Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Faith and Works

So, I just had a few thoughts on faith and works.

Way back when, Martin Luther opposed the Catholic's translation of a phrase of Jesus we now translate "repent". At the time, Catholics translated it "do penance". Martin Luther, on the other hand, called for a new translation, ushering in his new concept of justification by faith alone.

Out of these two, I would side with Luther. But I agree with N.T. Wright, I think Luther took it too far. The word μετανοέω (metanoeó, repent) means to change one's mind and purpose, according to Strong's. As I recently heard a pastor explain it, when you're headed down the wrong way on a one-way street and cars are coming at you in all three lanes, repenting means turning the car around.

Repentence calls for a lifestyle change: living a radically different life, one like Jesus lived. Yet, we often view the "repent" command as a synonym for "believe" or just "feel bad".

I think we've taken it to the point where we've gotten a drive-thru Jesus. Just have a little faith and you're cool. You're going to heaven, be happy.

But I think Jesus called for a lot more than that. He wanted our works to glorify Him. I don't mean to challenge Luther's doctrine of justification by faith alone. I agree with that. But here's the thing. As I see it, it's exactly like loving someone. If you tell someone you love them but never do anything to show it, how genuine is your love? You build up love by the things you do for another person. You're not a good friend because you do good stuff for a person, you're a good friend because you love them. At the same time, your love is built up by the things you do for them.

Similarly, we build up our love and our trust for God when we do what He says. As I see it, maybe works shouldn't be thought of as a byproduct of faith and trust, but as simultaneous with faith and trust. Read Hebrews 11. By faith, Abraham uprooted his house and moved. He didn't just sit there with his faith switch on. His faith was lived out in a real, tangible response to God.

Another thing I might like to note is the definition of "works". What exactly constitutes a work? I think the reason people get so up-in-arms about the concept of works is because they associate it with legalism, i.e. the Pharisees trying to be justified by the works of the Law. But what I'm talking about here is real acts of faith before God. Like, daring to help someone who's hurting. Bringing good news to the poor. Answering the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Here's how John Fletcher saw it. Faith and works are like two oars on a boat. You have to push on both of them simultaneously. If you let slack with the left oar, you turn in circles. If you let slack with the right oar, you turn in circles. It doesn't matter how hard you work the left oar if you're not also working the right one.

Thus, I don't see the tension between salvation by works and salvation by faith alone. Sure, faith is what justifies us, but faith without works is dead. Is a dead faith a saving faith? I think not.

Adding works to salvation seems heretical today. We've got antinomian eternal security advocates running around all over the place. It's like, just say the Sinner's Prayer and you're clean. Now do whatever you want. But works was a huge part of what Jesus talked about. Actually, I think Jesus might be labeled a Pelagian heretic if He were to show up today. Live out your faith. As James says, faith without works is dead. Let's ditch the drive-thru model of Jesus and return to the real one.

Anyway, just some thoughts.

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