not do that; if they do they feel hampered. Why don’t they give up professing? and they would be at least free; they would have the sin without the millstone about their neck. Surely there can be no excuse for men who mean to perish coming to cover themselves with a mask of godliness! Why cannot they perish as they are? Why add sin to sin by insulting the Church through the cross of Christ?
When men make a profession of religion, and yet their works do not follow their faith, what about them? Why, this about them. They have dishonoured the Church, and, of all others, these are the people that make the world point to the Church and say, “Where is your religion? That is your religion, is it?” So it is when they find a man who professes to be in Christ, and yet walks not as Christ walked. These give the Church her wounds; she receives them in the house of her friends; these make the true ministers of God go to their closets with broken heart, crying out, “Oh! Lord, wherefore hast thou sent us to this people to speak and minister amongst them, that they should play the hypocrite before thee?” These are they that prevent the coming in of others, for others take knowledge of them, as they think religion is hypocrisy, and they are hindered, and, if not seriously, they get, at any rate, comfort in their sin from the iniquity of these professors. What their judgment will be when Christ appeareth it is not for my tongue to tell; in that day when, with tongue of fire, Christ shall search every heart, and call on all men to receive their judgment, what must be the lot of the base-born professor, who prostituted his profession to his own honour and gain? He sought not the glory of God. What shall be the thunder-bolt that shall pursue his guilty soul in its timorous flight to hell, and what the chains that are reserved in blackness and darkness for ever for those who are wells without water and clouds without rain? I cannot tell, and may God grant that you may never know. Oh! may we all tonight go to Christ to be our complete Saviour in very deed and truth. Then shall we be saved, and then, being saved, we shall seek to serve Christ with heart, and soul, and strength.
Lest I have missed my mark, this one illustration shall suffice, and I have done. There is a vessel drifting. She will soon be on the shore, but a pilot is come on board; he is standing on the deck, and he says to the captain and crew, “I promise and undertake that, if you will solely and alone trust me, I will save thy vessel. Do you promise it; do you believe in me?” They believe in him; they say they believe the pilot can save the vessel, and they trust the vessel implicitly to his care. Now listen to him. “Now,” says he, “you at that helm there!” He does not stir. “At the helm there! Can’t you hear?” He does not stir! He does not stir! “Well, but , Jack, haven’t you confidence in the pilot?” “Oh! yes. Oh! yes, I have faith in him,” he says; “he will save the vessel if I have faith in him.” “Don’t you hear the pilot, as he says have faith in him, and you won’t touch the helm?” “Now, you aloft there! Reef that sail.” He does not stir, but lets the wind still blow into the sail and drift the vessel on to the coast. “Now then, some of you; look alive, and reef that sail!” But he does not stir! “Why, captain, what shall I do? These fellows won’t stir or move a peg.” But “Oh!” says the captain; “I have every confidence in you, pilot. I believe you will save the vessel.” “Then why don’t you attend to the tiller, and all that?” “Oh! no,” says he; “I have great confidence in you. I don’t mean to do anything.” Now when that ship goes down amid the boiling surges, and each man sinks to his doom, I will ask you, had they faith in the pilot? Hadn’t they a mimicking, mocking sort of faith, and only that? For if they had been really anxious to have the vessel rescued, and have trusted in the pilot, it would be the pilot that had saved them, and they could never have been saved without him. They would have proved their faith by their works. Their faith would have been made perfect, and the vessel would have been secured.
I call upon every man here to do what Christ bids him. I call upon you, first of all, to prove that you believe in Christ by being baptized. “He that believeth in Christ and is baptized shall be saved.” The first proof that you believe in Christ is to be given by yielding to the much despised ordinance of believers’ baptism, and then, having done that, going on to the other means of which I have spoken. Oh! I charge you by your soul’s salvation neglect nothing Christ commands, however trivial it may seem to your reason. Whatever he saith unto you, do it, for only by a child-like obedience to every bidding of Christ can you expect to have the promise fulfilled, “They that trust in him shall be saved.” The Lord bless these words, for His name’s sake. Amen.
This file from the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit is provided to ICLnet and the internet community by the Bath Road Baptist Church, Kingston, Ontario, Canada. The sermons are available in booklet form at the following address. There is no charge for this service:
With the current political climate it is very difficult to sift through all the dogma, emotions and concerns related to the national political scene. Scripture gives us a clear answer to most of our concerns and there is no possible way to teach exhaustively on this matter in a timely manner.
What is a Christian’s duty in voting? How does the church know how to vote? What should we listen to and say about political leaders? Should the church be invested in politics? What about social issues and legislation? These are hard questions to understand…
Therefore, next Tuesday we will be offering an open question and answer forum related to this issue. Please join us, be in prayer and bring your thoughts and wisdom as we look to Christ!
Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 4:1-2 ESV)
The church is called to be pure but how is that possible when we are still in our flesh? Scripture teaches that purity is the work of God and that even the striving toward righteousness is the work of Christ so that all who are in Him are driven to such lives. Make no mistake, those who love sin should check their faith.
1 Thessalonians 3:6–10 (ESV)
6 But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you— 7 for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. 8 For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord. 9 For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, 10 as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?
The prequel to this text seen in verse 6 gives us a certainty of Paul’s knowledge of the faith of the church. The short of it goes as follows:
BUT NOW – We were concerned and wanted to LEARN and know for certain of your faith.
TIMOTHY has brought us good news: OF YOUR FAITH, OF YOUR LOVE, OF YOUR KIND REMEMBRANCE OF US, OF YOUR LONGING TO SEE US. For this reason; we know your election is sure. For this reason; we are comforted because of your faith (through your faith)
In today’s message we see the reality of God’s power and are shown that there is certainty and hope in the lives of the Thessalonian Church because God has saved them in power and that their faith wasn’t an emotional man-centered response to the preached word.
When considering saving faith it is often misunderstood that belief begins and remains with just accepting the truth as true. Scripture shows that believing in reality and believing in the flesh are two different things. Believing by definition is “trust” in the truth of Christ, not just agreement with the truth of Christ.
In our study last night the question arose about “the Jews that believed” in John 8 and how Jesus proved through general dialog that they indeed did “not” believe in Him but rather believed in themselves and their covenant historically. This is an expert from “Saving Faith” an exposition of Chapter 10 of Romans by Dr. Lloyd-Jones. I pray this explanation helps. The original text was from 1997 and this posting was from 2001 and is available here.
“Saving Faith” An Exposition of Chapter 10, published by The Banner of Truth Trust: 1997 1.800.263.8085 (pp.28-39).
Romans 10:3 “For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.”
“For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going We have, so far, been dealing with the first two verses, and have seen that certain general lessons are taught there by the Apostle. These not only concern his contemporaries, the Jews, but are of universal application in the life of the church up to the present time.
We have seen that the Apostle’s particular concern here is to explain why the Jews were, in the main, outside the Christian church, whereas the Gentiles had been coming in. The general trouble was that the Jews had a zeal for God but it was ‘not according to knowledge’. Now the word that Paul uses here which is translated ‘knowledge’ is very interesting. It is the strongest word used in the Scriptures with regard to knowing. It does not merely mean a general acquaintance with something. It goes beyond that. It means a full, a correct, a precise and a vital knowledge, and the trouble with the Jews, says the Apostle Paul, is that they lacked it. And there is one further idea in the word. It refers to a knowledge which has been arrived at as the result of a good deal of investigation and effort. So then, Paul says, the Jews lacked that full apprehension, that certain knowledge which is the result of a careful and a thorough examination of a teaching. They had a zeal, but not such a knowledge.
Here, then, Paul again puts before us a most important principle, Which is that an exact knowledge of the truth is essential to salvation. The Jews had not got it, so they were outside; they were lost and he prays and longs for their salvation. Now this matter of knowledge is most important. I am of the opinion that the greatest danger confronting the Christian church and every individual Christian at this moment is to fail to understand and appreciate the absolute necessity of a precise, clear knowledge of the truth. I say this because we are living in days when there is a powerful reaction against all this.
We are living in an age that dislikes precision and definitions. It is an age that is anti-theological, anti-doctrinal and which dislikes propositions and exact knowledge. It is a lazy age in every respect, a sentimental, sloppy age, an age that wants entertainment and dislikes effort. In the whole of life today the principle is ‘something for nothing’. We are ready to take but we are not ready to work; we are not ready to give ourselves. It is true all round and it accounts for most of our problems. It is particularly true in the realm of the Christian church. We must therefore deal with this very carefully.
This tendency shows itself in many ways which are generally very plausible. One way is to say that Christianity is something that is so wonderful that it cannot be defined, that it baffles analysis or any attempt to state it in propositions. I am sure you are familiar with that particular view. People say you might as well try to dissect beauty, or an aroma, as to define the Christian faith. It cannot be done, they say. You experience it marvelous and wonderful! But if you try to analyze it, then you destroy it, there is nothing left. You must not bring the rude hands of analysis here.
Another way in which it is put is this: that Christianity is only a matter of one’s spirit. What makes us Christians is our spirit, and if we have an appropriate spirit, then we are Christians. Christianity is an attitude, a view of life, a general statement concerning our personality and our being. There was a slogan not so long ago which said, ‘Christianity is caught, not taught’. You catch the spirit. You feel it in the meeting and you get it. But what is it? Well, you do not know, but that does not matter. You have got it! That is the great thing and you feel much happier and much better than you did before.
Then a third way in which it is put is this: that after all what matters is our general reaction to the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now this is one of the most popular views of all. People say, ‘You read the Gospels and there you see this portrait of Him and, as it were, you meet Him. Now what decides whether you are a Christian or not is this: Do you like Him? Do you want to be like Him? Do you try to imitate Him? What is your reaction to Him?’ You must not come and dissect, and bring your propositions and your theology and say you have got to believe this and not believe that. What matters is your total response to Him, and if you react favorably to Him, then you are a Christian.
The fourth way is the approach that describes Christianity in terms of living. What does it matter what people believe as long as they are living good, Christ like lives, as long as they are generous, ready to make sacrifices, ready to help others, and concerned about the uplift of the race? That is what makes people Christians.
Now this dangerous attitude takes one other form. I put this in a category on its own because I am beginning to think that in some ways it is the most subtle form of all among evangelical people. It is the tendency to estimate whether or not people are Christians, not by what they actually say about their beliefs but by what you feel about them. Now, I do want to make this clear, because I have encountered it a great deal. We attach greater importance and significance to this ‘feeling’ that we may have about them than to the very words that the people themselves use about the Christian faith.
I want to give an example or two of this, because I confess that I am becoming alarmed about it; indeed, I am almost discouraged because it seems to me that if we proceed much further along this line, the evangelical faith is going to disappear. Let me give you an illustration. On a visit to London some years ago, I went into a certain bookroom which was managed by an evangelical organization in one of the major Christian denominations. To my astonishment, I found that they were selling there a secondhand book by a man who was notorious at that time. He was no longer alive, but he had written this well known book about Christianity in which he virtually denied all the cardinal articles of the Christian faith. As I was looking round, the secretary of this society came to speak to me, so I called his attention to this book and expressed my amazement.
‘Ah,’ he said, ‘wait a minute. You know, we must be very careful.’
‘What do you mean?’ I asked.
He said, ‘Have you ever met this men?’ end when I told him I had not, he replied, ‘Well, I have. I stayed with him a few months back. I was on deputation work and he entertained me for the night, and the next morning we went into a little chapel attached to his house where he took family prayers. And you know, I don’t think I have ever been in such a spiritual atmosphere. It was a blessing to my soul to hear him taking family prayers on that occasion.’
‘Yes, but my dear sir,’ I said, ‘what does he say in this book?’
‘Oh, I know that,’ he said, ‘but you see, if you had heard him taking those prayers! I have never known a more devout man. I have never been in a more devotional atmosphere.’
My reply was this: ‘But I don’t care what you felt. This is what the man says about the Lord Jesus Christ and His work and it is a denial of the Scriptures!’ But I found it very difficult to persuade him.
Then recently, a speaker was about to give an address on a certain religious book which had achieved some notoriety, and he prefaced his remarks by saying something like this. ‘Now I am going to criticize this book, but I must say this. A friend of mine who saw this man on television said to me, “If ever I have looked at a born again man there he was.”‘
You see, he was suggesting that what is said in the book does not matter! Though the writer denies the teaching of the Scripture and the creeds of his church, though he denies the being of God, the deity of Christ, and all the essentials of Christianity, in spite of that, what is being put first is our subjective feeling ‘The man looks to me to be a born again man.’ So in spite of what he says in his book ‘I therefore have a feeling, somehow, that the man is all right after all’!
This is happening in other ways, too. A few years ago there were various campaigns at which all kinds of people had come together who had never been together before. And evangelical Christians were saying, ‘You know, these others are such nice people, they are much nicer people than we ever thought.’ Why they should ever imagine that people who are wrong in their doctrine are of necessity not nice I do not know! But the argument had reached the point at which it was being said that, because they were so surprisingly nice, it did not matter very much, after all, that they were so wrong in their doctrine.
Or, to give one final illustration, I once had a lengthy discussion with an evangelical Christian in which I asked him why he had used a certain man in connection with his work. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘I know what you mean, I know what he has written in his books, I know what he preaches, but I have got to be honest. I find that I can have more fellowship with him than I can with many conservative evangelical Christians.’
I said, ‘What you really mean, of course, is that he is a nicer man by nature than many evangelical Christians. But,’ I went on, ‘you must not call it fellowship. You find that he is more affable and that you can get on more easily with him. But that is not spiritual fellowship!’
Now that is the kind of thing that is being said at the present time. It does not matter what people may teach. Though they may deny the very essence of Christianity, if I like them, if I am attracted to them, if I can talk easily to them, then that is what counts. It is what they are that is important and thus they make an appeal to you.
Here, then, is the very thing to which our attention is being drawn by this statement of the Apostle Paul. So what do we say about this modern tendency? Here is the answer.
First, that Christian people are mistaking natural qualities, niceness, a cultural veneer or politeness, for true Christian grace. It seems that we are no longer capable of differentiating between the two. How often today is affability mistaken for saintliness! ‘What a gracious man he is,’ they say. What they really mean is this: he never criticizes and he agrees with everybody and everything. I know of nothing more dangerous than that. These so called gracious men are, of course, altogether nicer than John the Baptist or the Apostle Paul! I do not hesitate to go further they are very much nicer than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, who denounced the Pharisees! Affability is not saintliness. A mere intellectual, moral flabbiness, is not synonymous with graciousness and with the possession of grace!
Secondly, the fact that people are devout tells us nothing about the truth of what they believe. There are very devout Jews, devout Muslims, devout followers of Buddha, Confucius, and so on. A devout attitude in and of itself tells us nothing.
Thirdly, the moment we begin to talk in these terms, it means that we have abandoned all objective standards. We are now judging only by our own subjective feelings, by our impressions and reactions. Is there anything so dangerous?
Fourthly, and much more important, it is a complete denial of what the Apostle is teaching at this very point, and indeed in the whole of his Epistle. The Jews, he says, are lost and they need to be saved. Why? Because they are lacking in exact knowledge of the truth. This is the reason for their condemnation. So we must never put anything before exact knowledge. It is the most important thing of all.
My fifth argument is this: to speak like that is a violation not only of what the Apostle teaches here, but also of the whole of the New Testament teaching with regard to the way of salvation. What does it teach? Well, it talks about coming ‘unto the knowledge of the truth’ [I Tim. 2:4]. Everything in the New Testament is put in terms of truth. What is preaching? Preaching is a proclamation of the truth. And it is an exact proclamation. Preaching is not talking about a vague feeling, but is the presentation of a message, of a case. Preaching is something that is reasoned and argued from the Scriptures. It is truth, and therefore it must always be in the first position.
The Apostle says this clearly and specifically in 1 Timothy 2:35: ‘For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved’ he means all types and kinds of men ‘and to come unto the knowledge of the truth’. That is salvation, this exact knowledge of the truth. ‘For there is one God’ there it is! ‘and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.’ There is the truth specified. And yet the whole tendency today is to say, ‘It doesn’t matter!’
Furthermore, this is a truth that can be defined in detail, indeed, it must be defined in detail. The first chapter of Galatians brings out this point. ‘I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: which is not another. . .’ [Gal. 1:67]. But how can Paul say that? You can only make a statement like that if you know what the gospel is. There must be some objective standard, and he says that these people have departed from that. They say they are preaching a gospel. But it is ‘not another’, he says, there cannot be, this is the one and only gospel.
In other words, you can tell whether a man is preaching the gospel or not, or whether he believes the gospel or not, by what he says! It does not matter what he is in his appearance or in his personality-what does he say ? Is it the gospel, or something that is passing as gospel, which is not the gospel? Then Paul makes it still more explicit: ‘But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed’ [v. 8]. Could anything be plainer or stronger?
Or take it again in 2 Timothy 2 :78: ‘Consider what I say,’ says the Apostle, ‘and the Lord give thee understanding.’ that is what people need; it is understanding. Get rid of this sloppy sentimentality that talks about ‘niceness’ and lives on its feelings. ‘Remember,’ he says, ‘that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel.’ What did he mean by my gospel? Well, he goes on to tell us. He contrasts it with the false teaching in which some people were indulging. They taught that ‘the resurrection is past already’ and they ‘overthrow the faith of some’ [v. 18].
I once read a printed sermon on Paul’s words, ‘my gospel’, in which the preacher put forward this erroneous view. He said, ‘The Apostle says, “My gospel”, and the question for you, friends, is: Can you say, “My gospel” ? Of course, it may not be mine, it may not be somebody else’s, but the whole point is, can you say, “My gospel” ?’
The whole purpose of that sermon was to show that the Apostle did not mean to suggest that he was right and everyone else was wrong. The preacher argued that such a thing would be unthinkable for a Christian man to say. What Paul meant, said this preacher, was that he had not got a secondhand faith but had found something which had made all the difference to him, and all he was concerned about was that everybody else should have something that made all the difference to them something about which they could say ‘my gospel’. It would not be the same thing in every case, of course. It would be one thing for one person and another for someone else. One would believe in the deity of Christ, and another would not; one believes that Christ bore his sins and was punished, someone else believes He was just dying the death of a pacifist. But what does it matter? We all get a good deal out of that death. ‘My gospel’! And this is, of course, nothing but a complete denial of what the Apostle was teaching!
The Apostle’s case was always this: there is only one gospel. It had been committed to him and he preached it. Any departure from it was a lie, and whoever preached a lie deserved to tee ‘accursed’. And, of course, this teaching is not confined to the Apostle Paul. In Jude 3, we read this:
‘Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once [and forever] delivered unto the saints.’ The faith is something that you can contend for and if you do not know what it is, or if people can believe what they like, then you cannot contend for it. The New Testament denounces heresies; and there would never be such a thing as a heresy if you did not have a truth that can be defined and stated in the form of propositions. So this modern idea which puts personality, or niceness, or ‘whet I feel’ about a person, before exact propositions and definitions, and precision in knowledge, is a denial of the whole of the New Testament teaching.
But still further: the Bible teaches us that continuation in the Christian life is always as the result of truth, and knowledge of truth. Our Lord prayed in His high-priestly prayer: ‘Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth’ John 17:17]. Or take what He said on another occasion to those Jews who believed on Him, ‘If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free’ John 8:31]. It is the truth, not feelings, that makes you free!
My final argument is this. The Apostle Peter, in the third chapter of his First Epistle, verse fifteen, says, ‘be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.’ A man comes to you and says, ‘Look here, why are you a Christian?’ He wants you to give an explanation. If you adopt this modern teaching, all you can say is this: ‘Well, I don’t know that I can tell you but I just feel like this. I began to feel like this suddenly in a meeting, and I am glad to say that I have been feeling like this ever since. It is a wonderful feeling, though I don’t know what it is.’
Then the man says, ‘What is this “hope” you have?’
‘Well,’ you reply, ‘I don’t know, I am just hopeful, that is all. I have taken a more optimistic view of life ever since I had this wonderful experience and I feel happier and bright and cheerful.’ You cannot give him a reason. In that case, says Peter, you are no use to him; he will now, poor fellow, try to get this ‘feeling’ that you have had and he will go the round of meetings hoping that he is going to get it. That is not the way, says Peter. Give him a reason for the hope that is in you. And that means a detailed knowledge of the truth.
I am not saying, of course, that a Christian is someone who has a complete understanding about the whole of the Christian faith. Of course not! Nobody has that. We are all still learning. All that I am saying is that there must be a clear understanding about an irreducible minimum. You cannot be a Christian at all unless you have that. I am not, in other words, saying that we must turn this gospel into a requirement, and that unless we all agree in every detail about prophecy, or the mode of baptism, or many other subjects, that we are not Christians. That is sheer legalism! There are many people who have fallen into that error.
But that is not the danger today! The danger today is that we are so afraid of legalism that we have become utterly nondescript. We have knocked down all the barriers and the signposts; anything is all right. We are a happy lot together and we have a wonderful spirit. Roman Catholics are suddenly now changing. Everything is marvelous. We are going to have a great universal church and there will be no more trouble.
But that is the very opposite of the New Testament teaching. No, I am not arguing for a legalistic precision. All I am arguing for is what the Apostle Paul is putting before us here in Romans 10:3. These Jews, he says, are outside because they have not got this exact knowledge that saves! There are implications and aspects of this great truth about which we cannot and must not speak dogmatically. But about the thing that saves us we must be as dogmatic as we can be This is absolutely essential to salvation.
The Apostle’s whole point is that the Jews are lost, and he is anxious about them, concerned for them and praying for them. They are in that position for one reason only their lack of a precise knowledge as to the way of salvation. Therefore I do not hesitate to say that if you tell me that such an exact knowledge is not essential, that people can be Christians without it, then I say that you are denying the New Testament gospel. I do not care what experience they have had, how much better or nicer they are than they once were I am not interested. Men and women are saved by coming to a knowledge of the truth!
The Apostle says all that to us in this word ‘knowledge’. But in verse 3 he works it out in detail, and he has three things to say about the Jews. The first is that they were ‘ignorant of God’s righteousness’. That is the first respect in which this lack of knowledge caused their condemnation. Now what does Paul mean here by the term ‘God’s righteousness’? There is a slight difficulty about this. It is not important ultimately, but we must look at it in order to get our minds clear. There are two views.
Most of the commentators are agreed in saying that by ‘God’s righteousness’ Paul means the righteousness that God has prepared for, and gives to, the Christian. They say that it must be that because of what Paul says at the end of the verse: ‘They being ignorant of God’s righteousness .. . have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.’
Now there is no doubt about the meaning of ‘the righteousness of God’. It means that they have not submitted themselves to the righteousness that God has prepared and gives, about which Paul has spoken in chapter 1:17 ‘the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith’. So, the commentators say, it must have that meaning at the beginning of 10:3 also, because if it does not, then the Apostle is using the same word in two different senses in the same verse.
If that view is correct, the Apostle is saying that these people are lost because they have a great zeal but it is not according to knowledge. They do not know about the righteousness that God has provided and have not submitted to it. Instead, they have gone about to establish their own righteousness. That is the commonly accepted interpretation.
But with considerable trepidation, because of the authorities, I feel constrained to say that even if I do accept that, I cannot accept it as being the total or indeed the adequate explanation of this term. What, then, does it mean? Well, I suggest it means the righteousness that God demands of me. Paul is saying that they were ignorant of this righteousness that God demands. Why do I say that? Partly because, taking the other view, Paul is guilty of tautology, and he is not normally guilty of that. So it seems to me that in order to show how the argument advances here we must accept this second interpretation.
But there is an even stronger argument. What was the main trouble with the Jews ? Well, our Lord Himself has answered the question for us. It is to be found in Matthew 5:20, part of the Sermon on the Mount: ‘I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.’ And then He goes on to interpret what He means by that. The whole trouble with the Pharisees was that they had misinterpreted the Old Testament teaching about the righteousness that God demands. That is what the Sermon on the Mount deals with, especially in chapter five: ‘Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time . . . But I say unto you’ [see, for example, w. 2122, 2728, 3132].
The Pharisees rejected Christ because they had misunderstood God’s real demands, the demands of God’s law, the demands of God’s righteousness. So in the Sermon on the Mount our Lord preaches to them on the meaning of the law that was given through Moses, and what He keeps on saying to them, in effect, is this: ‘You have misinterpreted it. You are taking it only in the act, but God means it in the spirit, in the mind, in the heart. You say, “I have not committed adultery.” I ask you, have you looked at a woman to commit adultery in your imagination? If you have, you are guilty.’ And so on with murder and all the rest.
In other words, our Lord’s whole case against the Pharisees and scribes was that they had got muddled about the meaning of God’s demands upon them in terms of righteousness. There are many examples of this very thing in the Gospels, for in stance, what the Lord said about the support of parents in Matthew 15 :39 and about tithing in Matthew 23:2328. The final proof of this is the famous case of the Pharisee and the publican: ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are’ [Luke 18:1011]. Here is the picture of a man who thought that he had completely satisfied the demands of God.
So I argue that when the Apostle says in Romans 10:3 that the Jews were ignorant of God’s righteousness, he means that they were entirely ignorant of what God really was demanding of them.
This leads us to the word ignorant, which is a most interesting word. It implies that they had some knowledge. Paul does not say that these Jews were completely ignorant about the righteousness of God. No. Their trouble was that they knew something about it but they did not have an exact knowledge of it. In other words, ‘ignorance’ here is the exact opposite of the full and precise knowledge of verse 2.
You see, you can have a certain amount of knowledge, but it is not enough. You must have precise knowledge. The Jews had a knowledge. But they were ignorant! It was not a full knowledge but was partial and vitiated. That again, of course, was the trouble with the Pharisees and was it not also the trouble with the Apostle Paul himself before his conversion? Take Philippians 3:46:’Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.’
That is what Paul used to think. He really did believe, like all the Pharisees, that he had fulfilled the law of God, and was absolutely blameless. So what was his trouble? It was that he had a knowledge of the law but not an exact knowledge. It was all right up to a point, but then he ruined it all by misinterpretation. He himself was a perfect illustration of the very thing that he says here.
And then 1 Timothy 1:13, where Paul expresses amazement that he is in the ministry. He recalls that he ‘was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious’, but he ‘obtained mercy because,’ he says, ‘I did it ignorantly in unbelief.’ And when he says that he was ignorant he does not mean that he knew nothing. He was a Pharisee, he knew a great deal about the law and the Scriptures. But, he says, ‘I did it ignorantly.’ Yes, it is exactly the same word.
The Apostle’s own experience, therefore, and that of all the Pharisees, I think confirms this exposition that I am putting before you. The whole trouble with the Jews was that they thought that they knew what the law of God demanded. But they did not. Their knowledge was so imperfect that it had become a lie, and it was standing between them and the knowledge of salvation in and through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
So you see the point at which we have arrived. This precise knowledge is absolutely essential. Not only must you have knowledge, you must have precise knowledge. Ignorance (a little knowledge) is the enemy; it is the cause of the lost condition of Paul’s fellow countrymen, the Jews. May God once and for ever rid our minds of this dangerous, terrible tendency to discount exact knowledge, definition, propositions, doctrine and theology.
And may the Lord help us to see that what passes as charity is at the expense of denying precise knowledge of the truth and is not charity but laxity. Ultimately, it is a betrayal and denial of the truth of God.
In our message today, we find the Apostle Paul giving some great encouragement revealing the narrative of his fear and desire to see the joy of the Thessalonians. He readily admits that he fears they would fall away due to the difficult time of persecution proving that their preaching of the gospel was in vain for their salvation. To Paul’s joy, Timothy found the infant and orphaned church strong and full of life proving their election as they received the word of God in power, much suffering and with much joy! This text teaches us the power of God’s gospel and how HE and only HE can overcome in our lives. One of the great beauties of this text is that Paul and the Apostles found comfort in their own trials by knowing that the orphaned church was thriving in the faith!
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ in now way is weak, except that Christ became weak and gave Himself for the redemption of lost and dead sinners. This is our only hope; Christ is our only hope and nothing else gives eternal life but Jesus Christ and His life, death and resurrection.