Wednesday: 9 March, 2016 –– 4th Week in Lent
Faith & Works
Are we saved by faith or by our works? This has been one of the stereotypical divides between Protestants and Catholics for over 500 years. One of the rallying slogans of the Protestant Reformation is sola fide––by faith alone. Catholics say we will be judged by our works and that those who cling to willful sin are outside of grace. Some Protestants say that we don’t have to worry about sin any more if we “believe” that “Jesus paid it all.”
To some extent the argument is one of semantics and emphasis. The truth is that both perspectives are partially right and both are partially wrong if the emphasis is too one-sided. Christian history has been affected by the human tendency to pendulum reaction. A careful reading of what Jesus says here in the Gospel shows that faith and works cannot be separated.
On the one hand: Amen, amen I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and will not come to condemnation, but has passed from death to life. Here the emphasis is on faith. It almost sounds as if Jesus is affirming the popular error commonly called “eternal security” or “once saved, always saved.”
But…. on the other hand: the hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and will come out, those who have done good deeds to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked deeds to the resurrection of condemnation. In other words, what we do matters––our “works” are an influencing part of our judgment.
It should not be hard to understand this: we act on what we believe. We can “say” we believe, but if nothing in our actions gives evidence we may be only fooling ourselves. Others may struggle with the idea of “belief”(they may struggle mentally with misunderstandings and questions or they may react for some reason to strong religious “feelings”, fearing manipulation) but yet their lives may show the good works of God’s love and justice and peace.
It is also true that some are so deficient (or lop-sided) in their understanding of faith and works that they are outside the boundaries of Christian orthodoxy (and the Church needs to be able to say that), but that is not to judge their final eternal state––only God can do that.
Here is what we need to do to have a full and balanced and robust Christian faith: Understand that faith in what God has done through Jesus Christ is the door and foundation to salvation. Hunger and grow in the understanding and experience of faith, But at the same time, understand and expect faith to have an effect; when we truly believe what God has done through Jesus Christ, we will want to honor God by the way we live. We will want to model Jesus as the Son of God just as Jesus said his whole identity was bound up in modeling and obeying the Father.
This is Christian Faith––faith and works.