Monday, June 8, 2015

By Grace You Have Been Saved, Through Faith

The following is a chapter of the book "40 of the Most Popular Bible Verses (and what they REALLY mean!)." You can find a copy of the book by clicking here!

Ephesians 2:8
"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God…"

The word "gospel" means "good news." But in order for news to be good, we have to know the bad news first. And here it is: you have sinned. All sin is open rebellion against God, and the penalty is death. By making a person aware of the bad news, we are able to till the heart for them to receive the good news.
"And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus" (v.1-7).
Twice in these first seven verses, we are described as "dead." Not just dying—dead. As a corpse. Can you resurrect yourself? No. Nor do you have the power to revive anyone else who is dead.

If you walked up to a dead man lying in the middle of the street and said, "Hey, there's a hospital over there, let's go and get you some help," that man is not going to get up to help himself. Again, he's dead! Even if you dragged him to the hospital, you could put the paddles on his body and shock him all day and he's still not going to have life.

If we're dead, we're dead. We can't revive ourselves and no one else can revive us. It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that we are regenerated, brought from death to life. "It is the Spirit who gives life," Jesus said; "the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life" (John 6:63).

In Ezekiel 37, the Lord brought the prophet to a valley full of dry bones. There were so many bones that they covered the surface of the valley. And he said to Ezekiel, "Son of man, can these bones live?" The prophet answered him, "O Lord God, you know."

Then God said, "Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord."

So that's what Ezekiel did. And when he spoke the word of the Lord, the bones began to rattle. They started coming together, bone to bone. Sinew started to form on them, just as God said, and flesh and skin covered them. But there was no breath in the bones.

Then the Lord said, "Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live." So Ezekiel continued to prophesy the word of the Lord, and breath came into them and they lived and stood to their feet, "an exceedingly great army," as he described them.

This is the picture of evangelism. This is how a person is brought from death to life—by the Spirit of God. First the Spirit regenerates the person to receive the gospel, then the Spirit breathes life into the person with the gospel. This is how a person is brought to salvation. Not by praying a prayer. Not by repeating after me. Not by coming down front. Not by being baptized in water. We are saved by grace through faith, not of works. Ephesians 2:8-9 reads:
"For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast."
All three of those things—grace, salvation, and faith—are all the work of God. Yes, even faith, which is commonly taught to be from man and not of God. But faith is not a thing we direct at God. It's not something we use to channel God. The ability to believe (the ability to do anything, really) is given to us by God himself.

One could argue that "this" in Ephesians 2:8 is talking about "grace," not "faith." That's fine. It still doesn't change the fact that faith comes from God. As Sam Storms wrote, "That faith by which we come into experiential possession of what God in grace has provided is as much a gift as any and every other aspect of salvation. One can no more deny that faith is wrapped up in God's gift to us than he can deny it of God's grace."

Remember Romans 10:17 which says that faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ. Romans 12:3 says that faith is apportioned by God. In 2 Thessalonians 3:2, we read that wicked and evil men have no faith. It's not from man. It comes from God.

No where—not one place in the Bible—is salvation ever eluded to as being a cooperative effort between God and man. We do nothing to save ourselves. Again, we're dead. Apart from God we can do nothing. Romans 3:10-12 says that no one is righteous, no one seeks for God, and no one does good. So how can we possibly "make a decision" to follow Christ, which would unquestionably be a good thing?

"Well what about repentance?" you might say. "We're supposed to repent of our sins. Isn't that a choice we make? Surely that was all me!" Nope. Repentance comes from God, too (Acts 11:18, 2 Timothy 2:25). I mean, really, we do nothing to save ourselves. It is from start to finish the gracious work of God.

"But I chose to follow God!" you can argue. "I know he called me, and I answered! I made a choice!" The only reason you were able to make that choice is because the Spirit enabled you to. Romans 8:11 reads, "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you."

It is by no work of ours that we are saved. We can take no credit for it. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone, "not a result of works, so that no one may boast."

Paul repeats this theme continually. To pastors Titus and Timothy, he wrote that God saved us not by works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy (Titus 3:5), because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the world began (2 Timothy 1:9).

Now, even though our works do not save us, we are still called to work. Ephesians 2:10 reads, "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." Good works do not bring us salvation—we walk in them as a result of our salvation.

In John 15:5, Jesus said, "I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing."

We read in Romans 8:30, "Those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified." The salvation process, inside and out, from beginning to end, is the complete and gracious work of God through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Who said it? The Apostle Paul.
To whom? The church in Ephesus.
What was the setting? Paul was likely writing from prison in Rome.
When did this happen? About 62 A.D.
How did he say it? Through a letter.
Why did he say it? Paul loved the Ephesian church and wanted to encourage them further in their understanding of the redemptive work of Christ.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Movie Review for "Beyond the Mask"

I've been told that I have a generally negative take on movies. Yup. I won't deny that. I confess that I went to see Son of God, Noah, and Exodus: God's and Kings with the expectation that they were going to be Scripturally off. I mean, really, can you blame me? Do I even need to say that in each one of those occasions, I was correct? (I guess I just did.)

There are people praising A.D. The Series and should not. I'm not just out to offer my opinion. I'm also not writing just to say, "These are bad movies." I'm writing with the intention of drawing the reader to the true word of God. Do not get inherently excited about anything claiming to be "Christian." In most cases, they do way more harm than good. Test the spirits, for many false prophets have gone out into the world (1 John 4:1).

But as one friend asked of me recently, "Couldn't you do a review where you're actually recommending a movie, not just criticizing it?" I do feel like I gave a positive review of VeggieTales In the House. But alright. I shall officially recommend a film (in whatever official capacity I have). And the film I recommend is called Beyond the Mask, out today in limited release. I was privileged to get a sneak peek during a one-night showing a few months ago.

Now I will preface this review by saying, again, it's been a while since I've seen it. I also didn't sit and watch it -- meaning I stood the whole time. Our infant daughter, Aria, was pitching a fit, and since having a newborn, my wife doesn't get to sit and enjoy much. So I took Aria to the back and walked in the aisle to sooth her so my wife could enjoy the movie with our kids.

Yes, we also had our 7-year-old and our 3-year-old with us. I visited with someone who saw the film and determined that it was acceptable for them to see. There is some violence, but trust me, it's not Hollywood violence. I read the Bible with my children and leave nothing out. They were perfectly capable of handling what was on screen.

The movie stars mostly unrecognizable names except for the always-charming John Rhys-Davies from Indiana Jones fame and Gimli in The Lord of the Rings (and the voice of Treebeard, in case you didn't know).

Rhys-Davies also played Mordecai in One Night With the King, the 2006 film based on the biblical story of Esther, and has been in other Christian-ish titles. Beyond the Mask is also a Christian-based film (there's a reference to John 8:32 on the movie poster there) which makes me wonder if Rhys-Davies is a man of the faith, but I don't know.

But yes, anyway, Beyond the Mask is a historical epic that takes place in Revolutionary-era America with Christian undertones. Some might argue about whether or not to call it a "Christian film" as that's not really the movie's approach. But within the dialogue, talking about matters of grace and repentance and even salvation in Christ -- all of that is theologically solid. Imagine that! A doctrinally sound movie!

There are elements of the plot I don't want to give away. I went into the movie knowing very little about it, and I think that played into my enjoyment. The action and the scripting are all very top-notch, and there are some fun cameos featuring well-known American historical figures. I don't know who the gentleman was they got to play [omitting his name on purpose] but the likeness was pretty amazing.

The actor playing the lead character is not the best. I'm sorry, Mr. Cheney, but this is a review and I have to be honest -- I thought the lead role could have been better. (If it's any consolation, I didn't think Christian Bale was a good Batman.) But Rhys-Davies is fantastic as always. What a voice on that guy. And the unknown Kara Killmer, who plays the lead heroine, steals every scene she's in.

She's not just there to play the damsel-in-distress either. Killmer's character is smart, witty, and strong. While Hollywood either forces feminism down everyone's throat to unpalattable degrees, or presents an endangered woman with the endurance of a wet napkin, the filmmakers and Killmer have crafted a feminine character with such a natural vitality, the movie couldn't have made it without her.

One of the things I wish they had done more of -- There's a vigilante element to the movie, and I wish they would have played up their Zorro-like character more than they did (again, it's called Beyond the Mask). Any kids who watch the movie might want to pretend to be the Masked vigilante. If they had developed his mystique, he could have turned out to be a captivating hero.

At the same time, part of the plot is that as a vigilante, he's breaking the law. (Yeah, sorry, but Batman is a criminal.) That comes back and plays into the grace aspect of his redemption. There is a minor romantic element, a love-story subplot, but it's nothing inappropriate. The movie contains violence, and people die, which is rare for a "Christian" film to even attempt that. But it's necessary to the plot and not done for shock. Overall the film is a well thought-out epic that made for a great movie-watching experience.

You have to understand, or maybe you do if you've read enough of my reviews, this is a rare thing for me to say. My church congregation knows. I get ribbed for how few movies I like. Some think I don't like anything. There are plenty of movies and shows I love. I just don't like wasting my time and money on something that someone spent hundreds of millions of dollars to make and couldn't afford to bother with little things like, um, a PLOT!! Maybe some dialogue not written by an adolescent. I don't ask for much!

But Beyond the Mask gets everything right where it counts. I had a wonderful evening with the family. When my wife and I found out it was coming to theaters in limited release, we looked for it in our area, but perhaps we already had our turn. I would definitely watch it again. If it's playing in a theater near you, go see it. Let me know if you enjoyed it, too.