Brandon's Notepad

October 15, 2014

Through Faith, Not Works

Filed under: Christianity — Brandon @ 7:25 am
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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.

September 16, 2014

Religion Defined

Filed under: Religion — Brandon @ 4:13 pm
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Home > My Research > Religion/Philosophy > Religion (General Topic)

Religion. It is a deceptively simple word. It means different things to different people. What does it mean to you?

I have stubbed out this page for notes as I explore the meaning of this very important word. If you would like to participate in this exploration, please tweet your thoughts to me anytime @brandonsnotepad.


After surveying the definitions of the word religion at Merriam-Webster,, Wikipedia, and others, it seems that it can be defined, at a minimum, as a belief in a higher power. Most definitions describe this belief as organized, note that it gives rise to specific ritual practices, and makes an allowance for one or more deities.


Sources consistently trace the etymology of religion through English and Old French to the Latin word religionem, which more or less refers to respect for or devotion to the sacred. This word was used early to describe monasticism, a full devotion of one’s life to God. Most sources agree that religio (nom.) is derived from religare, “to bind”, though a few other possible origins exist. This etymology could simply imply that one chooses to bind oneself to God voluntarily, but may also be interpreted to mean that reverence to God (as creator of all) is an intrinsic obligation of man (as the creature). These are not mutually exclusive, as the devout church-goer and the cloistered monk are both religious, but to differing degrees.

Negative Connotation

Religion is often used as a pejorative term, especially by English-speaking Christian Fundamentalists who wish to equate traditional Christian practices to those of the Jews in Jesus’ time. Contrast the following examples as they appeared at the time of this writing. The Online Etymology Dictionary (OED) entry for religion offers the following explanation for religio:

“respect for what is sacred, reverence for the gods; conscientiousness, sense of right, moral obligation; fear of the gods; divine service, religious observance; a religion, a faith, a mode of worship, cult; sanctity, holiness”

The Wiktionary description for the same word is quite different:

“scrupulousness”, “pious misgivings”, “superstition”, “conscientiousness”, “sanctity”, “an object of veneration”, “cult-observance”, “reverence”

In this case, reverence is the very last in a series of otherwise disparaging terms. Consider the following comment from Tentmaker author Gary Amirault on the etymology of religion:

Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary traces the word back to an old Latin word religio meaning “taboo, restraint.” A deeper study discovers the word comes from the two words re and ligare. Re is a prefix meaning “return,” and ligare means “to bind;” in other words, “return to bondage.” Do you still want some of that “old-time religion”?

There are two issues with this translation. First, the OED entry makes it clear that the re- prefix is used here in the intensive form; thus, it means thoroughly and not again. Second, ligare is not a Latin word for slavery, as are servitus and famulatus. If the blatant mistranslation of the words is not convincing evidence that the author intends to lead the reader to a negative connotation, then consider the last line. The phrase Old-Time Religion alludes to the Southern Gospel music and black spirituals of Nineteenth Century, evoking images of slavery in America. This excerpt is followed by the opening words of Galatians 3, the underlying premise being that religion places the Christian in spiritual chains in the same way in which the Judaizers bound believers to the Law through rituals.

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