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Christian Perfection by Grace and Works
We are saved by grace (favor/election), through faith, and not of works, that no one should boast. But at the same time, grace comes as we do the works of the Father. We love the Father and we love our neighbor. But what is love without works? What is faith without works? Can there be grace without works?
Ephesians 2:4-9 But God, being rich in mercy, for his great love with which he loved us, (5) even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), (6) and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, (7) that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus; (8) for by grace you have been savedthrough faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, (9) not of works, that no one would boast .
This verse is often quoted to emphasize that works is not involved in salvation. It's not something that we do. It's only something that God does. But what about the very next verse?
Ephesians 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand , that we should walk in them.
The works expected of us were "prepared beforehand." This sounds very much like election. We were elected to be saved in this age, the firstfruits of the harvest. We were elected to be saved so that we can do the works that God has prepared for us to do. With salvation being a journey, if we are not involved in doing the works that were prepared for us, can we complete the journey?
I'm not saying that missing an opportunity to serve Christ is a "sin of omission." I'm saying that doing the works for the Father is a consuming fire. It becomes exciting. It becomes the major part of one's life. And if we are not being consumed by the fire of doing the Father's works, then we should question whether or not we are on the path of salvation that will bring about Christian perfection. Until we reach Christian perfection, we can't inherit eternal life.
Deuteronomy 4:24 For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.
Hebrews 12:29 for our God is a consuming fire.
Every true Christian was elected by God to do good works. Every Christian was "created in Christ Jesus for good works." We must all earn a living. But what consumes us when we are not earning a living? What is our consuming fire? Is it sports? Is it TV? Is it socializing? Is it computer games? Perhaps it's a consuming hobby such as amateur radio. Or is it doing the works that God prepared for us? In other words, when we are not earning a living, does the fire that consumes us primarily benefit ourselves, or does it benefit our neighbors and further the kingdom of God? "God is a consuming fire, a jealous God."
My parents had three sons and no daughters. All three of us have consuming-fire ministries for which we are not paid.
My brother, Keith Brown, has three consuming-fire ministries which pay him no money. So he must also earn a living to support his wife and two children. Keith is a scout master. He has a tremendous impact on the lives of many teenage boys.
Keith is also chairman of the board for Camp Living Water. ( www.camplivingwater.com ) This is a children's Bible camp which was founded by our grandfather in 1947. In addition to his responsibilities on the board, Keith is heavily involved in fund-raising efforts for some new buildings being built on the property. This is a Bible camp in the mountains of North Carolina, which is a four and a half hour drive from where Keith lives.
Keith is also heavily involved in fund-raising efforts for the Mukhanyo Christian Academy in South Africa. ( http://www.friendsofmukhanyo.com ) Here is a website quote:
Mukhanyo Christian Academy is a faith-based K-12 private school serving AIDS orphans and vulnerable children in Mpumalanga, a poor region near Pretoria, South Africa. The academy offers free schooling, foster homes, daily meals, and healthcare and other services to some of South Africa’s most vulnerable children.
Keith has taken his entire family to South Africa so they could also experience the burden of the need, and the excitement of doing something about it. I have witnessed a huge impact in my brother's walk with God as he has learned the true meaning of living by faith, and doing the works that the Father prepared beforehand for him to do. At first Keith wondered why God had him doing some of the things he was doing. Much if it didn't seem to fit his specific talents. Now, he is beginning to see more clearly how it all fits together. He is seeing how all his life-long ambitions are coming together in the works that God prepared beforehand for him. For him, God is a consuming fire.
My other brother is Vance Brown. Vance is a licensed attorney and has extensive business and entrepreneurial experience. He is Chairman and CEO of Cherwell Software ( www.cherwell.com ). Vance is a co-founder of the company. The company employs over fifty people and is without debt or venture capital. Vance has a wife and three children, two of which are in college.
Most people would think that any successful entrepreneur would be completely consumed by his business. But that's not the case with Vance. He has a consuming-fire ministry that he started called Band of Brothers ( www.bandofbrothers.org ). Also see ( www.beartrapranch.org ). The following quote was taken from the Amazon page for his recently published book titled, "No matter the Cost."
Vance Brown is chairman and CEO of Band of Brothers ministry, which helps men "fight the good fight." The ministry offers church conferences, small-group materials, and online community forums for men.
His church conferences are all-day events involving seventy to several hundred men. I've been to one of his church conferences and was amazed at how well my little brother can preach. The other men attending would comment that they had not expected how intense the conference would be. Afterwards, these men tended to form band-of-brothers small groups that had a big impact on their lives for years to come. For Vance, this ministry is God's consuming fire.
It's not just my brothers. Several of my friends have consuming-fire ministries. Eddie has been a close friend of mine since the eighth grade. (We are both now over fifty-five years old.) Eddie enjoys teaching classes in association with Crown Financial Ministries ( www.crown.org ).
Another friend of mine does volunteer work for the TLC Pharmacy ( www.tlcpharmacy.org ). This organization runs entirely with non-paid volunteer workers. They operate from an old bank branch building in downtown Colorado Springs. It was started by a pastor whose faith brought the money needed to buy the bank. With today's health system, many people literally have to choose between buying food or prescription drugs. The organization provides free prescription drugs to low-income people who do not have health insurance.
Working for the TLC Pharmacy had such a big impact on my friend that she decided to quit her job as a computer programmer and go back to school to become a social worker. Unfortunately, she had a rude awakening about the social worker school. It was way too liberal for her. As a Christian she could not tolerate the things being taught. So she decided to go back to computer programming. Being a full-time social worker was not God's plan for her.
There are some situations where God leads people into a full-time ministry. But for most of us, God has a consuming-fire ministry without earning money. These ministries have the biggest impact on our lives. No money is earned. This is what it means to store our treasures in heaven. Pastors and other full-time paid ministers can certainly be doing work for the Father. But full-time ministry can easily become self-oriented. The pastor who earns his living from his church tends to refrain from preaching against sin if he thinks doing so might cause members to leave. Full-time missionaries and evangelists might be driven to preach a gospel of simple faith that does not count the cost of true discipleship. Then people believe they are walking the Christian life; but they are not.
Luke 14:26-33 "If anyone comes to me, and doesn't hate his own father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he can't be my disciple. (27) Whoever doesn't bear his own cross, and come after me, can't be my disciple. (28) For which of you, desiring to build a tower, doesn't first sit down and count the cost , to see if he has enough to complete it? (29) Or perhaps, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, everyone who sees begins to mock him, (30) saying, 'This man began to build, and wasn't able to finish.' (31) Or what king, as he goes to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? (32) Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends an envoy, and asks for conditions of peace. (33) So therefore whoever of you who doesn't renounce all that he has, he can't be my disciple.
Full-time pastors should consider finding a consuming-fire ministry that is unrelated to their own church. Then, they would be able to set the example and preach the need to do likewise. Thus, they can preach against sin, but at the same time put their emphasis on doing the works of the Father as a means of changing lives and overcoming sin. This in turn leads the church to Christian perfection.
(1) Revelation 2:2-5 " I know your works, and your toil and perseverance, and that you can't tolerate evil men, and have tested those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and found them false. (3) You have perseverance and have endured for my name's sake, and have not grown weary. (4) But I have this against you, that you left your first love. (5) Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent and do the first works; or else I am coming to you swiftly, and will move your lampstand out of its place, unless you repent.
(2) Revelation 2:9 " I know your works, oppression, and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews, and they are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.
(3) Revelation 2:13 " I know your works and where you dwell, where Satan's throne is. You hold firmly to my name, and didn't deny my faith in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.
(4) Revelation 2:19 " I know your works, your love, faith, service, patient endurance, and that your last works are more than the first.
(5) Revelation 3:2-3 Wake up, and keep the things that remain, which you were about to throw away, for I have found no works of yours perfected before my God. (3) Remember therefore how you have received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If therefore you won't watch , I will come as a thief, and you won't know what hour I will come upon you .
(6) Revelation 3:8 " I know your works (behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one can shut), that you have a little power, and kept my word, and didn't deny my name.
(7) Revelation 3:15-17 " I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were cold or hot. (16) So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will vomit you out of my mouth. (17) Because you say, 'I am rich, and have gotten riches, and have need of nothing;' and don't know that you are the wretched one, miserable, poor, blind, and naked;
Each of the seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation have three things in common. (1) They all start out speaking about works. The churches are judged by their works. (2) They all end with speaking about overcoming sin. (3) They all end with something like, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." What is the Spirit saying to the churches? It's to do the works of the Father. As we do the works of the Father we overcome all our sinful habits because we are filled by the Holy Spirit.
A consuming-fire ministry is the best way to grow in Christ, and to become perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are given to enable us to do the "good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we may walk in them." Each of us have different talents. Each of us have different gifts. So each of us needs to be involved in a different consuming-fire ministry.
Small groups have become more and more popular in many churches. Small groups provide the opportunity to interact with other Christians. Small groups can hold prayer and Bible studies. Sometimes, they get involved in a ministry as a joint project. But usually, these are short-lived efforts. The problem is that not everyone in the group is going to be drawn to the same ministry. The ministry does not become a consuming fire.
A better approach would be to have small groups that put emphasis on supporting each other's consuming-fire ministries. The group could help each member find the ministry that is right for them. And until they find God's purpose for their lives with their own consuming-fire ministry, the members of the group can help out in the consuming-fire ministries of others in the group.
The small group can pray for each other's ministries. This will get the group prayer focused on our neighbors, instead of just about our own problems. The group can give testimonies about what God is doing in their lives by being involved in a consuming-fire ministry. This will tie the group together in one common purpose, which is to serve God. As the group gets closer and matures in this way, they can really begin to confess their sins one to another, and to overcome all sinful habits.
Small groups might or might not be associated with a larger church. After all, the early churches were probably just house churches networked together in the city. The primary function of a church should be to facilitate the work that God has prepared beforehand for each member. Consuming-fire small groups would grow quickly, because God is a consuming fire.