Friday, July 17, 2009

Of Faith and Works

Ok, so I was going to title this post "The Futility of Human Effort Verses The Futility of Deficient Faith," but that would have been an obnoxious mouthful, not that I in any way have a qualm against obnoxious mouthfuls. Indeed I find them quite entertaining and incredibly humorous. However, as I'm writing a blog post and not a dissertation, I'll stick with the easier to swallow title. Faith verses works. Belief verses actions. Grace verses human effort. However you want to phrase it, the tension between the two has been a prevalent one throughout church history and even today. The purpose for the debate is easy to see. Even if I were to pull two passages from the bible (giving no context):

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9)

"You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone." (James 2:24)

It would appear that even the bible contradicts itself on these two points. However, as I am a strict inerrancy and infallibility of the Word of God guy, I'm about to give some clarifying context. When Paul was talking to the Ephesians in the first verse, he was going against a widespread belief (even in our world today) that our actions can save us. That we can somehow, by our good or religious deeds, build a bridge to God. Manifestations of this include (but are not limited to): walking old ladies across the street, giving money to charity, going to church every week, not swearing, abstaining from premarital sex, sobriety, becoming a pastor, etc. etc. etc. Do these things all the time, Paul argues, and you will still wind up seperated from God for eternity in the next life. Deeds do not take away the sin for which God is judging us, and one sin against an infinite God is an infinite trespass. Sin equals death, therefore it takes the death of an infinitely pure person (Jesus Christ) to atone for just one (and thankfully all) sin(s). And anyway, God sees our "good-works" without Him as us glorifying ourselves, and that He will not have. Paul's point then: Futile are actions as a way to make atonement with God.

James, on the other hand, is asking his readers to honestly check the sincerity of their salvation. If someone truly places their trust in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in order to free themselves from sin, gain salvation, and turn their body into a new temple of the Holy Spirit, how can they not have a logical outflow of good deeds in their lives? James was telling his readers that if they believe Jesus is God, or even proclaim Him as their savior, but they do not see any works in their lives to back up what they say, they are no more saved than demons. Demons also believe in God and proclaim Christ as Messiah, but they shudder at and despise the fact. James' point then: Non-existent is the faith where good works are non-existent. This is a dire warning to anyone who calls themselves Christian. Don't let yourself fall into the trap of pretending your saved because of your belief if it has had no impact on your life. Without works, your faith is dead.

Finding the balance between works and faith is key in my day-to-day walk with Christ. Stray to far towards faith, and I end up producing little fruit and doing nothing with the gifts that God has given me. My friends go unwitnessed to, and my walk becomes all about me. Stray to far towards works, and I lose sight of God's grace in my selfish ambition to wrack up as many "spiritual points" as I can (attending church, leading a bible study, discipling some guy well, spending # hours reading my bible, being an all around "nice guy", etc.) and then using these points to make myself believe God owes me something or other, which only leads me into frustration because He rarely plays by my rules. Also, works based salvation causes me to be prideful. I start measuring my own works against others and scaling my walk with God based on how frequent these actions are occurring, forgetting that it's by God's grace alone that I am saved.

To bring it back to you, the reader. How do you measure your daily walk with God? Whether or not you got your quiet time in today? How much you give to the Lord financially? How many Sunday church services you've attended in a row? Whether or not you've shared your faith? Do you ever find yourself feeling like you (or another) are more or less spiritual based on these actions? Then you are living in a works based mindset and need to remind yourself that it's not about you, and it never was. What Christ began in you He will carry to completion. It's not on you to be more or less spiritual. On the flipside, do you ever do any of these activities at all? If the answer is "no", then I have a serious warning to give you that you have probably not recieved the grace of God. It will change your life.

In conclusion, actions are completely unnecessary for salvation, but they prove the presence of the faith required for salvation.

"Complexity haunts me, for I am two men
Entrenched in a battle that I'll never win.
My discipline fails me. My knowledge it fools me,
But You are my shelter, all the strength that I need." - dc Talk

1 comment:

  1. If God is good then what are we?
    There is no plant without a seed.
    When morning comes will we believe
    All that was lost, can be retrieved?

    You say your good, then let me see
    A faith is dead without the deed.
    How can we fail if we believe
    Lets be who we were meant to be.

    - Emery