04 August 2010

Something more Sleek and Functional

by Frank Turk

So I ask you: how much faith do you need, really, to be saved?

One answer the NT gives us is this: you don't really have to know anything to be saved. That is, you can the faith of a little child, and God will welcome you (cf. Mt 18:1-6, for the proof-texters and OGs everywhere). You can have a simple faith, a milk-drinking faith (cf. 1Cor 3), and be saved.

But there's another piece of the NT which frequently gets soft-soaked, and it's the answer which James gives: while a simple faith saves, it does not save only in the eternal sense. That is: it saves you to maturity:
the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
That is, your simple faith is also a living and breathing faith which grows you through trials to a "complete faith".

Many folks read this – rightly, btw – to mean "a right faith does works", and that's fine. That's a good application. But is it the only application? Is it the only one James intends here?

For example, when James says,
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
isn’t James saying that God's word is there so that we can take action upon it, and learn how to live in faith?

And glancing up this post a second, isn’t it also Paul's point in 1 Cor 3 that the Corinthians ought not to be forever babies in the faith, but that eventually they have to move on to the meat of the word? That is: their faith ought to make more of them, and be more to them than (as Paul implies) baby food.

So in that, there is a second answer to what you ought to know to have a saving faith: it ought to be true, and correct, insofar as you are mature and maturing in your faith.

Here's what I mean by that – by way of example. Let's think about math for a second. My son loves math (thank God – please Jesus make him a man who has a heart for God and people who is an accountant), and we are working the flash cards. He can add, he can subtract, and he's mastering "times". Which is great, if you ask me: he ought to learn how to do "times" as if it was written in his heart.

The other day, he asked me, "Daddy, do you do math at work?" And the answer, of course, is yes – I do a lot of math at work, a lot of it requiring advanced algebra. So I told him, "yes, son: I do a LOT of math at work."

"Can you show it to me?" he asked.

Well, sure I can show it to him – so I opened up my laptop, opened up some spreadsheets, and I showed him the greek-like formulas we have either borrowed or invented at work to discover things like how many dollars we are earning per hour given the rate of production vs. the standard work for a given work center. And then there's the statistical stuff I have to do verify and compare forecasts. And then there's the financial comparisons vs. plan and vs. last year. And so on.

(hey: wake up. The boring part's over)

So he said to me, "but where are the numbers?" See: in his understanding of math, you need two numbers to make an equation, and those two numbers yield a fixed answer – which, factually, is the right view of arithmetic, and ultimately the right view of how a formula yields an answer you can use.

So I tell him, "Son, we fill in the numbers when they come by. This kind of math shows us how to think about certain problems, and when a problem comes up, we change out the letters for numbers to get an answer."

"WHAT?!" he yelled, sort of laughing. "Daddy, you can't add up two letters!? You can't add 'A' plus 'B' and get 'C' – they're LETTERS!"

Well, really: he's right. Even in algebra II, the formula gets solved down to its simplest state, or most useful state, and you don't really get numbers at the end – you get formulas. But understanding that requires a leap from linear, arithmetic thinking to something more conceptual – something which is taking in the big picture of how adding 2 + 2, or making 3 "times" 4, works.

So my son can have a completely -correct- view of arithmetic, and be -unable- to grasp algebra yet. That doesn't make his view of math "false": it makes it incomplete. He's not a heretic to the math community: he's a student. His view is correct insofar as it is advanced, but it doesn’t account for all of math.

Now, if in 10 years my son and I sit down and he says to me, "Dad, open up your laptop for me – I want to see what you're doing at work," I'll be glad to oblige. My fatherly optimism will be that he's just completed Trig and he's about to show me how to simplify some of my 3-legged-dog formulas into something a little more sleek and functional.

But if we open up the laptop and when he looks at the spreadsheets he says to me, "You know what, Sir Dude? [he uses 'sir' out of respect because he was raised right] I still don't buy the algebra thing. I know what you call it – I just don't buy it. It doesn’t work. 2 + 2 = 4; A + B doesn't equal anything. All this stuff you say you've been doing for the last 10 years is just guff. And there's no way for you to prove to me that it does work."

At that point, we have crossed over from incomplete knowledge to something else – a knowledge which refuses to grow, refuses to receive more. It's willful ignorance.

In Biblical terms, it's what Paul called the "shipwreck of faith" – that is, when someone rejects "love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith." "Love" is certainly the product, but one of the components of that love is a "good conscience". In my example, my son can’t be said to have a good conscience – because he establishes what cannot be true apart from the facts which are plainly in evidence. In our faith life, we cannot be said to have a good conscience if we are unwilling to receive the facts of faith.

That's a big deal, for example, for Catholics – because the right-minded Catholic view is that Protestants who willfully refuse the teaching of the Church are unrepentant sinners. And if they are right about what kind of final authority the Church as an institution holds, they're right: you can't have a good conscience when you reject the truth.

But for Protestants – not merely evangelicals, but confessional Protestants – what Scripture teaches us is what we must accept as the truth about our faith. And as we advance out of spiritual immaturity to spiritual maturity, the burden upon us to accept and demonstrate the truth in Scripture becomes a greater responsibility. This is why the warning to teachers is such a serious thing; that's why the anathema against a different gospel – and the criteria for knowing what that is – is an anathema and not just a rebuke.

And for good measure, think about this: that's why John called the Pharisees who came to see him a brood of vipers, and why Jesus called the same men whitewashed tombs -- because the Gospel had not changed, but these men, who ought to have known better, did not know it when they saw it.

You don't need a perfect confession to save you, but you do need a faith which is perfecting you, not leading you into more error.


Paula said...

Even in algebra II, the formula gets solved down to its simplest state, or most useful state, and you don't really get numbers at the end – you get formulas. But understanding that requires a leap from linear, arithmetic thinking to something more conceptual

Blech - You said the boring part was over.

Good word and good analogy. As one who has spent the bulk of her life in willful ignorance of algebra (including homeschooling two kids through high school!) you couldn't have made it clearer.

I appreciate the parallels you pointed out between James & 1 Cor. 3.

Mason said...

Great post. The analogy is perfect, easy to understand. BTW! What is algebra?

donsands said...

God saves us, and faith in us planted, so to speak, and this seed will grow as the water of the Word feeds it.

Some pastors will preach you need to remember when you first believed, and don't ever forget that first time you accepted Christ.

That is so bogus.

Look at your faith in the now, and over the years. Is your life a life of growth in the grace and knowledge of our Lord?

Good post. Great examples.

olan strickland said...

Amen Frank! Saving faith at its beginning hasn't even wrestled with the hypostatic union or whether supralapsarianism is the truly Biblical understanding of the order of God's decrees - but one thing it knows: I once was lost but now I am found; was blind but now I see - all because of God's grace.

Frank Turk said...

I am actually waiting for someone to comment on using Alan Hale as the graphic to compliment the "Shipwreck of Faith".

... a three-hour tour ...

donsands said...

You can sing Amazing Grace to the Gilligan's Island tune.

"Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see."

I wonder if John Newton would approve. I guess not.

JackW said...

The Minnow was not a ship, it was boat. Boatwreck.

Chief JackW, USNRet.

witness said...

I often thought that was why Jesus seemed aghast that Nicodemus failed to grasp what it meant to be Born Again.

Nicodemus said to him, "How can these things be?" Jesus answered him, "Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? ~John 3:9,10


Robert said...


Great post. I often wonder who in my extended family are nominal Christians and who are immature. I am actually planning on separately asking them if anybody has ever explained the gospel to them and what they think the gospel is and go from there.

Hebrews 5:11-14 comes to mind with willful ignorance. "About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil."

That is a strong rebuke against not growing in knowledge of the Word. Imagine in that hypothetical situation telling your son that he should be teaching that stuff by now...that he's still a child. That is what Paul is tellign this group of believers in hopes of exhorting them to pursue a deeper knowledge.

Rob Bailey said...

Mornin', friend. In many ways, the entire book of James is a commentary on Matthew 13.

Brian Roden said...


The castaways left a tropic port, "aboard this tiny ship."

When the weather started getting rough, "the tiny ship was tossed."

After the fearless crew worked to save the Minnow from being lost, "the ship's aground on the shore of this uncharted desert isle."


As a CompSci major / math minor, I LOVE the analogy.

Merrilee Stevenson said...

I love analogies, Frank. And this is a very good one. I sometimes like to pride myself in the fact that I passed Calculus in high school. Notice I said passed. I earned a passing (D) grade. I could sit and follow and somewhat understand the teacher as he explained the formulas, and it all made sense to me, sitting in the classroom. But on the test, I had to be able to know what to do next in order to solve the problems for myself. And I did not have the discipline of a good student to do the homework and commit the steps to memory so that they became my own experiential knowledge, and thus I was unprepared. So while I can brag that I took Calculus (and even “passed”), I really don’t know it, and certainly couldn’t teach it to others. I see excellent parallels here to our abiding in God’s Word and being diligent to be able to “rightly divide” the word of truth, no pun intended (but it works).

(I thought the photo of Skipper was to show an example of a grown man who, though capable of operating a sea vessel containing trusting passengers, he was a pretty dim bulb.)

Frank Turk said...

Brian -- consider this deeply, then, as an example of preaching:

using namespace std;

class StringClass {
char *p;
StringClass(char *s); // constructor
StringClass(const StringClass &o); // copy constructor
~StringClass() { // destructor
delete [] p;
char *get() {
return p;

StringClass::StringClass(char *s) // "Normal" constructor
int l;

l = strlen(s)+1;

p = new char [l];
if(!p) {
cout << "Allocation error\n";

strcpy(p, s);

StringClass::StringClass(const StringClass &o) // Copy constructor
int l;

l = strlen(o.p)+1;

p = new char [l]; // allocate memory for new copy
if(!p) {
cout << "Allocation error\n";

strcpy(p, o.p); // copy string into copy

void show(StringClass x)
char *s;

s = x.get();
cout << s << endl;

int main()
StringClass a("Hello World"), b("Hello World");


return 0;

You can thank me later.

Weeks said...

Well that was about the last thing I expected to see on a Pyro meta thread... C++ code.

Paula said...

Merrilee said, "(I thought the photo of Skipper was to show an example of a grown man who, though capable of operating a sea vessel containing trusting passengers, he was a pretty dim bulb.)"

Sadly, you could Photoshop the heads of DOZENS of different pastors (some of them rather famous-ish) on the Skipper to make that point!

BlackCalvinist aka G.R.A.C.E. Preecha said...

Most excellently written, Cent. :)

BlackCalvinist aka G.R.A.C.E. Preecha said...

By the way - I may follow this up with a 'just in case you need biblical categories for this' post. I have something along these lines that I posted on a message board somewhere with someone who asked a question about "is the doctrines of grace milk or meat ?"

JG said...

As far as math goes, I'm still in 10-year-old boy mode. :)

Right now I'm studying the concept and doctrines of perfection, in the context of Mormonism (there are a lot of them around here) and this really sums up a lot of what I've been trying to make gel in my mind. It's not that becoming perfect is what saves (or, in their terms, exalts) us. Being saved makes us perfect, both in the sense of the righteousness we receive from Jesus' substitutionary death, and also because true faith will spur a desire for sanctification. They have the formula completely backwards.

Sorry if that's unclear, but algebra III was as far as I got. :)

David said...

You might well have used a picture of the professor, who could invent all sorts of technology out of materials found on the island, but couldn't figure out a way to fix the boat.

Which is the problem of a lot of profess-ors.

David said...

I had a hard time in math in high school, because I'd procrastinate on assignments and try to catch up around grading time (speaking of C++).

When I finally got up the gumption to fill out my credits in college, I did the homework every day. It's amazing how much I began to understand it better.

Funny thing how disciplines work themselves out in understanding.

Father of Eleven said...

So Frank you example of preaching boils down to writing a lot of unnecessary stuff in an archaic language only to say what was in the original text twice?

Yeah, that matched a lot of preaching I have heard.

Frank Turk said...

Father of Eleven:

It's a metaphor, not an argument. You're trying to make it into an argument, and all I'm saying is that it's an example of analogy.

That's all I'm sayin'.

Jim Pemberton said...

I see that Frank programs in C while I still program in basic.

Great post, Frank. Just last night I touched on the difference between justification and sanctification with my kids - we are in numbers and just read of the rebellion of Korah. The chapter before, God continues to add to the law of sacrifices to be made, even for people who didn't even realize they were sinning. So I had the kids wrestling with how God could kill people who were sinning against him when he provided sacrifices as a means of atonement for those sins. It seemed natural to go into the difference between justification and sanctification as well as the relationship between them hinging on the desire of those truly justified for sanctification.

Sir Aaron said...


It's funny that you and I had opposite experience in mathematics. I had difficulty in high school and math was the only subject that I actually had to study to pickup. In College I did no homework in my Business Calc class and was going to wind up getting a C. But at the time of the final, it was if I had an epiphany. Suddenly math made sense and I could do it with ease. I got 100% plus the extra credit questions so the Professor gave me an A- in the class.

@Frank: Amazingly, accounting has very little math especially in comparison to finance and economics.

David said...

Sir Aaron:

I keep trying the epiphany method for the Christian life, but the results haven't been what one would hope.

Rob Bailey said...

Does rule 5 apply yet?

Merrilee Stevenson said...

@ Paula: (Imagine that I'm doing that thing with my fingers where I point at my eyes and then back at yours)

We are thinking on the same wavelength.

Sir Aaron said...


funny man. I think my epiphany was merely some level of mental maturity that allowed my mind to grasp mathematical concepts. One of my math teachers in high school went through a similar experience.

I'm guessing you've had similar experiences with theology, where suddenly you understood a concept where you never did before (despite heavy study).

Merrilee Stevenson said...

In my every day life, I mostly use addition and subtraction, with an occasional multiplication or division. (But of course I want my kids to master these, and beyond.)

While we all can't be rocket scientists or theologians, no one becomes those things without mastering the basics.

And there's the aspect of reward for using the gifts/talents wisely. While I don't get compensated much for using my math skills (I'm a pro-bono housewife and mother), I'm sure (hoping) that Frank is well compensated for using his math skills. I think likewise, there are more eternal rewards for those who grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, and use that knowledge to honor Him.

Brian Roden said...


Nice analogy, but I'm more a VB.net and SQL guy, with general systems admin taking most of my time.

Sir Brass said...

Amen, Sir Dude (:P).

Btw, trig was way easier than Algebra II :P. Then again, I used trig daily for YEARS after algebra II, since all my college classes in math and engineering ended up being super-heavy on the trig (when you get your degree in EE, everything wave forms is in sin and cos, essentially...).

Ask me what the quadratic formula is, though, and I'll probably have to google it first before I remember how to correctly reconfigure the coefficients of Ax^2 + Bx + C...

anyway.... back on track, that was an EXCELLENT illustration.

To be honest, I don't fully UNDERSTAND how it all works though I can give and explain correct doctrine. That is, sometimes I myself am confused if I'm doing something good out of love for God or in some way am still trying to earn salvation (foolishness). But, that doesn't mean that Christ has not justified me. I must trust Him all the more that He is completing His good work in me. And so that means I still obey and ask that He be perfecting me to grant me understanding and a true heart that seeks not to save itself but rest upon Him and work out of love and obedience. Because if I've got to keep obeying right in order to stay in, I'm sunk. Even my own good works are tainted by residual self-righteousness in some way. Only He perfects, purifies, and is the righteousness which justifies the ungodly and sanctifies the justified.

~Sir Brass

Jason said...

Good post.

The faith that we needed, was from God (Ephesians 2:8) and all we needed was to hear the Gospel(Romans 10:14-15).

Jim Pemberton said...

Okay, everyone is chiming in with their favorite math. Calc 2 was mine. Calc 3 was okay and I would have gotten Differential Equations better if I would have taken Linear Equations I'm sure. However, my favorite formulae tend to look something like this:


But the formulae that put food on the table often look similar to this:


Given this, it might seem odd that many very intelligent people refuse to understand simple formulated relationships like we do to apprehend the revealed nature of the trinity.

Rob Bailey said...

God's favorite formulas - God+Son+Spirit=Trinity>creationman's continued sin<Christ+cross+ resurrection

(I know all my symbols are wrong, it is the point that counts)