Brandon's Notepad

October 15, 2014

Through Faith, Not Works

Filed under: Christianity — Brandon @ 7:25 am
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Short URL: http://goo.gl/UaDR9W


Are good works required for salvation or is faith alone sufficient?


I cannot understand how someone who not only (supposedly) reads the Bible but claims it to be their sole deposit of faith can deny or downplay the role of good works in salvation. Whenever I enter into a discussion (read: debate) on this topic, the other person almost invariably turns first to Ephesians 2:8-9, which states that salvation is a gift from God and not something that we can earn (which is true). While they are still glowing with pride for being able to recite the passage verbatim, I ask them what verse 10 says. Unless they have a Bible with them, they usually don’t know. (Go ahead, look it up) It says that God created us to do good works. And these are not random acts of kindness, but tests of faith that he established for us to encounter ahead of time. Then, if I am prepared, I present them with any number of passages that illustrate the importance of performing good works, the most powerful of which (IMHO) is 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, in which St. Paul states, “…if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” (1 Cor 13:2 NIV)

One of several typical (conditioned) responses will follow. The most common is that the performance of good works is simply a sign that the person is already saved, a notion which in my mind portrays Christians as a mindless-yet-extremely-loving swarm of zombies. I ask how they reconcile that belief with Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats (Mt 25:31-46) and they tell me that someone who claims to be saved but does not perform good works is really not saved at all, never was. If they are on their game, they then cite Matthew, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven”, to which I reply with the remainder of the verse, “…but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Mt 7:21 NIV) Sometimes, I will ask if they believe that love is an exercise of free will. Seeing where I am headed with this question, the reply is often that those who are saved are moved by God (the Holy Spirit in particular) to do good works, so no, it is God’s will and not free will. How then did Adam and Eve, who started off in God’s grace, choose to disobey? To not love God enough to keep his one and only commandment (not to eat the fruit of that one tree)? To dispute free will is to call the entire doctrine of original sin into question. It is useful to remind them that Paul told the Philippians to obey and “work out” their salvation, “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Php 2:12-13 NIV) Sorry, the free will of believers is not up for negotiation.

As a last resort, the other person may circle back around to Ephesians 2:8-9 (despite the fact that I agreed with them the first time and despite what was said about verse 10) and they will make the claim that the Catholic church bases salvation on good works alone. At last, I have an opportunity to teach them something, for what holds true for so many tenets of Catholic teaching applies here too. This is not a matter of faith or works but one of faith and works. Both are required, because in reality, they are not two separate things, but one thing. I recently heard a priest give an excellent and concise explanation of this in a sermon. He said that any external sign or work must be a reflection of an interior conversion of the soul. A non-Catholic Christian will usually appreciate it when a Catholic recognizes that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:23 NIV) This means, of course, that we constantly have opportunities to undergo conversion, to change our minds, to experience μετάνοια (metanoia). Giving ourselves to others (our time, our love, not just our money) is the way by which we are able to see our true selves and to walk toward God. Doing good works is not filling out a spiritual bingo card. It is not simply the expression of the soul already saved, but of the soul in the act of being saved.


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