Friday, August 29, 2008

Your Pain, Our Pleasure

A few months ago, I was having a "discussion" with a fellow pastor about faith and works. When I maintained that the work God wants us to do is "believe" His promises to us, rather than try to work for ourselves, my friend was completely disagreeable. And when I pointed to the fact that God promised Abraham he would have a son, and all Abraham did was believe (see Genesis 15:6), he reminded me of something interesting that I had overlooked. "Abraham didn't simply believe the Lord," he said, "He still had to have sex with Sarah in order for her to get pregnant."

Now, I don't believe the Bible explicitly mentions whether or not this is true, but I don't doubt that it is. But the point that he was making is that God doesn't ask us to only believe, but He tells us that we still have to "work" as well for our own salvation. Even though Abraham believed in the Lord and was righteous because of it, he still had to work, my friend maintains.

I kind of understand - and somewhat agree - with what he is saying. There is no doubt that true followers of Christ "work" when they have faith. You cannot separate faith from works. It's impossible (see James, who has something to say about this).

But something dawned on me a little while later. What my friend calls "work" I would call "pleasure." Do you think that Abraham really thought it was "work" to sleep with Sarah? Hardly! It was pleasure. And that is the precise reality with God. When we come into a heart-experience with Him, and respond by faith, that which we would consider "work" before actually becomes "pleasure." As Paul reminds us, "For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13). And when we do His pleasure, it becomes our pleasure as well.

Of course, my pastor friend, who is unmarried, may have a hard time understanding this! But, I would dare say, even unmarried people have a good idea about the blissful marital pleasures.


Israel Ramos said...

Thanks for this post. Understanding faith is essential to the Christian.
I agree that faith can be pleasurable. For example: Abraham also sacrificed his son by faith. In this example of faith, He depended on God to do what He had promised (make Isaac the seed of all nations). Perhaps faith is belief and belief is action. Action is definitely visible in Hebrews 11: Able offered, Enoch pleased, Abraham sojourned and offered, Noah moved, etc.
When God works in us to do His pleasure, I'm sure it includes going through difficulties in our experience. Perhaps faith always brings pleasure, just in a different way from how I understand it. Interesting thoughts! Thanks for the post.
PS. I saw you on Justin Kim's blogroll.

Israel Ramos said...

"But is it always?" should have been the sentence before "For example..."

Dingo said...

Not only is faith without works dead, it is dull. I remember the looks on faces the first time I ever ran into this issue. The discussion leader interrupted our give and take on the issue by saying, "I think I can assure you that if Abraham and Sarah had a child, Abraham did do something."

This kind of reminds me of the role of Jesus as our Surety. He does not do for us what we can and must do (He does not sleep with Sarah). He both promises and fulfills for us that which we cannot do. Abraham could not promise to produce a son no matter how much sex he and Sarah enjoyed. And of course, he could not fulfill the promise of a son(by actually co-producing a son with Sarah). the biloogical clock had passed them by long ago.

Faith does work - but not in order to produce the promised result, be it righteousness, entrance to heaven, or a son. Faith works because it is natural that a person of faith wants to do the behaviors that are pleasing to God - takes pleasure in them (unless something painful like a son a stack of fire wood and an altar are involved.)

The fact that we can succeed is Christ in us putting the life into it. The works are ours but the Works are His.

Shawn Brace said...

Dingo and Israel,

Thank you for your comments. This subject has a great depth to it. And we do need to make sure that we understand faith, especially in light of the fact that Paul says that anything that is not from faith is "sin" (Romans 14:23).

Israel, your points are well-taken! I would never insinuate that doing God's will is always pleasurable (ie., Abraham, sacrificing Isaac, etc.), but I think that it will always give us a sense of peace and fulfillment. It seems to me that, far too often, there is a mentality that we need to just work really hard, whether we like it or not. But as EGW reminds us in the Desire of Ages, there will come a point when, in doing right, we will simply be carrying out our own thoughts and impulses (sorry I don't know the page number off the top of my head).

Thank you for the thoughts, guys.

Israel Ramos said...

What your post did for me was to give me a different understanding about pleasure. Perhaps doing God's will is always pleasurable. But differently (as you've stated already). I'd never thought about that before. Maybe it would be a good idea to study what the Bible says about pleasure. Thanks!

holamickey said...

shawn - the "work" of faith I can't see as always something pleasurable... as has been stated. EGW in P & P describes faith as "earnest and agonizing." However I was impressed that "faith" at some point will be pleasurable - the work of faith or the result of the same... there will be pleasure.

Shawn Brace said...

Interesting thoughts, Michael. That quote you refer to from P & P I am not familiar with. Is it in reference to Abraham and Isaac? I suppose I can just look it up.

In no way am I insinuating that doing the work of the Lord will always be pleasurable. But, I think that, far too many times, we make it a miserable affair - and we think that we have to begrudgingly go about the Lord's business. But I can't help but think of what David wrote: "I delight to do Your will, O my God, and Your law is within my heart" (Psalm 40:8).

That is my goal in life!