Many Christians struggle to understand the relationship between God’s grace, our faith, and living a life of good works. Do we earn salvation by our righteous deeds? Does God’s grace mean we don’t have to work at all? In this episode, Wes McAdams interviews Kris Emerson about this important topic. They discuss common pitfalls like pride, burnout, and discouragement that happen when we don’t understand the grace of God.
Wes and Kris unpack key passages like Ephesians 2:8-10. They discuss how we must people of good works, but good works don’t earn our salvation; they are the natural response to what God has freely given us. With humor and vulnerability, Kris shares how appreciating the sequence of grace, faith, and works has revolutionized his spiritual life and ministry.
Kris Emerson hosts the Excel Still More podcast and preaches for the Lindale Church of Christ. He is passionate about helping Christians grow in their love for God and others by properly understanding biblical truths about grace, faith, and works.
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Transcript (Credit: Beth Tabor)
WES: Welcome to the Radically ChristianBible Study Podcast. I’m your host, Wes McAdams. Here we have one goal: Learn to love like Jesus. I want to start today by reading from Ephesians 2, starting in verse 1. Paul writes, “And you were dead in the trespasses and the sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience, among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ ‑‑ by grace you have been saved ‑‑ and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace, you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Our special guest today is Kris Emerson, the host of the podcast Excel Still More, and he is also the preacher for the Lindale Church of Christ. We’re going to talk about grace and faith and our life, our works in Christ Jesus. We hope that you enjoy this podcast, and this conversation, and we hope, as always, that it helps all of us to love like Jesus.
Kris Emerson, welcome to the podcast, Brother.
KRIS: Hey, glad to be here, Wes. Thanks for letting me join you today.
WES: Thank you so much. I’ve enjoyed our chat already. We were chatting for several minutes before we hit record, and I can’t wait for this conversation. I’ve been listening to some of your sermons that you’ve been doing. You do a lot of meetings around the country and you’ve been talking about some really exciting stuff, so why don’t you go ahead and tell us what you’ve been preaching lately?
KRIS: Hey, very happy to, and thankful we get to kind of work through it some today. So I’ve been associated with God’s people my entire life, since the moment I was born. And so, among God’s people, we know that there are three really important words that we have to learn to balance and understand that relate to our salvation. One of them is “grace.” The Bible says we’re saved by grace. The other is “faith.” We’re saved through faith. And then, I think, “works,” which we all know is an important part of Christian living, and James talks about how we’re justified by works. But the question is, like, how does all that work together? Which one is needful most or first, or how is it sequenced? How are you saved by all three ‑‑ the grace from God, the faith in you, and the works that you do in his name? One of the things I’ve always had in my mind is this idea of trying to balance it, and so I want to begin with that thought, and I think this is where the lessons originated.
When I imagine balanced faith in my mind, I see this golden scale with “faith” written on it and you want a golden, balanced faith. And here’s, in my mind, what that looked like, like two arms sticking out the side with cups, and in one cup is a ball with a G on it, and on the other side is a ball with a W on it for “works,” and you want that balance. You don’t want too much grace because if you have too much of God’s grace, then the works will become irrelevant or get ignored, and I do think we see people who make that mistake. But if you make it all about your works and you miss out on God’s grace or you lose focus on its value, well, then you just have a life of no real confidence because your works are incomplete, or you have this weird pride in yourself, which is even worse.
And so I thought about why am I trying to balance these. And my recommendation, starting today, is to stop trying to do that, to toss out that scale. I mean, think about it this way. How small would God’s grace have to become to balance out with your works? Like the size of a grain of sand? And then I started wondering, okay, so why do we even try? Why would we even imagine that they are balanceable in my faith? And I think it’s this thing called forced perspective, Wes. Like your works are very close to you. They’re you. They’re your thinking your words and your actions. And if you’re not careful, grace can start to get really far from you, like it’s this initial thing that God did, and then it begins to drift away. And eventually, they look like they’re the same size when they aren’t.
Maybe the best illustration for that is the sun and the moon. If you ask a two‑year‑old at night to tell you how big the moon was, they’d hold up their fingers and go, it’s about this big, you know, two inches. And then the next morning, when the sun is still low enough that you can look at it through the atmosphere, you’d be like, how big is the sun? They’d hold their finger up and go two inches. And then you say, which one’s bigger? And they’d go, well, you know, one’s brighter, but I think they’re both the same. The problem is they’re not even close to the same. It’s just that the sun is 400 times farther away. The sun is so large you’d need to line up a thousand moons in a row to have the width of it. If the sun was hollow and there was a hole in the top, you could put 63 million moons inside of it and still have room to hang out. They’re not even close. But through perspective, if they were the same distance away from you, it would be very obvious, and I think that’s what happens with grace and works. God’s grace comes first. God’s grace is greater. God’s grace makes everything possible, and so I teach a sequence that I think we’re going to talk about today is consistent through scripture, that God’s grace is greater and more grand and beautiful, and the only reason you can even see the moon is because of the glory of the sun.
Now, am I saying the moon doesn’t matter, that it’s irrelevant? No. It’s super relevant, but, really, secondarily to what is at the center of our solar system. So I teach what I hope we can show in scripture today, which is grace to faith to life. Everything starts with God’s grace, his creative grace, his redemptive grace, and his covenant grace. You, in your heart, believe in it. You trust him, you turn to him for all that you need in terms of light and warmth and life, and you change. Your heart changes. What comes out of that? Well, I mean, there are some actions that are associated with that, like baptism, but what comes out of that is a life of faithfulness, of gratitude. Wes, I serve God because I live in his grace, not in order to earn my right to stay there. And so that’s kind of where I’ve been going. I think we can see it all throughout the New Testament, which I know we’ll get to explore today.
WES: Yeah, and I love that metaphor. I got to hear you talk about that in a sermon that you preached, that idea of the sun and the moon, and you sort of compared the idea of the moon being our works and the sun being God’s grace, and you said, obviously, you couldn’t see the moon if it wasn’t for the sun, and you tied that to our works and grace, and you said, are you required to do good works? Yes, but you wouldn’t even know what they were if it wasn’t for God’s great grace. And I love the idea that it has to begin with the grace of God because we wouldn’t even know what it was to do if it wasn’t for God’s grace.
Let me kind of back up just a second and go back to a story that you told in one of your sermons. I think it was in Lindale. But you said that you were on an airplane and you were visiting with a lady. You were reading your Bible, she was reading her Bible, and you got into this conversation about scripture. And she asked you what you were doing, where you were coming from, and you told her that you were preaching at a church of Christ, and then she said that she used to be within churches of Christ but that we didn’t believe in grace. And then you went on with the story. A second lady joined in the conversation. So if you don’t mind, just kind of walk us through that story and how that is indicative of what some people may have experienced within our fellowship.
KRIS: Yeah, yeah. The truth is beautiful. It’s amazing. It will draw anyone from anywhere who has a heart for God. And I don’t go out and say, look, we ‑‑ you know, this editorial, you know, widespread “we” have been teaching grace wrong or we’ve been teaching works wrong or faith wrong, but I do think that people get into a point of emphasis where they’re trying to counter what’s happening in the religious world, and so ‑‑ you know, think about sermons. How many sermons have you heard on grace that just talked about the blessings we have in the Lord and how empowered we are by his goodness and then ended the sermon? Not usually. Now, how many have you heard on works and the need to obey where there was no grace mentioned? And we’re like, no, that’s great, more of that. You know, there’s an emphasis problem that can happen, and here’s the problem. Somebody like the lady sitting next to me on the plane says, “I grew up hearing, almost all the time, this is what I need to do, and I’m lost if I don’t do it, and if I’m struggling, I need to figure it out.” Listen to those pronouns. Like it’s not sourced in the power of God, sourced in your love for God, or ‑‑ it’s sourced in you figuring it out, so she left. I was listening to her, and I said, look, I’m sticking with the inside. I’m staying in because I think that our people love the word, and what we need to do is bring some of the elements you’re saying ‑‑ ’cause she had some good things to say ‑‑ but also it caused her to do what people do, which is pendulum‑swing too far away. The plane lands. They say we can take off our seat belts. The lady in front pops up like she got bit by a spider and turns around and goes, “I’ve been listening to everything you’ve been saying,” and then they both sort of go into this idea of no grace. And I do not think that they’re correct, but I think that you have to own ‑‑ if you’re a preacher or a shepherd, you have to own the fact that there are people leaving local churches like ours with that ideology, and they’ve got some decent arguments. And I don’t mean that they’re right and we’re wrong. I mean that we need to ‑‑ we need to get this sequence right. And I think she agreed with the things that I said. That’s the thing. We didn’t end with her going, “Well, I’ll never agree with you.” She was just like, “I don’t think that’s the way I heard it.” And so we’ve got the truth; we just need to present it in a way where they can hear it, that doesn’t swing to one wall to try to counter the other.
WES: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Another thing that you talked about in one of your sermons ‑‑ it may have even been in the same sermon ‑‑ you were talking about Romans 1‑3 and sort of walking through how the first chapter of Paul begins by talking about the unbelieving world, the Gentile world, and how they’re lost and how they’re doing horrible things and how they’re far away from God and they’ve suppressed the truth in their unrighteousness, and how the religious people might be saying yes, absolutely, that’s right. And then, in chapter 2, he turns the tables on them and says you also have done these things. And you used a phrase ‑‑ and I love this. You said, “You might do better, but you are not better than them.”
Kind of walks us through that idea. Why do you think we tend to think that we’re better than other people that don’t obey like we obey or do what we do and how we have to kind of understand that idea before we understand anything else, that we are not better ‑‑ even those of us who are saved and that are in a covenant relationship with God, we are not better than those who are lost?
KRIS: Yeah. Romans, it’s so rich. You know, Romans 1 through 6, 1 through 8, it shows you how it all works. But what’s interesting is it’s not showing a lost person in the world how it works. Paul writes a letter to Christians, to people who’ve been in Christ. You need to remember how this works. You can miss out on the pieces of how this works. How does it work? Romans 1 through 3, no one is righteous. None are righteous. Those Jewish Christians in chapter 2 were so busy pointing their finger at the world of sin that they missed the way that they walked in some of those same sins. Now, they were a little cleaner and looked a little better, but you were not better than them, and they started to miss that.
So Romans 3 says, look, none are righteous. Only God is righteous, and all righteousness is given as a gift from God. You need to lean back into the fact that God is your power to holiness. And then he goes into chapters 4 and 5 and he says, look, you’ve got to believe like Abraham did. Abraham trusted that all that was good would come from God, and he bet his life on it, to use that terminology, and God said that’s what I’m looking for. And then he went on to obey, you know, Hebrews 11 and James 2, but he obeyed because he knew who God was and who he wasn’t, and everything he could become was because of God, and then he signed up.
And, you know, funny, Wes, it almost sounds silly to say, but I started preaching ‑‑ I’m 44. I started preaching half my life ago. I was 22, and I thought, by 30, I may not need ‑‑ this is gonna sound bad, but I may not need God’s grace as much. Maybe he can really start working that ‑‑ because I’m figuring things out, I worship here, we do this, we understand this. And in the last 22 years, I’ve come to realize that, yeah, there are a lot of things that we’re doing well, but there are a lot of things that I don’t know that I’ll ever be elite at. In our fellowship, we get a lot of great collective things well, but sometimes it causes us to miss some of the more fundamental gospel things in its place, and I have come to the road of greater grace, greater need for it, greater confidence in it by studying myself and our people, not by looking at the world. It’s more of a Romans chapter 2 for me, Wes than a Romans chapter 1, going, man, we’re never gonna get there unless God’s light just keeps warming and illuminating. And Romans 1 through 6, to me, and through the virtue of righteousness, shows you, look, you have none. He has all of it. He’s willing to give it to you by faith, but he’s expecting you to be so blown away by how far he’s come and how much he’s done that you sign up to be an instrument of that righteousness, to be enslaved to it. “I will spend the rest of my life trying to manifest your goodness in my life.” None of that starts to go, “Okay, I can use less of your grace now because I’m manifesting better than I used to.” That’s like comparing the sun to the moon. That’s like the moon doubling in size and going, “Okay, now I’m catching up.” You’re not going to catch up.
WES: That is such a great metaphor because the moon has no light of its own. It’s only reflecting the light of the sun, and that’s what we’re doing. If we are obeying and living out this life that we’re called to, then we’re not reflecting ‑‑ or we’re not shining our own light; we’re simply reflecting his. I loved your offer to the church to get them all “I am Rahab” T‑shirts. You said that nobody took you up on that, but I love that. In fact, I’ll sign up. I’ll be your first customer. I want an “I am Rahab” shirt. This idea that James uses, that this is what our obedience is like, this is what our works are like, are like the works of Rahab, who obeyed, but she obeyed because she knew who God was. I love the way that Paul lays out almost all of his books, but, particularly, you can see it in Romans and Ephesians where he begins with the indicatives. He says this is what is. This is who God is and what God has done, and then he gets to the imperatives and says, okay, now, based on that, therefore ‑‑ we see this in Romans 12, we see this in Ephesians 4 ‑‑ therefore, based on God’s righteousness, based on God’s grace, based on God’s mercy and love, here’s what you do as a response to that, as a faithful response to what God has done.
That’s what I love about your idea on sequencing and that word “sequencing” and why that’s so important, because I think you’re right that we tend to want to teach people, hey, here’s what you do. If you want to be saved, here’s what you do. Here’s what you believe. In fact, I mentioned in a sermon a few weeks ago that I’ve asked ‑‑ especially young people when I did youth ministry for years, I would ask young people, “Are you sure that you are in the right relationship with God? Are you sure that if Jesus came today, you would be saved?” And if they said yes ‑‑ sometimes they would say “I’m not sure,” but if they said yes, I would ask them why, based on what? And it would always be “Because I” blank. “Because I was baptized,” “Because I believe,” “Because I” ‑‑ and I told the church, the wrong answer. The right answer is “Because he.” “Because God is gracious,” “Because God is merciful,” “Because God is loving,” “Because God keeps his promises.” Was I baptized? Absolutely. But I’m not saved “because I.” I’m saved “because he, in spite of me.” That’s why we’re saved.
KRIS: Yeah. Yeah, so good. And Rahab is such a good example of that. In that meeting, wherever it was I talked about that, the last night somebody brought me an “I am Rahab” t‑shirt.
WES: Oh, love it.
KRIS: And I wore it to the airport the next day and I had a couple of interesting conversations. There was a girl in front of me with her boyfriend/her husband, and I saw her Googling, you know, Old Testament women of faith. She was trying to figure out who it was, you know. But what a perfect story. This is in James 2, and we wrestle with, man, what an interesting person to add to James 2. You know, she was a harlot, and then we think she lied and there’s all this debate about it. But think about it. Like she had two things before she ever did what was right. One is she had heard the stories of God and she believed them. She’s telling the spies, like, your God is amazing. And God sent to her his grace, an opportunity. Had the spies never come, she would have died with everyone else. God ‑‑ it’s kind of like with Abraham. God comes to Abraham and goes, “Here I am, and here’s what I’m offering to you.” And Abraham says, “I believe in you.” And then God says, “All right. Then I want to use you as an instrument for me.” And that was Rahab. It started with God’s grace coming to her, her belief, and her trust in who he was, and it was those two things that fueled a very difficult decision. And we’re all confused about the decision. Like she lied a couple of times. She had like a little sandwich in there. And we can debate about lies or military times or whatever, but I think the point is, yeah, she probably could have done that differently like David probably half the time. There are a lot of characters like that. They could have done things a little bit better. David didn’t need to feign madness. You know, he could have just stood for God. But the point is he was still working the best he could through his belief that God had him. And I don’t know. I love her story because it’s short messy and real, and we don’t really see her going out later and really earning all of what God did. She just made conviction decisions that changed people’s lives.
WES: Yeah. Well, and I think that highlights what both Paul and James do in proving this function of the grace of God ‑‑ the saving function of God’s grace and our response of faith and obedience, that it’s not just something that God suddenly thought of when Jesus was born, that this has always been the way that God functioned. It always begins with the grace of God.
God rescued Israel from Egyptian slavery, not because they were fantastic people and he looked down and said, “Wow,” you know, “you guys are awesome and I’m just going to save you because you’re the best people in the world.” He didn’t even make a covenant with Abraham based on that. He moved first. He offered salvation first. He loved first. He offered them his grace and mercy, and then they had the option to put their faith in God, and that’s when God’s grace began to transform them. And even seen through that lens, the law is an act of God’s grace, that he’s teaching them how to walk and how to live because he is a gracious God because he loves them and wants what’s best for them.
KRIS: Yeah, exactly right. Hebrews 11 is so helpful with this. You know, you look at Abraham and Noah and Sarah. God comes to Abraham first and asks him to believe that he can be at a place where he’s never been before, and he so completely gave himself over to what God was promising, the power and promises of God, that he did extraordinary things. Noah was asked to believe that something was going to happen that had never happened before, and he believed in God’s promises and power and he built a boat. Sarah was asked to believe that she would accomplish something that she’d never accomplished before, and she laughed a little, but ‑‑ I love the human side of all of it because that’s what they were. But she considered it possible in God, and then she and Abraham got together and God accomplished that through them. Everything begins with “Can you believe that I can do what is not possible?” Which takes me back to our salvation and righteousness. You’re not righteous. “Do you believe I am and that I can make you ‑‑ you know, at least credit you as righteousness by what I offer?” And if we would fall in love with that, Wes, we wouldn’t have to keep preaching the same sermons about “This is what you guys need to stop doing. This is what you start doing.” We’d be begging to get better at that, and I think this is why the sequencing matters.
You know, we talk about, well, this person is not living the right faithful life. We need to preach another sermon telling them to do that. Let me tell you, listen, grace to faith to life. If you’re struggling with your life, it’s because you’re struggling with your faith. There’s a trust mechanism that has broken down. If you’re struggling with your faith, back up one more. You do not know the grace of God. It’s gotten too far away. Now it’s like Pluto out there. It’s a tiny little dot. We need to get you reconnected with the beautiful things of God’s grace that happened before you were born. Even ‑‑ and, Wes, this can cause some controversy, but even before you were baptized, your life was filled with God’s grace.
WES: That’s right.
KRIS: The fact that you exist, that you still exist through all the mistakes that you made, that Jesus died for you and offered redemption to you ‑‑ before you even accepted it, it was put right in front of you. Now, if you want the fullness of that grace upon your soul, then you must be baptized into his body, but think about everything he does to just draw you to him. I love the Corinthian language, like God’s calling. What do you mean, God’s calling? I mean open your eyes and look around. Everything God has done is calling you to him. Understand that grace, your heart continues to change. That’s when your life really, really begins to change.
WES: Yeah. Yeah, that Greek word for “grace” is the word from which we get “charity.” It’s a gift. God is this unbelievably wealthy benefactor who is giving us things that we can’t even begin to imagine. Things we wouldn’t have imagined to do, a life we wouldn’t imagine to have, he is calling us to, and it would have been totally out of our purview, totally out of our mind to even guess what God wanted for us. And as you said, he is revealing to us this better life, and so doing what he called us to do wasn’t our idea. We didn’t come up with it, nor would we be capable of doing it if it weren’t for his grace.
Let me ask you this, Kris. I’m afraid we’re going to not even get to the outline I sent you. So what initially made you want to tackle this subject of grace faith and life?
KRIS: I think a couple of things came together, and I know you’ve talked about this, Wes, a lot, about reading the New Testament in terms of reading whole letters, trying to find out the theme of those letters, what they’re intended to do. Instead of taking Romans in a bunch of little pieces and trying to figure out things, just read the letter and say, what is he trying to call these Christians to do? And then I started noticing that Ephesians is calling them to the same thought. Colossians, 1 Peter, even the little book of Philemon, it’s just got this idea of calling Christians back to this understanding of God’s mercy and power and then how that’s supposed to change your heart. And then the second half of all those letters gets to the stuff we usually preach more on, which is the following through.
So I was just sort of reading through ‑‑ you know, I have a New Testament Bible read. I made a vow about five years ago that I would read one New Testament chapter a day until I saw Jesus . So it gives you this constant ‑‑ you’re just flowing every 260 days. But at the same time, Wes, and I started to try to figure out why we have lack‑of‑confidence issues in the church pop up on either end of the age scale. If I have one more person who’s an octogenarian, who’s been in the church their whole life, who’s diagnosed with something very scary, come to me tearfully in doubt that they’re saved because of what they did with their kids, because of things they didn’t do, the sins of omission, whatever that might be and all this stuff, and I’m looking at them going, I think that they feel like they’re being humble, but they’re seeded now with doubt and anxiety and fear, and I don’t think they understand that that’s a lack of faith in what God didn’t just do, but does. And I started to notice people late in their lives ‑‑ you figure now if you’ve gone to church, you know, 762 straight Sundays in a row, you should feel incredibly confident. They don’t feel confident. And then, on the other end, there are young people who are being told, you know, faithfulness is this list of things at this level of consistency, and I think they’re just going, “I’m out. I can’t do it.” And then, like on the airplane, there’s this church up the street going, “Oh, don’t worry about all that. You know, don’t worry about any of that. Don’t worry about this enslaved‑to‑righteousness stuff. Just come let God’s grace” ‑‑ and that’s wrong. It’s imbalanced. But sometimes I wonder if we weren’t pushing them that way. Not that we were teaching error ‑‑ I’m not saying that ‑‑ but a misappropriation of how this all works.
So that started kind of colliding for me at the same time, and I’ve gotten pretty passionate about showing them not just a sequence that I think can help ‑‑ grace to faith to life ‑‑ but that practically your entire New Testament is begging you to lean into this. I mean, even the design of the New Testament. What do the Gospels teach? Believing in God’s great grace source, Jesus. What’s the Book of Acts about? It’s about people who go, “Wow, I can’t believe I tried to kill him. Like, I believe.” And what’s the rest of the New Testament about? Not only living a faithful life, but continually reminding you of this flow from him to you. So that’s kind of how that came together.
WES: I love to tell people that in the Gospel of John ‑‑ and if I’m wrong on this, I’d love somebody to correct me. But in the Gospel of John, there are really only two commandments. Jesus only tells them to do two things: Believe in him and love one another. That’s it. I mean, that’s it. So that’s how it begins. And then the epistles work out what does that look like? What does it look like to believe in Jesus and love other disciples of his and our neighbor as ourselves? Like what does that look like in practical terms? But that’s where it has to begin, but so often we want to begin with ‑‑ especially in the world today, it doesn’t make any sense, to begin with the idea that let’s just go out to our neighborhood and tell people what they need to do to be saved. It’s like our neighborhood doesn’t even know about Jesus. Our neighborhood doesn’t even know who he is or why you follow him. Maybe ‑‑ and I don’t even know if this was true, but maybe 50 years ago or 100 years ago our neighbors pretty much all believed in Jesus and believed that he was worth following and so we needed to work out some of the details of what that looks like to follow him. But today that’s certainly not the case. We have to ‑‑ and we should have always ‑‑ begin with Jesus and what God has done for us through him.
So kind of with that in mind, what are some of the passages that you’ve focused special attention on as you’ve gone through this series?
KRIS: Yeah. Well, part of it is what you’re talking about, just spending more time in the Gospels to kind of understand the front end. “Front end” is not the right word because it’s continually going on and on, but, basically, the front‑end idea of God delivering grace through Christ. You know, the New Testament ‑‑ the Gospels don’t use the word “grace” but like five times. I tell people there’s no grace in Mark, there’s no grace ‑‑ but it’s ‑‑ Jesus is the grace. I mean, Jesus is that perfect demonstration, and Jesus comes in and says what you said. “I’m teaching you some internals. I’m teaching you to believe in me, and I’m teaching you to learn to love,” and then that lives out. And I think just studying ‑‑ sometimes the way our fellowship can get is we get a lot of those externals right and start building confidence, especially in collective externals ‑‑ which I’m not saying we’re wrong about ‑‑ but if you lose your love for people then you’ve missed the entire flow of what’s going on, so the gospels have helped me see that a lot more.
And then, once you get into the epistles, I would say the most concise place to demonstrate what we’re talking about today is Ephesians 2, verses 8, 9, and 10. “For by grace, you have been saved.” That whole text builds this idea that we had no righteousness we were dead and you were saved through faith. You ‑‑ not just believed. I don’t want to simplify faith to just believe, but you believed that and you put your trust in that, and it’s not as a result of works. It never has been or will be, lest any man should boast. And I know, a lot of times, works, in Galatians and other places, is really like featuring the Law of Moses stuff, but I don’t think that was the idea in Ephesians 2. He was saying God did this; you didn’t do this. And then you get to verse 9, and you’re like, well, okay, what about the works? He goes, verse 10, you are his workmanship. You’ve been created in Christ Jesus for good works. He’s prepared all kinds of works for you, and you will do them fueled by his loving kindness, not in some odd, twisted reversal way where you get the works done and then he begins to, like, trickle out rewards. I am indebted to work for him every day because I live in the fullness of his rewards, not waiting at the edge of the table for me to say the right thing and for more to drip through.
So I would say Ephesians 2, but, honestly, Ephesians 1 through 3. God’s grace develops your faith. Ephesians 4 through 6, let’s go live like it. Colossians 1 and 2, God’s grace develops your trust in him. Chapters 3 and 4, let’s go live like it. Romans ‑‑ and so forth. So Ephesians 2:8‑10 would be the principal place, and then we expound and we just show the frequency of it in scripture.
WES: I heard a metaphor one time ‑‑ I don’t remember where I heard it so I’ve stolen it and it’s become mine, but the idea that it’s not the size of our faith or the perfection of our faith; it’s the object of our faith. It’s like ‑‑ the metaphor is that when you have faith in a chair, it’s not about how much faith you have in the chair; it’s whether or not you sit in it, and if you sit in the chair, then the chair will hold you up. And so when we put our faith in Jesus, we are trusting in Jesus. It’s not that we have perfect faith in Jesus. I don’t have a perfect faith in Jesus. I don’t know everything I need to know. I don’t always do everything I’m supposed to do, but my faith is in him. He is the object of my faith, and when I trust in him and abide in him, he saves me. So it’s ‑‑ I think sometimes we get ‑‑ we get really concerned. Do I have enough faith, or do I have the right kind of faith, or does my faith look the way it’s supposed to? The answer is of course not. Of course not. But where is your faith placed? In whom do you have faith? Are you trusting in Jesus to save you?
That kind of leads me to the next question. What additional resources have you found, outside of scripture, that have been helpful to you as you’ve explored these subjects?
KRIS: Well, I’m odd this way. When I get on a topic, I want to read extreme positions on it just to see how I react to them. So without getting too specific on books ‑‑ I’ve got a few lying around here, but I wanted to kind of reread some of the most conservative views, you know, the folks who only preach on grace when they preach Titus 2 because they’re getting to the instruction part. You know, Titus 2 is beautiful, but we’re like ‑‑ we jump to, you know, it’s telling you to do things. And so I kind of went back in and thought, okay, let me see what I think I was influenced by in younger years. And then, at the same time, I read ‑‑ I’m reading a book right now, “Biblical Authority After Babel.” It’s basically like a defense of the Protestant Reformation. It’s the five solas. I am not ‑‑ this is not where I am, but I was interested to learn more about how they’re coming at it, and what I find is, as usual, that there are some overemphasis on both ends of the scale. I find balance by trying to figure out what the extremes look like.
I’ve also really enjoyed a lot of David Bercot’s stuff. Interesting guy. Like the “Heretic” book and “Will the Real Heretic Please Stand Up,” and will the theologians please sit down? And what I’ve really discovered is, that in those first couple hundred years, Christians would have just read Ephesians 2 and lived it. They didn’t fight as much on exactly how that theology was worded. Sometimes when I preach on Romans 3, which I’m doing on Sunday ‑‑ I think I almost accidentally used the word “imputed” one time in a sermon, and I meant it more like “credited,” but here come the emails from preachers going, well, you’ve imputed righteousness now in Christ. I’m going, let’s just read it and live it and maybe not join in on all these word/theologian battles. And, look, I think theology is important. I think an understanding of God is important. But I think they used to understand more that if you just read the scripture together ‑‑ now, they were very literal in the first and second centuries. We might not enjoy all the literal nature of all of their interpretations, but at least they were going, “This is what it says; let’s just go with this.” And so I guess that’s kind of three. I look at one extreme more, the other, and then I feel like Bercot has got me back to just the simplicity of the scripture.
WES: That’s awesome. So before we take a break, let me ask you this: How has this study changed you?
KRIS: I think it’s resolved a lot of tension in my life. I mentioned in a lesson the other day, that one of my best friends in the world, Tony Mauck, a gospel preacher who had a lot of influence on me, passed away recently I had a chance to speak at his service, and I mentioned a sermon that he preached a long, long time ago, Wes. I was in my 20s and I was going through that weird cycle in my 20s where I thought I knew everything and I thought that was my confidence because I knew this and I taught this and our church did this. But in my mid‑20s, reality started to set in that if my confidence is on us having everything just right, unaffected in any way by bias or culture, or me getting ‑‑ then I started ‑‑ there were holes in the boat, you know? And I started kind of getting to, I don’t think I have a lot of confidence. Am I even saved? And then my friend Tony preached a lesson called, “It is Hard to Be Lost.” And he used Hebrews, which is interesting because Hebrews certainly teaches it’s possible for a Christian to be lost, chapter 3, chapter 6, chapter 12. But he went in and he goes, look, Hebrews 1, Jesus is God’s greatest gift to save you. Hebrews 1, there are angels everywhere working on your behalf. Hebrews 2, his salvation is greater than you can even imagine. Hebrews 12, there’s this cloud of witnesses who are there pulling for you. And Hebrews 12, Jesus has accomplished it all and is working on your behalf. Like Jesus at the beginning, God sent him, then angels, then salvation, then witnesses, and then Jesus at the end. And I’m 25 and I’m going, wait, like maybe I’m saved because of God’s great patience and work. But it was just like a seed, you know? And it’s just grown over the years.
And then, not too many years ago, I just feel like it’s just exploded into this great peace. And somebody’s listening going, well, you know, Kris has lost it. I mean, he’s gonna be all about grace and he’s probably gonna be less about obedience. Are you kidding me? I wake up with more resolve than I’ve ever had in my life to do exactly what God wants me to do because I’ve never been this grateful. My entire life I’ve never been as grateful as I am today, and that’s kind of where that journey started and where I am now.
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WES: Kris, this conversation is so rich and I’m enjoying it so much. I’m curious what you’re hoping that the congregation ‑‑ and you’ve actually taken this series to a lot of different congregations, so what are you hoping that people learn intellectually? What do you hope they know after they go through this series than they knew before, maybe?
KRIS: Yeah. Maybe one thing is the songs we sing are kind of amazing and we should focus on the words of those songs. I know I’ve been getting ready to, you know, get up to preach sometimes and I’m listening to the songs, and they’re so rich with God’s richness and they’re so dependent on his glory and they put us in this wonderful position. And sometimes I get up and say, I’m about to get in the way of a great worship service because if we would just listen to the songs we just sang, the great confidence we proclaimed in him ‑‑ sometimes I wonder if what I preach sounds very, very different than what we just sang. And I don’t mean wrong; I just mean like the total other end of the spectrum. And so I hope that they listen. I love the song “In Need” and how wonderful is it for a collection of people to just all, with one accord, say we’re in need of grace and peace. We’re in need of things that only you, God, only you ‑‑ it’s one of those songs directed to God ‑‑ only what you can give to me. I hope that they’re exploring that idea more deeply.
I hope that verses like Philippians 4:13 about doing all things through Christ who strengthens me becomes more real, that maybe I’ve been trying to bootstrap this and find it under my own power. Like God’s kind of untethered me now and said get out there and show me something, and, instead, it needs to continue to be only by your strength, Christ, only by what you and the Spirit and the Father provide, and I just want to draw nutrients from you. And I really hope, practically, that’s what happens, is ‑‑ if you’re having trouble ‑‑ like, for instance, when I study with young men ‑‑ I got to meet with a man just this week about, you know, struggling with things like pornography. And I said, look, we can treat the symptoms if you want. I mean, we can do that. We can set up parameters and protective things, and that’s kind of normally our approach: just do better, find a way to do better, and fix it. And he’s looking at me going, I can’t do better. And I’m saying, you know what we need to do? We need to read some Psalms together. And what do Psalms have to do with pornography? Psalms have everything to do with God and what it means to fill your day with all of who he is. You need to fall in love with his light again and make some internal decisions instead of just measuring yourself on the outward decision. Somebody listens and says, “Well, you’re saying as long as your heart is right, it doesn’t matter what’s on your web browser.” No, I’m saying when your heart is right, your web browser changes, but if you try to do it the other way, it’s just self‑defeating. So I hope that some of that sequencing isn’t just intellectual or even spiritual; it’s practical in the way we process the power ‑‑ not ours, but his.
WES: Yeah. And so much of what Jesus said ‑‑ it’s so much of the problem that the Pharisees had. They were cleaning the outside of the cup but the inside was still dirty. Jesus said it’s not the things that we eat that defile us; it’s what comes out of our mouth because that proceeds from the heart. And that’s what so much of the prophets focused on was the fact that God had put Israel through all of these things but their heart still wasn’t circumcised, their heart was still hard, and they needed a heart transplant. They needed a change of heart, and that was something that only the Holy Spirit could do, it was only when the Holy Spirit came and began to change people from the inside out that people actually began to live differently. And so I hate that sometimes we get nervous or uncomfortable or it’s at all controversial to talk about the heart and how worship and devotion and love for God is what changes us first on the inside, but then also on the outside, that it has to work its way out of this. I think what James is saying in his book, is that if you claim that your heart has been changed, if you claim to be religious, if you claim to have faith, if you claim that these things are true, if you claim to have love but you can’t see it in your actions, then it’s a lie. It’s a dead faith. It’s not a living, actual faith if you’re not actually doing things.
So with that in mind, what are some of the things that you hope people do differently? How do you hope that they not just internalize or believe these things, but how do you hope that it makes a difference in their everyday life?
KRIS: Well, James is a great example. You know, James 2, everybody knows that powerful text, and it can help the non‑Christian become a Christian, certainly, but it wasn’t written to non‑Christians. It was written to people who were in Christ, who maybe had forgotten ‑‑ like you and I talked about earlier ‑‑ that the principle of all law is to love, and the way the people will know us in this world is by the way that we, John 13, love each other. And I just want us to, in some ways, continue to be who we are in terms of how we worship and how we conduct things ‑‑ and we’re not saying we toss that out; that’s who we are. But just don’t skip the things that have to be behind that. Measure your heart. It’s not just do I go to the right church. It’s do I love the people at that church? It’s not just do I stand for the right doctrines and principles and have knowledge. That can puff up. It’s am I living the love of Jesus? Like James 2, says, you say you have faith, and if I ask you why, you’d quote all these things. “Well, I go to church here and I do this and I give this,” and he’s gonna say, “I’m talking about that brother over there that needs your help. I’m talking about” ‑‑ that’s where this thing starts.
And here’s why I think grace is so big. I’m studying with the junior high kids about this now at church, but think about every day the way that God exhibits his love for you and the way that he listens to you and looks out for you and loves you, and the grace is love in that case. And the next thing that needs to happen is your heart needs to be filled with love. You need to be filled with compassion, filled with the fruit of the Spirit, and then go out and exhibit that. So I guess, in a sense ‑‑ and I want to be careful how I say it. I’m all about collective church work, worship, and behavior. I think those things are important. But if you put your confidence in those, you’re missing a massive amount of what Christianity is. So I’m saying don’t throw that out, keep it, but measure your faithfulness more on an individual relationship scale.
Quick note, Romans, Ephesians, Colossians, when they get to the second half where they go, okay, I’ve talked to you about God’s grace, I’ve talked to you about faith in him ‑‑ when they get to the second half, and Paul says, in Ephesians 4, “Now go out and walk in a manner worthy,” what’s interesting in all those cases is it’s not as much about the things that we might say it’s about. It’s about relationships. Ephesians 4, 5, and 6: relationships with your spouse, with your brother, with your neighbor. Colossians 3 and 4: masters to slaves, husbands to wives. Relationships are probably the number one way you know this sequence is working. If you go, “Well, I believe the right things, I go to the right church, but my relationships are in shambles,” you need to back up because you’ve got a disconnect between what God’s put into you and exactly what God is looking for to come out.
So I guess what I’m really hoping is we will measure our love for others and the value of our relationships to find out kind of where I am instead of putting the metric in other places. Other places that are valuable but ‑‑ it’s like Matthew 25. When Jesus comes back, what’s ‑‑ he already told us, you know, here’s how I’m going to decide who’s in and who’s out. It’s not gonna be the list you hope it is. It’s gonna be when my people needed you and how my love for you lived by your love for them.
WES: Yeah, amen. Well, you know, here’s a passage that we don’t typically apply to this conversation, but as you were talking, I couldn’t help but think about James 1. James says, “Be quick to listen and slow to speak and slow to become angry.” And, in context, he’s talking about receiving the word with meekness, this implanted word that is able to save your souls, and I can’t help but think that so often when I’ve talked about grace
and faith and how we are saved by the grace of God and we receive that by faith and then that changes our lives in gratitude, there is sometimes a pushback and a resistance to that, a defensiveness. And I can’t help but think that that defensiveness that says “Yeah, but,” “Yeah, but,” it keeps the word from sinking in and transforming us. And so often it is, “Yeah, but this person is going to misunderstand you,” or “Yeah, but this person won’t do what they’re supposed to do.” And I’m sure that that’s the kind of pushback Paul got and why he wrote Romans 6 the way that he wrote it. We can’t keep living in sin. We have to be transformed. But so many of us, if we’re not careful ‑‑ and when we hear the word “grace” and we hear “God’s grace,” if we get uncomfortable and we push back and we get defensive or even angry, we are keeping that word from being implanted in us and changing us the way that God intends for it to. So we have to have this meekness that says give it to me, all of how broken I am and how good God is. Don’t let me for a second think that I’m better than I am or that God’s grace isn’t as great as it is, and receive that truth. And it’s that truth that, when that sinks in, that’s what’s gonna transform us.
KRIS: I know you and I have broken records on this. It’s the whole preacher thing. But if you’re looking to check and balance what you’ve heard today, then just be a Bible reader, but not a Bible reader to kind of go to the verses that you know or ‑‑ I like to tell people to maybe mix up your versions and read from Bibles that have no markings in it, nothing, and just read these things. James 1, where it talks about, you know, slow to speak, slow to anger, quick to hear, I think you hit on it. I don’t think the immediate application is you and somebody else. It’s the way you react to the word. Be quick to hear that word. Be slow to speak. Be slow to speak for it. Be slow to speak against it, and just listen.
And I love that you said the verse ‑‑ the verse that follows about, you know, being able to save your souls, I feel like we just kind of flash past that. This is all about the personal application. It’s about the source of these scriptures. I’ve just really enjoyed the readings. I hope that people do that. If you’re going, “I don’t know about all this today, I’m not sure,” well, just read Ephesians, then, and see where Paul takes you, the beautiful journey that he’s taking Christians. I think about the church in Ephesus and Revelation, and they stood for the truth and they stood against false teachers and they had all these things right. And he said, “But I want to talk about the love, that thing that you had in you as a response to Christ early on. We gotta get that back,” and then, you know, the letters help with that. So I hope that the Scripture defends promotes and initiates the things we’ve said today.
WES: Yeah, absolutely. In fact, a lot of times ‑‑ I’ve done this multiple times with young people who have come to me and say they want to talk about baptism. One of the things I’ll tell them is, okay, let’s set up a time to talk about it, but before we talk about it, I want you to go and sit down and read the book of Ephesians and then that’s what we’re going to talk about. So go read Ephesians and then let’s come and let’s talk about it. And if they say, when we get together, oh, I didn’t have time to read it, I say that’s okay, we’ll meet again and then that’s when we’ll talk about it. And until somebody is willing to let that truth of what God has done for us through Christ get into their heart and say I want that, I want to receive that ‑‑ Ephesians doesn’t say very much at all about baptism, but it says everything about why we’re baptized, why we come to Jesus. We come to Jesus because of what Jesus has done for us. So I love that your emphasis is on this and I love that you are preaching this message, and I hope that you will be this broken record. I think that Paul was this broken record, as he just continued to hammer this truth, so much so that he got pushback for it, as well.
So let me ask you this ‑‑ and you get the opportunity to do what most of us preachers don’t get the opportunity to do, and that’s preach the same sermon multiple times. But if you went back and you repreached this series on grace and faith ‑‑ from grace to faith to life, what might you do differently or say differently if anything?
KRIS: Yeah, that was a great question. You submitted some of these to me, and that one probably took the most thought. You know, I have two avenues for sharing what I’m studying. One is preaching on Sunday. People show up, we’re worshiping together. The other is through a podcast that I do, the Excel Still More podcast, which is shorter, more just sort of communicating some things. It’s less from a preaching perspective, and I feel like, in that way, I was able to kind of just work ideas in for thought, and the intensity level is a little bit lower. It’s just a podcast, just 20 minutes of sharing things, and I think it all built really nicely through that.
In preaching, you’re up there and people are there to worship, and I think if I had known how fundamental this would all become to my understanding of God and scriptures and how deeply it would impact my life and probably influence everything that I teach, I probably, in sermon form, would have fed it or put it out there a little bit ‑‑ I don’t want to say more carefully, but more gradually. You know, you get excited about something and you come out and go, check this out, you know, this sequence, the sequence of all ‑‑ and it was probably, for some, too ‑‑ too much of a shake. I mean, I definitely, when I preach, want you to move around in your seat a little bit, but you can buzz the seat too strongly and people ‑‑ and there hasn’t been maybe a lot of that, but there’s definitely been people who are going, look, I think I see where you’re going, but I can’t quite keep up. Like you’re really ‑‑ you’re excited and you’re rushing through it. So I think probably what I would have done is a deeper study on grace longer, in and of itself, and then faith, and just sort of ‑‑ instead of presenting the whole package, going, “Hey, guys, this is it, so catch up because this is how everything’s gonna work” ‑‑ just more patience. But that’s my life. I don’t know about yours, Wes. My life is just be more patient, be more careful, cross your T’s a little better, dot your I’s, so that when ‑‑ it’s not about just presenting something; it’s about people being able to follow it and about it seeding truth in their hearts. So probably just a little bit more patience through the journey as I put this together.
WES: Yeah, that’s really good. Well, I do encourage people to go and listen to these sermons. They’re online. I’ll link to some of them in the show notes. I hope people will listen to that and listen to your Excel Still More podcast, and I so appreciate the work that you’re doing, Brother.
Let me ask you this before we close. What’s next? What are you preaching next?
KRIS: Well, this immediate Sunday, as I mentioned today, I’m going to work through the use of the word “righteousness” in the book of Romans. That particular word that’s akin to the idea of justification is used, you know, maybe, I don’t know, 80 to 100 times in the New Testament, but a good chunk, maybe half of them, are right there in Romans, and just build on these three ideas that none are righteous without God. God gives this great gift to us that only he possesses and then we become indebted to it in the way we live our lives, and all three of those are equally valuable. If you emphasize one over the other if you miss some of it, then it all begins to fall apart, so there is some balance in that. Working on that.
Longer term, you know, reading through the New Testament, trying to determine the pattern of the New Testament and the way that the information is laid out, and how we assess that and build our conscience and our practices is very important, and I’m just sort of working back through that, and I think I’m leaning back towards this idea that I really do want to be a first‑century Christian. I want to live like they lived and do what they did and emphasize ‑‑ and I start seeing things like evangelism, and I think, okay, well, we’ve got some work to do. But the one that’s drawn my most interest lately is the Lord’s Supper. How did they do that? What did that look like and sound like? Did they sit in pews facing forward quietly and they didn’t look at each other and they took off the emblems and they only thought of, like, themselves and Christ? Which we are supposed to do, the body of Christ and yourself, but what would have been the communal aspect of that? Why was it important to do in communion? Do they evaluate three bodies? Christ’s body offered, their own individual body, and also the body? What did that look like for them? So I’m not trying to get away from first‑century design. I want to pursue it with all of my being, and that’s sort of the specific part of it that I’ve been studying lately.
WES: Yeah, amen. Well, thank you for the work that you do, Brother. I so appreciate it, and I hope that people will check it out if they haven’t already. I appreciate this conversation that we’ve had today, but more importantly, the work that you’re doing in the kingdom.
KRIS: Thank you, Wes. I appreciate the work you’re doing, too, and I’m really thankful we got the time together.
WES: Thanks, Brother.
Thank you so much for listening to the Radically ChristianBible study podcast. If you have just a moment, we would love for you to rate and review the podcast on iTunes, or wherever you’re listening. It really does help people find this content. I also want to thank the guests who join me each week; Travis Pauley, who edits this podcast; Beth Tabor, who often volunteers her time to transcribe it; and our whole McDermott Road church family, who make it possible for us to provide this Bible study for you. Now let’s go out and love like Jesus.