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Faith Works by Love

by Tom Brown

"For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith activated and energized and expressed and working through love" (Amplified Bible, Galatians 5:6).

God has made numerous promises regarding the power of faith. Faith can move mountains. Faith can heal diseases. Faith can receive answers to prayers. Nothing is impossible with faith. Yet many know the power of faith and still are not seeing any positive results.

Have you been frustrated with your faith life? Is your faith not working the way the Bible promises it should?

The answer to this problem may be found in the above scripture. Notice that faith is activated and energized through love. Many people's faith is dead, inactive. Your faith may be like a dead battery--unable to produce power. Why? Because faith is energized through love. Love is what makes faith work! Without love, faith is dormant.

I was thinking about this verse one Sunday morning, and the famous love chapter (1 Corinthians 13) was brought to my mind: "...if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing." This scripture does not say that you can move mountains without love; it says that you are nothing without love. Your faith will not benefit you without love. You can have the faith to move mountains, but without love you will be nothing--and your faith will be inactivated, unable to work.

Is your faith activated and energized?

A good battery may not be able to work because it has been drained. You don't throw away a good battery; instead, you recharge it. Your faith may be in great shape, but unable to work. You can recharge it by plugging it into love. Love energizes faith!

HATE DRAINS FAITH

Since love energizes faith, the opposite must also be true. The opposite of love is hate. Hate drains faith. Hate will sap the strength out of faith. This is what Jesus taught in Mark chapter eleven.

This is the story of Jesus cursing a fig tree. You know the story. He spoke to a fig tree and told it to die. It did. Then He told his disciples that they could do the same thing...even move mountains by exercising faith. What is not usually known about this incident is the last statement Jesus made about faith and prayer: "And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins" (v. 25).

Jesus was pointing out the need for forgiveness if faith and prayer are to work. We've heard a lot about faith, but not enough about forgiveness. Not forgiving will hinder your faith from working. Unforgiveness is hate in action.

The way you treat others will affect your faith. Do you remember what Peter wrote concerning husband and wife relationships? He wrote, "Husbands...be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect...SO THAT NOTHING WILL HINDER YOUR PRAYERS." You see, if you step out of love with your spouse, then your prayers-- though they be of faith--will be hindered.

This goes along with what Jesus taught about faith and forgiveness. Notice Jesus said that God will not forgive you if you do not forgive others. What did He mean?

FORGIVE SO THAT YOU WILL BE FORGIVEN

Several years ago, when I was a new believer, I met a Christian with a strange doctrine. He said to me, "The gospel which Jesus taught is not the same gospel that the apostle Paul taught. Jesus was preaching the law but Paul was preaching grace. We are not to live by the gospel of Jesus but by the gospel of Paul."

This sounded outlandish. A scripture he tried to use in order to prove this was Mark 11:25 and 26--about forgiving so that the Father may forgive you.

He tried to trick me by asking, "Are you forgiven?"

"Of course," I answered.

He continued to question me, "Why are you forgiven?"

"Because I have accepted Jesus as my Lord."

"That's right, not because of your actions, correct?"

"Yes," I answered, "I'm saved by the work of Christ on the cross, not by my works."

"You're right. But Jesus taught that people were forgiven because they forgave others. But Paul wrote, 'Forgive each other as Christ has forgiven you.' (Eph 4:32). Jesus taught that you had to forgive first, then you will be forgiven; Paul, on the other hand, taught that you are forgiven first, then you forgive afterwards. Whose message is for the Christian, Jesus' or Paul's?"

I answered as any smart believer would, "Both!"

I must admit that at that time I did not quite understand how Jesus' and Paul's messages could both be right, but I knew they were. Apparent contradictions in the Bible are simply that--apparent contradictions.

It was not until recently that I fully understood what Jesus meant by forgiving so that you may be forgiven. This discovery took place while eating dinner at my mother and stepfather's home. We were discussing the scriptures when all of a sudden the Lord brought Matthew 12:32 to my attention: "Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or the age to come."

There was the answer! Forgiveness can be given both in "This age and/or the age to come". My sins are forgiven for the age to come because of Christ' death on the cross. I am assured of heaven because of the blood of Jesus. However, this doesn't mean that I don't have to suffer consequences in this life for my sins.

For example, if a criminal were found guilty of murder and then gave his life to Jesus, he still would probably have to serve his sentence. He still would have to pay the price of his actions in this life, but in the age to come he would be free of any penalty. Can you see that?

Forgiveness in the age to come is provided solely on your acceptance of the Substitutionary sacrifice of Christ on the cross. However, forgiveness in this age is dependent on your confession of sin and your forgiveness of others...yet it is still applied because of the blood of Christ. 1 John 1:9 confirms this: "If we [speaking of the believer] confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."

Some people think that John was writing this to sinners. This is not true! Notice 1 John 2:1: "My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But is anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense--Jesus Christ, the Righteous One." John was writing to his "dear children"--an obvious reference to believers.

So you can readily see that the believer is forgiven of sins committed after salvation when he confesses his sins. Obviously this forgiveness is related to this age only, because no Christian could ever remember every sin he has committed. If he had to remember every sin in order to enter heaven, then he could never enter it. But unconfessed sins, especially consequential ones, can definitely impact your life now.

Forgiveness in this life is also determined by your forgiveness of others. Jesus gave a parable to illustrate this paradoxical truth of forgiveness now and forgiveness later. The parable is about the unmerciful servant.

This man owed about a million dollars to his king, a debt which he could never repay. This depicts us as sinners who could never repay God for our sins. But this man was completely forgiven and released from his debt, simply because he asked for mercy.

Later, he grabbed the throat of a man who owed him a few dollars and threatened his life if he didn't repay. The poor man didn't have the money, so he was thrown into prison until he could pay him back. The king found out about this man's ungratefulness and cruelty, so he ordered the ungrateful servant to be brought inside his castle.

"You wicked servant," the king said, "I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?" In anger he turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

Jesus concluded this parable with a sobering warning: "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart" (Matthew 18:35).

This unforgiving man was first forgiven, just as we are forgiven in Christ. Later, though, because he would not forgive another, he lost his own forgiveness. We also can lose the forgiveness in this life if we do not forgive others.

BITTERNESS KILLED MY GRANDMOTHER

Hebrews 12:15 says, "See to it...that no root of bitterness grows up to cause trouble and defile many." Bitterness is the emotion caused by not forgiving. The writer calls bitterness a "root". A root develops strength through time. The longer it grows the stronger it becomes. Bitterness is like a root. The longer you leave it there the harder it will be to pull it out.

This truth was demonstrated in my grandmother's life. I was raised by my grandparents, and although they raised me in a admirable way, I was saddened by the fact that my grandparents could not get along. Through the years they hurt one another, and as a result they treated each other very badly, though they continued to live under the same roof. Thankfully my grandmother accepted Jesus during a miracle meeting conducted by a famous evangelist. Yet she did not want to let go of her bitterness toward her husband.

Sometime after my grandmother's conversion, my grandfather seemed to suffer a major heart attack. He was taken to the hospital for tests. That night I opened my heart to my grandmother. I pleaded with her to forgive him.

She broke down and cried, "I know I ought to forgive!"

My sister became upset with me. "Tom, why do you have to make Grandma feel guilty? Grandpa may die tonight, and that would really make Grandma feel bad. How would you feel then?"

Into my bedroom I went--with a heavy heart. "Lord," on my knees I prayed, "I'm so sorry for what I said to my grandma. I didn't mean to hurt her, but you know I'm right. She must forgive him." And with tears streaming down my cheeks, I prayed, "Lord, please show me if I was right in saying these things to my grandmother, or if I should have shut my mouth and minded my own business."

After praying I went to take a shower. And while taking a shower I heard the audible voice of God. His voice seemed to thunder. I said it was audible, but only God knows. I do know this--the voice I heard was as clear as if a man spoke to me face to face.

God said, "Son, you've done right." I fell to my knees, weeping uncontrollably. He continued, "Your grandfather will be out of the hospital in one week, and then I'll give your grandmother a chance to forgive him." I came out of the shower singing praises to God. After getting dressed, I said to my sister and grandmother, "Grandpa will not die. He will be out of the hospital in one week." Looking into my grandmother's eyes, I said, "Grandma, God told me that He will give you a chance to forgive him."

With joy in her eyes, she said, "I believe you. I'll forgive him and show it by treating him nice."

And she did. During that time everyone was shocked. "What has happened to Grandma?" my relatives began to ask. My grandmother had forgiven Charlie, her husband. But it was not to last. Soon she began to allow the root of bitterness to grow again.

Not long afterwards, she took ill. The doctors discovered inoperable cancer. No prayer I offered seemed to avail. She grew worse and was confined to the hospital for many months. In desperation I cried out to God, "Lord, what is wrong with my faith? Up to now, you have always answered my prayers. Why isn't my grandma getting better?"

The Lord answered, "Do you remember the night I spoke to you in the shower? I said that I would give your grandmother a chance to forgive your grandfather. But she hasn't. And if she does not forgive him, she will die." Immediately, I sped to the hospital and shared with my grandmother the message God gave me.

"I know," she said. "I did so well, but something happened to me, and the bitterness came back." She promised to forgive, and we prayed. Later that evening, my mother came back with a sad report.

"Tom," she said, "I talked with your grandmother about the message you gave her about forgiving Charlie. She agreed you were right, but I don't think she has forgiven. She keeps talking about the terrible things Charlie supposedly has done to her." My heart saddened when I heard this. I knew she would not recover. The next day she went into a coma.

I knew my grandmother's time was up, so I gave my grandfather a stern rebuke: "Grandpa, it's not right that you haven't visited Grandma for the entire time she has been in the hospital. You should visit her before she dies." He became sad and went to his bedroom. A few minutes later, I felt a tap on my right shoulder. There was my grandfather, putting his favorite hat on. "Take me to the hospital, I want to see Rosery," he said.

Happily, I drove him to the hospital. I stayed for a little while and then went to work, leaving my grandfather with his beloved wife. Grandpa related to me the story of this hospital visit, a visit that would prove to be his last: "I held Rosery's hand, and she grabbed mine. She opened her eyes and stared into mine. I felt like she was trying to tell me something. Then she died. Her hand slowly let go of mine." Tears still well up in my eyes as I recall this story.

Please, don't misunderstand the point I am trying to make. I do not condemn my grandmother; I only want to show you what bitterness can do. Bitterness stayed a long time in my grandmother, and it grew till it became too strong for her to get rid of. Please...don't let the same thing happen to you!

Forgive from your heart. Because forgiveness--which is love in action--makes your faith work. And it makes life worth living.

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