Summary: A look at a bigger idea of God's Salvation.
James MacDonald writes: “The church of Jesus Christ is not like a Target store. It’s not like you go, get what you came for, and then head home again. The church isn’t just about you getting what you need. It’s about you participating in what everyone needs. It is a community of families all working together so that the church can be all God wants it to be.” One of the hapless beliefs the church has operated under for many years is that the Christian life is just a matter of getting “saved” and that is the end of it until we get to heaven. According to some, having our sins forgiven is what the Christian life is all about. One major evangelical theologian recently spoke at a conference on the topic “Did Jesus Preach the Gospel?” He stated that there was only one place in all the Gospels where it indicated that he might have understood the doctrine of being justified by faith. Other than that — not so much. I was mystified that a theologian could be that clueless.
Scott McKnight, another leading theologian, tells of meeting a pastor of a large church in an airport. McKnight was telling the man he was contemplating the meaning of the biblical term “Gospel”. The pastor retorted, “Well, that’s easy. It is justification by faith.” McKnight pressed the point and said, “Did Jesus understand and preach the gospel?” The pastor said, “Of course not. He lived before Paul and did not have access to his writings. He could not have understood the gospel without reading Paul.” I literally gasped when I heard that — Jesus did not understand the gospel. Paul got it, but Jesus did not. Could anything be more absurd. But this is the thinking of those who think the gospel is only about being justified by faith, or having our sins forgiven. It borders on blasphemy to think that Jesus did not understand what it meant to have a right relationship with God. It is such a small idea of what the Christian life is all about.
Jesus came preaching the Kingdom of God. He talked about what it meant to know God and be a part of a Kingdom that was not a part of this world. He spoke of a transformation of heart and character that enables us to be a part of what God is doing and wants to do in this world. It is, as James MacDonald said, “working together so that the church can be all God wants it to be.” We cannot earn our salvation through good works, but good works are the natural fruit of salvation. Good works are the evidence that we have been justified by faith and have a relationship with the God who made the world, loves the world and wants to save the world. Martin Luther said, “It is not faith or works, it is a faith that works.” As Jesus said in the Scripture we read today, there are rewards for participating in the life and work of God here on earth. In fact, he uses the word “reward” three times in those few short verses. The Christian life is not just about going to heaven, it is about being God’s faithful people who work to bring about God’s kingdom on earth here and now.
There is a rather sobering scripture, which the apostle Paul wrote, that says, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames” (1 Corinthians 3:11-15). Paul said that there was a reward for being faithful and having good works that accompany our faith. And even when we have done good works, they may have been done with improper motives — the desire to be noticed, the hope of gaining some personal benefit or profit in some way from our obedience, a desire to appear better than we are. If so, our works will be burned in the fire of the judgment and count for nothing. We may be “saved”, but only as a scorched cinder. On the other hand, the commendable works we have done will be refined and come out like gold. If our desire is pure, and we desire nothing but carrying out the work God has given us to do and advancing his kingdom, there will be a reward. Paul says elsewhere, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you — unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5).