The Pitfall of "Easy-Believism"
By John Ambrose
Ephesians 2:8-10: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."
This is a popular verse and perhaps the apostle Paul's clearest statement on salvation through faith apart from works. But what does Paul mean by "works"? What is he referring to here? If we examine what was going on at the time we may better understand the context.
The Jewish converts, the "Judaizers" as they were called, were constantly agitating for the gentile believers to adhere to the Mosaic Law. They wanted them to observe special dates, feasts, dietary laws, ceremonial washings, circumcision and a host of other things. The Judaizers insisted that the newly converted gentile believers be required to accept circumcision - with knives in hand they were especially eager to cut the flesh of gentile males. The Jewish believers though accepting Christ's sacrifice for sin still insisted that the "Works of the Law" be upheld and followed as was their custom.
The issue was resolved when Paul and Barnabas traveled to Jerusalem to bring the matter before the Elders of the Church. After much discussion the Elders sided with Paul and Barnabas declaring the gentile believers need not be required to observe the Law but telling them to simply abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. (Acts 15:20)
Nevertheless, the Judaizers continued to agitate among the various upstart churches. Paul was distressed when the Galatian church began to move in this direction and he had to admonish them to remain true to his teaching (Gal 4: 9, 11):
"But now that you know God - or rather are known by God - how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you."
This agitation became a constant source of tension between Jew and gentile, so Paul, with the Judaizers in mind, often stressed that it is not by works (adhering to the Mosaic Law) that you are saved but by faith, it is the gift of God - not by works.
Paul writes in Rom 9:31, 32: "The people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. Why Not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works."
They were zealous for the written code but ignored the deeper matters of the heart:
"If you had known what these words mean, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice', you would not have condemned the innocent." (Matt 12:7) And "To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."(Mark 12:33)
So Paul railed against the "works" demanded by the Judaizers - the adherence to the Mosaic Law as the way to salvation in addition to belief in Christ.
However in today's world this emphasis of Paul's may bring some confusion and misinterpretation for those coming to Christ. Hearing this and not understanding its context one may get the impression that personal responsibility for correct behavior does not matter - "not by works" is misunderstood. Thus they feel the struggle for proper behavior and thinking and the pulling back from sinful addictions is irrelevant; and they begin to slip into the error of "Easy-Believism" or "Cheap-Grace". For these, good behavior is not required and the faith that saves to them is a mere intellectual assent to the truth of the gospel. In their minds there is no requirement that the one appealing for salvation be willing to submit to the Lordship of Christ. So nothing is required; nothing is expected; and nothing is done - just believe and you are saved - personal responsibility goes out the window.
But what does the Bible say...
"He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace." (Rom 8:4-6)
So one must ask: Where is my heart turned? Are you comfortable with continuing in your sin, or have you turned in repentance to following in the Spirit? Herein lies the key: What is the disposition of your heart? If it is not on following in the Spirit then you are still in your sins and liable to judgment. But the heart turned to following in obedience will not come under condemnation. Your actions prove your condition, either defending or accusing you.
Clarification then needs to be made when quoting this verse to those coming to Christ. Receiving Christ as savior presupposes a conviction of sin and the need for repentance - a sense that my behavior has not been right and needs correction; and to have a willingness to stop what I have been doing and try to do better. Thus repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus is what is correctly required. (Acts 2:38) Therefore, a heart turned to God in repentance is a necessary element in salvation. If this is not presented to those coming to Christ then the error of Easy-Believism may result.
The Lord is pleased when we behave correctly as the Parable of the Talents tells us (Matt 25: 14-29): "Well done, good and faithful servant! Come and share your master's happiness!" (vs 21). He delights in us when we do well. And he responded, "You wicked, lazy servant", to the one who did not. (vs. 26)
In 1 Cor: 10,3-6, Paul speaks of the Israelites:
"They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did."
"Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it." (Prov 4:23)
The mindset of the Jews was to work their way to heaven by following the letter of the Law. But Paul stressed that in following the lead of the Spirit you will show forth the fruit of the Spirit in your lives: The love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. And follows by saying, "against such things there is no law" (Gal 5:22, 23). Or in other words by following the lead of the Spirit you will have fulfilled the requirements of the Law - the Ten Commandments - by your correct behavior.
As Paul says in Rom 3:31, "Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law."
Later in Ephesians (4:17-32) Paul writes...
"So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed. That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. "In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you."
In this text Paul affirms several of the Commandments given to Moses by God. So he does not deny that they should be kept but kept in a different way - by The Law of the Spirit of Christ we accomplish in the Spirit what was once required by the letter.
It is unfortunate that Paul had to warn against the agitation of the Judaizers as often as he did in the early church because this has caused some confusion for believers today. We need to be careful to present the context in which Paul was writing so that new believers don't misinterpret and succumb to the error of Easy-Believism for in doing so they may make shipwreck of their faith.
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