Friday, October 29, 2004



By Rev. Stephen Tong

Let us refer to Matthew 5:14-16: “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” We shall read another portion of Scripture, Matthew 7:21-23: “Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and perform miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”

Last night, we talked about Christianity as a religion of faith. Faith should be our appropriate response to God. Although the Bible states that our belief comes from hearing, that belief is actually the third level of faith. Because God has implanted the seed of faith in us, we are able to know that He exists. A person who comes before the Lord must first believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek Him.[1] This kind of faith will produce a heart that will harmonize with the world – the second level of faith. After we hear the word of God, it will produce greater faith in us – the third level of faith. It is a pity that many charismatic churches do not take the preaching of the word of God seriously enough. They prefer to stand for an hour and sing praises to God hoping that God will hear them rather than sit down to listen to God’s word. Any church that does not place proper emphasis on the word of God will end up having a weak foundation of the truth. Likewise, if a preacher does not preach the word faithfully, he will not be able to build up the faith of his congregation.

How is it possible that even after two thousand years, Christianity is still flourishing? Although countless Christians have suffered persecution and martyrdom, the Christian faith is still resolute. It is because of faith. Those who have a strong and firm faith will not be easily shaken. It follows that if Christians do not reconstruct their faith, the church will deteriorate and be corrupted within a single generation. Faith is very important and it is upon the holy word of God that we ought to establish our faith. Once we do that, we will be able to testify for God even in the midst of our trials and sufferings.

Last night, we talked about the danger that comes from without and the chaos that comes from within. We must oppose any anti-Christian philosophy and ideology that are a threat to our faith. Similarly, we have to oppose any heretical teaching that comes from within the church. We must not forget that the downfall and destruction of the Roman Empire was caused by internal corruption and not external forces. It is the same with the church. When faced with an enemy from without, the church has to be united and dependent on God. If the church is not faithful and obedient to the Lord, it will fall prey to its internal corruption. And if church leaders, pastors and preachers do not rely on the example of faith to instruct their flock in the word of God, there is every likelihood that within one or two generations, the church will collapse in the hands of Christians themselves. We can therefore see how important it is that our faith should be reconstructed.

Christianity is different from other religions as it is built upon the principle of faith. Does this mean that Christianity does not emphasize good conduct? Certainly not! If Christianity is a religion of faith, the means by which God saves man is not good deeds but faith. If that is the case, what sort of position does good conduct occupy in the Christian faith? The same may be asked concerning the foundation of ethics and the teaching of morality. Do they have a place in the Christian belief system? These are also the questions raised by many who have misunderstood Christianity. The failure of many Christians is due essentially to the failure of their conduct. Christians claim that they are saved by faith and not by works but does that mean that works are not important? Many Christians, as a result of the flawed understanding that good conduct does not matter, live lives that are worse than unbelievers. It is in view of this that we want to discuss the reconstruction of our morality.

The reconstruction of our morality comes after the reconstruction of our faith. The Bible declares that faith without works is dead.[2] Therefore having faith alone without works is insufficient. This is because faith that is not accompanied by works is a dead faith and a dead faith is not a genuine faith. If a person claims to have true faith, God requires him to manifest it through his conduct. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world”[3] and that is why we are to let our light shine before men so that they may see our good deeds. Unbelievers cannot see our faith; they can only see our deeds. If our deeds do not distinguish us from unbelievers, why should they believe that they also need Jesus Christ?

Today, one of the obstacles that hinder unbelievers from coming to the church is not people outside but Christians themselves. Because our lives are improper and our deeds not glorifying to God, unbelievers are afraid that if they become Christians they will turn out to be like us. That is the reason why Jesus said that we must manifest our good deeds before the Gentiles; like light that shines in the dark in order that they may give glory to our Father in heaven.[4] From this we can see that good deeds are very important. We must therefore avoid giving emphasis to faith alone and neglect works; doing so would be a grave mistake.

A person may ask, “What if I place importance on works alone and not on faith?” That would be another fallacy because no matter how good our deeds are it cannot justify us before the Lord. Isaiah 64:6 outlines very clearly that all our righteous acts are like filthy rags. No matter how good we are, our good deeds alone can never merit our receiving the salvation of God. There is no way we can earn God’s salvation by relying on our works apart from his grace. Just as good deeds cannot be the substitute of faith, good deeds similarly cannot take the place of God’s merit. Hence, we do not depend on our works or merit to be saved. Instead, we are saved through the grace of God. And this grace is given to those who have the faith to receive it.

Two days ago, Dr. Stephen Chen made a very important statement. He said that we have to rely on faith in order to receive the grace of God. What then does faith represent? Faith is like a broken bowl in the hands of a beggar. When we receive God’s grace, it is as if we are holding a broken bowl for Him to fill it with His grace. As an analogy, the broken bowl by itself cannot satisfy our hunger. It is also unable to spare us from the destiny of death. However, if filled with rice, the broken bowl can be the source of life to us. It is the same for those who come before the Lord in faith. Our faith is like the broken bowl, like hands stretching out for help. However, the mere stretching of hands cannot save us; because grace does not come from us but from the throne of God.

It is by faith that we can receive new life. And new life ought to produce a new way of living. That is the relationship between faith, grace and works. We cannot depend on faith alone in order to be saved. Rather, we are saved through faith by receiving God’s grace. After we have been saved, the new life that we received would result in a new manner of living. This new pattern of living is the manifestation of God’s grace. It follows that works do not precede God’s grace. Instead, it is the result of grace.

If we were to make a comparison between the theology of Paul and the theology of James, we will discover important differences. Paul may be regarded as the apostle of faith. This is because he talked so much about faith, more than the rest of the apostles. On the other hand, Peter may be regarded as the apostle of hope as he urged believers to look forward to the arrival of the new heaven and earth where righteousness awaits. He gave hope to those who were in tribulation. If Peter is the apostle of hope and Paul the apostle of faith, then John is known as the apostle of love. This is because John said we must love one another. If we do not love one another, we are not dwelling in the Lord. John is the one who talked most clearly about love than the other apostles. When John was young, he was a very bad-tempered person – called “the son of thunder” as he was also very fierce. When he was old, he was full of love, compassion and patience. It was the power of the Holy Spirit that transformed such a person like John.

History recorded that during his older days, John built many churches and made many disciples. Although his memory and physical strength was slowly weakening, people still invited him to preach. When John preached, he would surely preach one particular sermon: “You must love one another, you must love one another. You little ones must also must love one another.” John was the oldest apostle at that time as the rest of the apostles have been killed. Actually, John was the youngest apostle among all of the Lord’s apostles. But because the rest of the apostles were killed one after another, he was the only one left. When John became old, there was only one sermon that he preached: “You must love one another”. That is the reason why we regard him as the apostle of love.

How about the apostle James? The James that I am referring to is not the brother of John, but the brother of Jesus, who wrote the epistle of James. We call James the apostle of works because he kept stressing on the importance of works. Paul said that we are justified by faith but James said that we are justified by works. Both James and Paul also talked about the need to have faith and good works. However, the two of them had totally different emphasis. James said that we cannot be justified without works but Paul said that if we rely on works alone, it is impossible for us to be justified. And James said that we must have faith before we can be justified. Paul also said the same thing. But then James said that we must rely on works and not faith to be justified. Because of this, many people said that the teachings of these two apostles are in conflict. But both the epistles written by Paul and James are listed in the Bible. Does that mean that the doctrine that the Holy Spirit revealed to Paul was different from that which He revealed to James? Could it be that in spite of conflicting doctrines, the church still placed the two epistles together when they canonized the Bible? I do not believe that was the case. Even Martin Luther had some misunderstanding regarding this matter. Luther thought that the book of James could not be harmonized with the other epistles in the Bible. The reason was because he used the gospel as the standard to examine the importance of every other book in the Bible. In view of this, we need to now discuss how to harmonize both the theology of Paul and James.

Paul talked about faith; James also talked about faith. Paul talked about justification; James also talked about justification. Paul talked about works; James also talked about works. What should we do when both of them speak differently? We must pay attention to what kind of works James was talking about and what kind of works Paul was talking about. The works that Paul mentioned is the pride of gaining salvation by keeping the law – this was the pride of the Pharisees as well as that of the Judaism. They thought that they could be saved by just practising and obeying the law of Moses. Paul made it clear that such an undertaking was impossible because no one can be justified through works. This is because the law does not save us; rather we are cursed and condemned by it. We may ask the question: “What then is the purpose of God giving us the law? Why did he give the law if men cannot be saved by it? Throughout history, many people have discussed this issue. According to the understanding of the whole Jewish culture, the purpose of the law given by God is to require men to obey it. That is why the Jews keep researching and expanding their knowledge of the law. In the course of their history, the Jews have compiled a total of 612 laws. Without doubt, the most important of these laws is the Ten Commandments. Apart from the Ten Commandments, there are many other commandments as well. Since there are 612 laws, it is very difficult for the Jews to survive and live under such a legalistic system. How would a person know whether his actions and conduct today have violated even one out of the 612 laws? Therefore, the more the Jews studied the law, the more they find themselves bound by them.

If the law causes death and condemnation, is the purpose for God giving the law so that men would obey it? Some disagree. Watchman Nee, in his book “Twelve Baskets” made a very strange statement: “ The purpose of God giving the law is for men to break it” Such a statement, although creative, has the dangerous implication of attributing to God a wrong motive. How could God purposely cause us to break the law? That statement therefore cannot be accepted. If the law given by God is not to be obeyed or to be broken, what then is the purpose of it? This is a very serious question. I discovered the answer in the chapter 7 of Romans. The purpose God gave the law was to let us know that it is impossible for us to keep it and to make us realize that our sinful nature has totally separated us from God. The law also manifests the nature of God; namely that he is good, holy and righteous. Hence, the whole law, when summed up in its totality, will reflect these three natures of God.

Our God is a God of goodness, a God of holiness and also a God of righteousness. As a God who is good, he will not purposely cause us to break the law. As a God who is holy, he will discipline us so that we can share his holiness. As a God who is righteous, he will judge us when we go against his commandments. When the law manifests God’s nature to us, its functions will automatically be made evident. What are the functions of the law then? When we come before the law, we realize that we are not good, unholy and unrighteous. That is why Romans 3:19-20 tells us that it is through the law that we become conscious of sin and know that we are sinful men, so that every mouth may be silenced and the world held accountable to God. When faced with the law, we are unable to defend ourselves and have to be judged by God. The 3 attributes of God will silence our mouths and open our minds so that we become conscious of our sin and bow before the judgment of God. These are the 3 passive functions of the law.

What are the active functions of the law? The New Testament tells us that the law has set us free. I was very astonished by this statement. How can the law give freedom to man? Those who study the law will know that where there is law, there will be bondage and no freedom. However, God has a different perspective. His purpose of giving the law is a good one. God has given the law in order to give man freedom, protection and security in life. Secondly, the summation of the law is love – a concept found only in the New Testament. Submission to the law itself is also love. Because God loves man, he gave the law to man. A mother will say to her child, “Do not hang around with bad guys. Do not do this and do not do that.” Her commandment comes from love. In the same way, when God says, “Thou shall not commit adultery; thou shall not kill; thou shall not steal; and thou shall not give false witness, ”including other commandments, all of these come from His love for us.

When the Pharisees asked Jesus which was the greatest commandment in the Law, he responded to them immediately by saying that that the first and greatest commandment was to, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”. The Jews are very familiar with this statement. Similarly, if I were to ask you, you will also respond immediately. This is what the Hebrews call “shema”. What is “shema”? It is the true essence of the Bible as well as the golden verse of the Bible. This can be found in Deuteronomy 6:4. The verse begins with the phrase, “Hear, O Israel”, or in other words, “You must listen”. The Hebrew culture was a culture derived from hearing the word of God whereas the Greek culture was one derived from seeing and observing the creation of God. “Hear, O Israel” or “Shema, O listen”.

For the past ten years, I have continued preaching without fail because, by God’s commandments, the children of God have to listen. What should we listen to? We have to listen to the word of God. “Hear, O Israel”, “Shema, listen”. Your God will watch over you, the Lord your God is one. The most important word there is “Eluhinu”, which is not singular or dual but plural. In English, there is singular and plural but in Chinese, they do not exist. Singular and plural are found also in Greek. However, in Hebrew, it is different because it has singular, dual and plural. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is one.” – the word used is not singular or dual but plural. But how can “one” be plural? Does plural constitute three or five or some other figure? I contend that plural means three. The reason for this is the countless passages in the Bible that makes use of the number “three”. For example, it is stated, “Holy, holy, holy,” which is three times. We can also see it in, “the Holy Father, the Holy Son and the Holy Spirit” – which is the trinity of God. Even though the word “trinity” is not stated in the Bible, it is one of the clearest revelations of God himself in the Bible.

When we say, “the Lord is one”, there is, in fact, two Hebrew words for “one”. The first “one” is a “one” in itself while the second “one” is a “one” in unity. The “one” that is used in relation to God in that verse is the latter “one”, the “one” in unity. This is a very important word. When the Pharisees asked Jesus which was the greatest commandment in the Law, He replied by saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” The second was to, “Love your neighbour as yourself”. When Jesus was asked regarding the greatest commandment, he answered them with two commandments instead. Why? This was because the Law came from God, so it could not emphasize only the first one and neglect the other. We are not here referring to the 612 laws, but the two aspects of the Law; one aspect is to God and the other is to people, that is to love God as well as people. This then is the summation of all the laws.

A person who knows how to love God and man has already obeyed all the other commandments of God. If a person cannot love others whom he can see, then he will not be able to love God who is invisible. In the same way, a person who cannot receive love from God will also not be able to love others as himself. When the Pharisees asked Jesus which was the greatest commandment, he could not simply separate those two commandments. Therefore, in the New Testament, we are able to see the active functions of the law and not its passive functions. In the passive functions of the law, we are only able to see the goodness, holiness and righteousness of God, which ultimately put God beyond our reach. But in the active functions of the law, as we ponder about the revelations in the New Testament, we will praise God when we realize that the law was given to set us free, to teach us to understand the word of God, to obey it through love and also to point us to Jesus Christ to seek grace from him.

I often illustrate the law as a x-ray doctor. For instance, when the x-ray shines on you, it will reveal to you that you are suffering from stage-four tuberculosis and that your internal organs have rotted away. When you see the x-ray report, you will realize that you are going to die soon. After this, you will go and see your doctor and say to him, “Doctor, I have come to see you now. I know I am going to die and that is why I regret to see you.” The doctor will say, “Never mind. Although you regret about seeing me, I must still tell you that half of your lungs have been destroyed. However, I have another doctor who works together with me. His name is Dr. Grace, the salvation of God. Please bring along your report and go and see him.” The intelligent person would feel terrified at the report but the foolish person would back to his village because he thought that no one was as smart as him to think about going to town to take an x-ray. When the villagers heard what he said, they were frightened. “You have been to that hospital? You have taken the x-ray? You have seen the doctor?” When the doctor tells you that you are going to die, there is nothing to be proud of.

When the Jews have the law, they became proud and boastful. How foolish of them to do so. The law never told them to be proud; instead it said to them, “You are going to die.” “Now, go over there and see Dr. Grace. Bring along your x-ray report. The doctor will tell you that he knows you are suffering from stage-four tuberculosis. He will give you some medicine.” Now, the first doctor can only examine and diagnose your sickness. It is the second doctor who can cure it. The former can be likened to the law whereas the latter can be regarded as the gospel. Therefore, the law examines sickness while the gospel cures it and the law diagnoses sin while the gospel overcomes it. Now we can understand the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Strangely enough, although the Jews have the law, they did not cry or feel sad but instead became proud. “Only we Jews know the law. Everyone else, the Chinese, the Malaysians and the Singaporeans do not know the law. Only we Jews know it. We are humans but you are dogs.” God will say to the Jews, “Are you out of your mind? I have given you the law in order for you to realize that you should die because of your sins and corruption. Instead, you became proud.”

In the Old Testament, there are two ministries. The first is the ministry of the Law and the second is the ministry of the Prophets. The law makes man conscious of his sin so that he will be humble. In the case of the Jews, not only were they not conscious of their sinfulness and not humble, they opposed God and became proud instead. Through the second ministry, God sent his prophets to the Jews to tell them, “You are sinful. You have disobeyed the law and you should not be proud.” But the Jews replied, “How dare you say that to us? We will kill you”. Although they have the law, the Jews did not repent but killed the prophets, thinking that they were wrong. After they had killed all the prophets, God said, “Enough. I will not send you any more prophets.”

How long was the period between the Old Testament and the New Testament – during which there were no prophets? It lasted for 400 years. In fact, there are two “400 years” in the Bible. This “400 years” is a whole number. The first one was actually 430 years although we use the whole number 400 years. The first 400 years refer to the period when God did not heed the cries of the Jews when they were held captive in Egypt. After God brought them out of Egypt, there were 40 years of testing. To be precise, it lasted for 38 years. Later, between the conclusion of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament, there was another 400 years period in which God would not send any prophets to them. Only after that did God give them Jesus Christ. Day and night, they cried out to God, “Lord, please send us the Messiah. We want Christ to come.” God replied, “Do you truly want Christ to come?” So God sent Jesus Christ to the Jews but because he did not fit their expectations of what the Messiah should look like, they killed him. It is therefore not surprising that even until today, the Jews kept on killing people. Even the Son of God was killed by them. As a result of that, the gospel was spread to all the Gentiles.

My dear brothers and sisters, Jesus Christ said, “It is not possible for the blood of the prophets to be shed outside Jerusalem.” What does that mean? Only the religious leaders dared to commit such a great sin as murdering God’s prophets. Village folks only dare to steal chickens but only the highest judge who knows the law will break it purposely. When Jesus was on earth, he rebuked the hypocritical Pharisees and scribes who had the Law of Moses and yet went against the word of God, trampled it under their feet and pretended to be godly. The Lord’s rebuke was aimed at the church leaders and religious leaders, more than any other people. Not only so, Jesus will also rebuke future church leaders in the same way he did towards the church leaders and religious leaders in the New Testament.

Matthew 7:21 warns us that not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of God. In the future, there will be many people who will cry out to Jesus, “Lord, Lord, I will heal sicknesses, drive out demons and perform miracles in your name.” This is especially true at the conclusion of the 20th century. Today, there are many people who use God’s name to heal sickness, drive out demons and also perform miracles. Using the name of God, they will use the breath from their mouth and“slay”people, causing them to fall to the ground. People will be amazed and thought that God had spoken mightily. Let me tell you that many of these phenomena are the works of evil spirits disguised as the Holy Spirit to deceive Christians who have no biblical foundation. The Lord will say to those people who call on Him, “Although you heal sicknesses and drive out demons in my name, I will tell you plainly that I never knew you and away from me, you evildoers.” We can observe therefore that Jesus mentioned both the importance of morality and works. We are to manifest our good works before men. Why do we need to do that? Why did Jesus teach us in such a manner? Did Jesus not say that when we do good deeds, we should not disclose it? Let me tell you that the world needs to see the true conduct of Christians because it is impossible for them to see our faith. For that reason, the morality of the church has to be reconstructed.

Let us now consider again the theology of Paul and James. What did Paul mean when he said that we cannot depend on works to be saved?” The works mentioned by Paul referred to the works of the Pharisees who were proud of the fact that they practised the law. But Paul said that it was impossible to be justified by this type of works. He who seeks to be justified by practising the law will end up being entangled in sin. That is because the curse of the law and the wrath of God, which is manifested through the law, would come upon us who are unable to truly practise the law. Therefore, every time I talk about works in terms of Paul, it is this aspect I am referring to. On the other hand, when James talked about works, he was not talking in the same breath as Paul. What then is James talking about when he mentioned works? For James, works refer to the good fruits that are produced by faith. So we have to be careful when we read the Bible. The same term “works” can have two different meanings. In the case of Paul, it means the pride of the Pharisees whereas in the case of James, it means the manifestation of the true Christian.

Secondly, when Paul talks about justification, an analogy can be made of a person who has been convicted of a crime and sentenced to imprisonment by a judge. Later, when it was discovered that he had been wrongly accused, he was pronounced innocent and released. That is what justification is about. When Paul mentions justification by faith, it excludes any attempt to rely on our good works as the basis of salvation. Rather, we have to rely on our acceptance of the salvation of Christ, so that in God’s mercy, we will not be regarded as sinners. Martin Luther had a unique understanding of this matter. To him, faith is the acceptance of the acceptance. What is the meaning of such an acceptance and how do we accept the acceptance? Luther’s answer is this: “Although you cannot accept it, you must still accept it.” This is something difficult to understand. A man as evil and sinful as I, Jesus would still receive and accept. How is that possible?

Have you ever experienced being very deeply in love with a person? Although you love her very much, you know that it is impossible to win over her affections. If one day she tells you that she accepts your love, you probably will be very startled. In your heart, you will be asking, “Is she really sincere or is she fooling with me?” Later, when she says, “I want to get married with you”, you may be doubtful. “Could it be that my friends are playing an April fool joke on me?” you wonder. As you go to her house to look for her, you are still doubtful and trembling in your heart. Upon arriving, you knock on her door and she opens it. When you see her face, you feel like running away. Nevertheless, you ask her the question, “Is this the letter that you sent me?” although at the same time you are thinking, “Surely that is not possible.” To your surprise, she says, “Yes, I was the one who sent it to you,” and your heart starts to melt. “Is it really for me?” you ask again. “Yes, it is. I want you to marry me,” she replies. Immediately, you fainted. After you regain consciousness, you ask her, “Was I dreaming of you just now?” She says, “No, you were speaking to me all along.” Still finding it hard to believe, you ask her, “Do you truly want to be my wife?” She replies, “Do you believe me or not?” “I am not sure if I dare to believe,” you answer. “Well, if you do not believe, you can leave right now,” she remarked rather angrily. Very quickly you reply, “I believe.” Much to your relief, she answers, “Alright, I will marry you then.”

We are not worthy and we deserve to die because we have sinned. We should be sent to hell and be judged and suffer eternal death. But by the grace of God, we have been saved through the death of Christ, cleansed by his blood that was shed for us. “Lord, do you truly accept me?” we ask God. “Yes, I accept you,” God replies. So, I accept the fact that God has accepted me. This is called the acceptance of the acceptance. Such is the greatness of Luther’s understanding – the acceptance of the acceptance. What is the salvation that we have received? It is the fact that God has accepted me, a sinner. I therefore have to accept this fact - that God has accepted me. He did not despise me but has forgiven me. This is what justification by faith means.

Paul says that we cannot be justified by works because our works are neither sufficient nor capable of justifying us. For example, Dr. Mochtar Riady was invited to give an address in this conference. The organizing committee deliberated on the appropriate souvenir that should be presented to him since he was such a wealthy man. If we give him too much, we may not have enough but if we give him too little, he may not accept it and look down on us. Hence, it was difficult for the committee to decide, as Dr. Riady was not an ordinary person. It was not our money that brought him here; rather it was God’s providence. Therefore, we must not misunderstand that by merely relying on our good deeds, we can be saved. God will ask us. “What good works are you talking about?” No one can earn God’s grace by his conduct. This is what Paul is saying: “We are not justified by works.”

Although we are not dependent on works for our justification, it does not mean that we can conduct ourselves improperly. Some Christians are like that. When you tell them that something is free, they will take it for granted and simply waste and squander it. I will not forgive this type of people who have such an attitude. If you do not take this conference seriously – which have been so painstakingly organized and with so many prominent speakers from around the world coming to speak – but adopt a lackadaisical attitude, I will not invite you again in future. Fortunately, your performance was very good. The chairperson told me that 99.5% of those who registered attended the conference. Even though I announce that those who are tired – due to the exhausting schedule of four sessions a day – can take a nap in the evenings, almost everyone stayed on and did not miss the evening session. In view of this, I may consider holding future conferences in Kuala Lumpur again.

A person who has a sense of appreciation will not take something for granted although it is free. Whenever something is free, people will be attracted to it. For instance, between the day sessions, which require conference fees, and the night sessions, which are free for all to attend, naturally there will be more people coming for the latter. We cannot squander the grace of God, because everything is not free. If something is free for you, surely somebody had paid the price. This ballroom that we rent is not free. Every Monday when we have our Bible exposition in this ballroom, expenses are incurred for the air ticket, hall rental, organizing fee and letters of notification. Nothing is free. God forbid us from thinking that because something is free, we can simply do what we want with it? Many Christians are like that. They think that since Jesus has died for them, they can simply live as they please. How can we squander our lives according to our own whims and fancies when Christ has endured such tremendous suffering for us?

Paul says, “We are justified by faith.” Martin Luther says, “Faith is the acceptance of the acceptance – to accept that Christ has accepted me.” Does that mean we can simply behave then? No. God says, “You must read the book of James.” What does the book of James say? It says, “You must be justified by works.” On one hand, Paul says that we are justified by faith but on the other, James says that we must be justified by works. Which should we follow?” Let me put it to you: It is by faith that we are justified. Nevertheless, after we have been justified, we must manifest our good works so that people can see our righteousness. When James talked about faith, it is the confession of the lips: “I believe in Jesus.” So sweet is our lips and all the religious terms and cliché that we utter. I am very afraid of religiously spiritual people who speak spiritual cliché. Every statement of theirs gives the impression that they are very close to God. I nearly did not become a Christian because of them. It is strange that in this world there is a person by the name of Stephen Tong who is a Christian. It is stranger still that he can become a pastor. Throughout my life, the people that I esteem as well as despise the most are Christians. Equally, those that I admire as well as look upon with contempt the most are pastors. When I meet a pastor or elder, I will not simply accord him my respect unless I know he is a good pastor or elder. Likewise, when I meet a Christian, I will not think much of him unless I know he is a dedicated Christian. There are too many nominal and Sunday Christians around.

Why do I dare to criticize such people? It is because of the teaching of the Bible. What does the Bible say? “You use your lips to come close to me but your heart is far away from me. You worship me in vain. You do not have to worship me. You do not have to come to me. I hate you.” These are God’s words. In the book of Isaiah, God said, “ I hate your sacrifices, I hate your Sabbath. Even though your sacrifices are like the flood from the river, I will still hate you because you do not cease from sinning.” Isaiah 1:10 exhort us to hear the word of God and listen to His law. Therefore, we must cease to commit sin and do good works. Does God need your money? Does God need your sacrifices? Does God need your providence? It is because God had mercy on me that he gave me the opportunity to preach and made it possible for me to have a ministry. When God gives you the opportunity to offer your tithes to him, it is because he has mercy on you so that you will know how to honour him. It is not because he needs you. All your money cannot be taken into heaven. Rather, it is to be used for those who are in need.

We should not be proud. We must be humble before the Lord. Who we are today is all because of his grace. “Lord, I thank you. You have saved me and forgiven me. How can I repay you?” No one can repay the grace of God. God have mercy on us. How do we put God’s grace into action? It is by our good works, which are manifested to others. Jesus declared, “You are the light of the world.” The world that we live in is filled with darkness. The world needs our light because we are the light of the world. This is the cultural mandate of the Christian; to show forth a good behaviour, good life, good conduct and good deeds so that we can reveal to the world that the living God is dwelling within us. Because we have new life in us, we must manifest a good way of living; new behaviour and new conduct in order to glorify our God in heaven.

My dear brothers and sisters, the Bible clearly tells us that a Christian must have good conduct. That is the reason why there is a difference between the exposition of James and Paul. James says that we must have good works and then we will be justified. Faith alone is not enough. On the other hand, Paul says that works alone cannot save us. Are these two different? No, there is no conflict. The meaning that Paul is trying to get across is that our good works cannot earn the salvation of God. We can only receive this salvation by faith – justified by faith before the Lord. It is through faith and not our conduct. In contrast, James is emphasizing that we must also have good works and not merely confessing with our lips, “I believe, I believe”. This is because genuine faith must be manifested by works. And faith without works is dead. The good deeds that we do are not for God to see, since He looks at the inner heart. Rather, they are for men to see since they look at the outward appearance. Our good deeds manifested before men will be justified by men and not by God. Therefore, justification by God is through faith but justification by man is through conduct.

Sadly, many Christians do not understand these principles. 100 years after the Reformation began by Martin Luther in 1517, around the year 1620, Christianity in Germany became corrupted. The German Christians drank, gambled, committed adultery and did according to their own wishes. Why did that happen? They thought that works alone could not justify them since no one’s conduct was good enough before the Lord. Thus, they arrived at the misconception that since they were saved by faith, their conduct was no longer important and they could simply behaved as they wished. God’s heart was broken. This situation gave rise to the “Counter-reformation” theology of the Roman Catholic Church. Amongst other matters, it laid down the warning that anyone who dared to say that a person could rely on faith alone without depending on works in order to be justified would be severely punished. The Roman Catholics looked upon Christianity with disdain; so too the rest of the world. As a result, Christianity fell into a great darkness.

Why is it that for such a long time, Christian churches are not able to testify to the world? Why is that when Christians invite unbelievers to church, many would not go? The last few days, I have made the point that there are some Christians who are very loud in church but when they go outside, they are ignored. Why is that so? It is because their behaviour is bad and their conduct corrupted. How can they glorify God?

My dear brothers and sisters, do we need to be reconstructed in our morality? Absolutely! The question before us is how do we reconstruct our morality? Unless we have new life, we will not be able to have a new pattern of living. Some will say, “I want to turn over a new leaf and be good.” Others will say, “I do not want to be a Christian now but later, after I have become a little better.” When will we become good? Let me tell you that we are better when we are sick compared to when we are healthy. The sicker we are, the better we are. When we are healthy, we do all sorts of evil – some gamble and others look for prostitutes.

Do we know when we are good? We are better when we are sick compared to when we are healthy and we are even better when we are dead compared to when we are sick. So, if a person were to say that he would become a Christian only when he has become better, let it be known to him that he would only be good when he has died. I would be sorry to tell him that he would not be able to repent after he has died. There is no possibility of repentance because after a person has died, he has only to wait for judgment. Today, we must come before the Lord and repent. Those who have not received Christ should receive Christ today. And those who have believed in Christ should repent today. May God forgive our sin and grant us a holy life, so that we will be able to reconstruct our faith and morality. If we are not regenerated, we cannot have new life. It is only after the Holy Spirit has breathed new life into us that we can begin to produce the fruits of the Spirit in our lives.

When we talk about the reconstruction of faith and morality, this reconstruction does not depend solely on religious effort or self-cultivation. In Sao Paolo, there was someone who said to me, “I often tell my children that they should not go to places that are bad. When I say that, I would tremble because I frequented those places. Nevertheless, as an elder person, I have to discourage them from going.” As for himself, the man confessed, “I have no other way. Inwardly, I have no way.” There was once Rev. Lai Zhun Duo asked his father, “How do I stop gambling? Father, can you help me?” When his father heard this, his father cried. The young Rev. Lai had not seen his father shed tears before. His father never shed tears, only sweat. “If my gambling habit can be stopped, I would have stopped it long ago. Until today I still cannot change, how then am I able to help you?” Rev. Lai’s father replied. This is a very honest confession. Many people rely on their own strength and physical effort to change. Surely, they will fail.

My dear brothers and sisters, there was a story of a father who frequently went out to look for prostitutes in the middle of the night. One cold night, he left his house and walked in the snow towards his destination. When he reached the prostitute’s place, he looked behind to see whether there was anyone watching him. Usually, when he sees none, he would quietly thank God. However, when he turned back, he saw his 16-year old son following him about 100 metres away. He put on a serious face and scolded his son, “Why are you here? Go home!” The father thought that he could still use his authority as a father to command his son. He did not expect his son to reply: “Dad, do not shout. These 2 months, I have been following you. I know you come here very often. No matter what you say, I will no longer listen.” Does the father still have the dignity to teach his son? Is he still qualified to be a father? If you are a father, let me tell you that you must repent now, while your children are young and have not grown up. If not, you will lose them forever. If the Holy Spirit touches you today, you must not hesitate but quickly repent. Otherwise, you will not be able to resist the Devil the next time if he confronts you with a greater temptation. Pastors and preachers who are lazy and do not preach the truth properly must repent. Deacons and elders who serve the Lord with ulterior motives have to repent. Church leaders who accept and make use of false and deviated doctrines to facilitate church growth must repent as well. And Christians who refuse to evangelise also have to repent.

We need to have our morality reconstructed. Only when our morality has been reconstructed will the church have the authority of holiness and the dignity of goodness and righteousness. When a person lives a holy life, he will have a special authority that others would dare to despise. When a person lives a truly righteous life, he will have a righteous authority that others dare not take lightly. And when a person has true motives and personality, the words that he speaks will be filled with power.

My dear brothers and sisters, I know that I am a servant of God. If my morality is contradictory to the word of God, I will not have to wait for anyone to point his finger at me because I myself will not dare to come up to the pulpit. Today, we are servants of God. We must be alert and live trembling before the Lord. By relying on His power, we shine forth our light to the world. When I look at the life of Rev. Daniel Rao, I am very touched. He has worked with the youth for countless years. The youth looked at the example that he modelled as they mature, one generation after another. Every batch of students graduate after 4 years, but Rev. Rao laboured in the university for 40 years. He has seen generation after generation of students graduated over the years. When he was over 60 years old, people still respect him. Some of his students who have obtained the highest doctorate awards in the world formed a fellowship under him that consisted of more than 200 lecturers in order to testify for the Lord.

Many years are like a day. This is the kind of people that the world is not worthy of. This type of churches and preachers must surely have the power to witness. Are you willing to become like them? Do you want the church to have the power of holiness – sacred, righteous and good; a church with morality, patience, truth and the presence of God? When people see our morality, they will give glory to God from deep within their conscience. Although they do not believe outwardly, their conscience will tell them that what they see is the church of God, the servants of God and the children of God. Tonight, are you willing to say to the Lord, “O Lord, revive me. Reconstruct me. Use your holy fire to consume me. Cleanse me with your blood and fill me with the Holy Spirit.” Are you willing?

[1] Hebrews 11: 6
[2] James 2:26b
[3] Matthew 5:14a
[4] Matthew 5:16


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