June 5, 2012

God rewards obedience

The book of James caused some consternation (and still does) because it seems to contradict the rest of the New Testament teaching that salvation is never by works, always by grace. In seeming contrast, James says, “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead… Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? … You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:17, 20, 24). 

James argues that true faith results in action. For example, if someone banged on my  front door and told me that my house was on fire, I could believe it or not. But if I believed that person, I would do something, not just say, “Oh, that’s nice” and close the door in their face. 

Today’s reading is simple. It says, “Where true faith is, it will induce obedience; and where it does induce obedience, it will always, in one form or another, bring a blessing.”
Faith produces works. However, this reading takes the principal from James one step farther. Not only does true faith result in obedience, obedience results in a blessing. Here is one illustration.
Now at Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet. He was crippled from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul speaking. And Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well, said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he sprang up and began walking. (Acts 14:8–10)
Because he believed, he was cured. Because he was cured, he stood up, he walked. These verses and the truths they demonstrate fly in the face of those who suppose that faith in God is useless or pointless or has no value. Faith is the only starting point for obedience. In fact, I will not do what God says if I do not believe Him or have doubts that His words or commands are right or valuable. Believing Him is always the first thing. 

Yet obedience is always rewarded, either here and now, or later. Some say that our spiritual lives and our obedience should not be based on hopes for a reward, but that is not a biblical idea. For instance, God promised a reward to Jesus for His obedience, as indicated by this:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1–2)
For the joy set before Him, Jesus obeyed and endured, obediently going to the cross and dying for our sin. The idea of a reward was behind His obedience. He is not alone; God also promises rewards for obedience to His people.
Whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. (Ephesians 6:8)
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:23–24)
Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. (Hebrews 10:35)
By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. (Hebrews 11:24–26)
Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. (Revelation 22:12)

Lord, I do not think too much about rewards, particularly those that I will receive in heaven. I have very little knowledge of what that means. However, I do know the rewards of obedience in this life. Every time that I do what You ask me to do, I am filled with Your peace and experience the joy of the Holy Spirit. Just knowing that I have done Your will is a reward. Knowing that my obedience fits into Your eternal plan encourages me to trust and obey and to keep at it.

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