02 Aug 2015

Faith and Works (Again)

Religious 6 Comments

I’m saying “(again)” because I’m pretty sure I made this point before, but now I have some extra flourishes.

Paul famously wrote that one receives salvation through faith, not works. However, even he links the two, like in Ephesians 2: 8-10 when he writes:

8For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

It is in that context that evangelical Protestants reconcile the apparent contradiction with the book of James. For example James 1: 22-27 says:

22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

(Later on, James is more explicit about faith and works, but in my Bible study we only got through chapter 1 so far.)

In his audio commentary on James, Dr. Vernon McGee deals with the apparent conflict by saying (these are my notes so not exact quotes):

==> Faith is the root and cause of salvation.
==> Works are the fruit and effect of salvation.
==> God can see your heart, and whether you have faith, so that’s how you’re saved.
==> But your neighbor can only see your works.

Finally, let me bring up my favorite resolution of the apparent conflict. John 6:28-29:

28Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” 29Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.”

I really love that answer. It’s very Misesian, for those of you into Austrian economics. It’s linking mind and body, thought and action.

6 Responses to “Faith and Works (Again)”

  1. Keshav Srinivasan says:

    Hinduism has an even more extreme version of this, where you can attain Moksha (eternal salvation) without faith or works! It’s called Sharanagati, or the path of compete surrender. This poem from the Hindu philosopher Yamunacharya summarizes it well:

    “I am not a virtuous person, fixed in the principles of religious conduct, and neither am I a great transcendentalist, awakened to spiritual knowledge. In addition to this, I have not the slightest trace of devotion for Your lotus feet. O refuge of the devotees, although I am so unqualified, please permit me to take shelter under Your lotus feet, for I am now lost in this material world, I do not possess anything of value, and I have no place to turn.”

    Once you have surrendered, the gods will naturally make you start acting virtuously, will make you learn the proper spiritual knowledge, and will instill a love of God (Vishnu) in you.

  2. Michael says:

    “The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.”

    I’m a Christian. I dislike both Protestantism and Catholicism, and pretty much anything that creates a barrier between god and the believer, and a barrier between brothers and sisters who believe that Jesus Christ is God.

    Having said this, I have to assert the following. To me it is obvious that either Paul corrected the teachings of James (who probably was teaching during the silent period of Paul, that lasted around fourteen years after the the conversion; Paul was clearly a very stubborn man), or b) James corrected the techings of Paul. They contradict each other. There is no reconciliation, no matter how hard theologians try. Salvation it is either a gift from God, or something that has to be earned. And, for me, if it has to be earned, then Jesus died in vain.

    God is not an accountant, and there is no theology exam to enter the kingdom of God. One is either already there, or will be brought there, but there is no way for you to get there. It is not about money, prestige, tradition, race, piety, charity or righteousness. Love (charity) is a consequence of salvation, not a way to get to heaven.

    Now, who am I to judge? Perhaps I’m wrong. I don’t want a separation from those who believe they have to progress and better themselves in orther to be more pleasing to God. Even if I disagree, I accept them and want them as my brethren. Probably many of them would not accept me, but that is not my problem, right?

    Now, this may seem far too protestant. So I’ll try to restore the balance. Protestants (particularly professional protestants) take a lot of pride in being saved by grace alone, through faith alone, yada yada yada. And they often commit the sin of hating and criticizing those brothers who believe they must “do works” in order to be saved. And then go on to call that way of seeing things as heresy and legalism, and secretly rejoice in the idea that Catholics and Orthodox Christians will burn forever for denying the cross. As the Calvinist pastor in “How Green Was My Valley”, these people are more concerned with the damnation of others than with thier own salvation. I say that all that is a very terrible sin.

    I believe it is wrong to live hating other people for not believing exactly the same as I do. Every second I spend hating, I’m not loving God. Every second I don’t love, I walk away from God a little. We Christians are not commanded to hate. We should not seek excuses to hate, nor send other people to Hell. These discussions are just morbid and ungodly, and no mature person should waste a minute participating in such things. And theologians and other people who try to put limits to God, which is air (spirit) and blows wherever he desires, are in for a very rude awakening.

    To conclude, for me, both Protestants and Roman Catholics are liars when they play this stupid game of piety and damnation. And I ask to both of them to grow up already. We are in 2015!

    Every Christian should read Kierkegaard, and then try to explain why their traditions are necessary and universal.

    I don’t know why I’m writing this, when nobody will either read it or like it.

    God bless you always, Bob!

    • GabbyD says:

      “And, for me, if it has to be earned, then Jesus died in vain.”


  3. khodge says:

    Attacking James is a convenient way to avoid what Paul himself says in 1 Corinthians 13:13.

  4. Innocent says:

    Hmmm… Well lets look at a different way. Does Lucifer ( yes I believe in a literal being who has fallen from God ) know who Christ is? Does that not mean that he ( Lucifer ) is full of ‘faith’ in what Christ and God are? The answer I think you will find is a resounding yes. It is not ‘belief’ that causes you to obtain salvation. Rather it is in becoming a follower of Christ…

    Perhaps another way to look at it. Christ does not see things in the myopic view of life that we see things here on Earth. A nice way to look at arriving at heaven is as though you are on a journey. Christ does not care where you are on that journey when you die in this life, only that you were being his disciple. A great instance of this is the parable of the laborers in the field. The master of the vineyard called people to work, and many came, then he saw the labor is still great and called more, and they came, finally he saw there was still much work to be done and called even more into the vineyard to labor. At the end of the day he paid all the same wage he had promised those that came and worked in the morning.

    While some of those that came at first grumbled the master of the vineyard upbraided them saying, “Why are you upset at my generosity” So it is with Christ, He does not care when people come unto Him and realize He is the Christ, He is only concerned in you moving in the right direction and being a disciple.

    As for works… The issue here is that there is nothing you can do to be given the kingdom of heaven. You cannot buy your way in with labor. Yet if you are a disciple of Christ you will work knowing that your reward is the same because of your long hours of toil or not. You are NOT going to buy your way into heaven due to good works but rather you work good things because that is who you are, a disciple of Christ and as such you do what He would have you do. Not my will but thine be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.

    Hence if you say you believe but do not act the same belief is dead, for if you believe how can you not act? Those who will find their life will lose it, etc and so on. I see nothing contrary in either what Paul said or what James said. As a disciple of Christ you seek to do what your teacher and instructor would have you do, else how are you his disciple?

    This does not mean you are perfect. Oh goodness know. I love the example of a great set of sieves that you use for looking for gold or refining soil. At first you use a large mesh and pull out the big rocks that are easy to see. You remove the things that are not what you want in the end result, the big things that are contrary to the will of God and then you pass through the next screen, On the first you may find you only have a couple of major flaws that are not what Christ taught people to have. These are flaws that are easily seen and you can then CHOOSE – because that is part of the process of learning, you always get to choose if you wish to continue, to cast those flaws aside and continue on or not.

    The next mesh may show many more smaller flaws and you will have to pick them out and they may be smaller but much more numerous, and so on and so forth. Now Christ does not care where we are in the process of this either, each person gets to go at their own pace ( after all eternity is a long time ), it is the willingness to do it that matters.

    So in summary… You cannot buy your way into heaven with good works. It is only through the Grace of Christ that you will return into the presence of God. It is not where you are on the journey that dictates Christ being willing to pay for you but rather simply a willingness to be on the path and moving in the right direction that matters.

    To believe is to act – else what do you believe? To act is to have faith – else why act if there is nothing to come of it and in this we find that it is one eternal round that belief and action complete each other. You do not act because of fear of punishment but rather because you know in who you wish to be like.

    What is a disciple? One who adheres to the TEACHINGS of another. I believe I am a disciple of Christ. I like who He is. He taught that action and belief rather than being separate are the same. If you believe in Christ then you must do what He taught, else what do you really believe?

  5. Sam Geoghegan says:

    Hey Bob,
    Can you comment on nominal interest vs. the real interest rate at your leisure? Does the latter suggest that doomsayers are overstating their position that a rise in interest rates will spell catastrophe?



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