Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Good Works - the Christian Self-Diagnostic

So, what is the relationship between faith and works? How do the two interact, how do they relate, what place does each of them have? We have Paul in Ephesians 2 say "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." And then we have James saying (2:24) "You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone."

What do we make of these? Well, the context in Ephesians is the priority of faith - that we are dead and unable to do works until we come to faith and are given life - a life in which works will be done. Works are not the cause of Christian life, they are the result. The context of James - "What good is it, my brothers, if someone says that he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?" The Italics were mine.

What is the problem that James is addressing? You see, he is not speaking in a vaccuum - but rather he is addressing those who claim faith but who show no care, do not care for their neighbor, treat others with contempt. He is claiming that their "faith" which does not show love to the neighbor, which doesn't result in love, is in fact not faith at all. That faith alone saves no one - and if there are no works, you will not be justified.

Works are not the cause of faith - but they are the way in which we as Christians can diagnose our faith. If we see no works, no love, no charity - our faith is in shoddy shape. A Christian must do good works - not in terms of "law" per se, but that it simply happens. Good works are like breathing - for a person to be alive, he must be breathing. If he's not breathing. . . as Bones would say, "He's dead, Jim."

You were dead in trespasses, as Paul says, but have been made alive in Christ. Check your pulse as a Christian. See if you are still breathing - listen to your lungs. Look at your works. Are you showing love gladly or not? If not, repent and receive forgiveness. Is there any way in which you fall short? Of course - so find it, repent of it, beat it down, lest it become a cancer which devours you!

Our Lord says that He is the vine and that we are the branches - that whoever abides in Him WILL bear much fruit. Is your fruit weak, flaccid, dried out? Repent, return to the branch, and let Christ flow through you again!


The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

Christian must do good works - not in terms of "law" per se, but that it simply happens. Good works are like breathing - for a person to be alive, he must be breathing. If he's not breathing. . . as Bones would say, "He's dead, Jim."

But there are times that it doesn't JUST happen, and that we really do have to struggle with our flesh to do what's right, because we want to do what God wills because of the love He has shown for us. Not to be saved, but because of this.

Luther makes that point frequently in His sermons. It is an effort. The Holy Spirit is leading us in what is good to do, but we also are contending against our old Adam, the sinful world, and the devil himself, so there really is a battle going on, and we feel how it tears us.

While we are not doing good works to save our souls, Luther says that we must do them to subjugate our flesh and to make our salvation sure (rather than to fall away into mortal sin by not struggling against sin anymore).

We don't always do God's will gladly. There is a part of us that wants to, and a part that doesn't. We never do good works in complete purity, so we can rest assured that God still sees those efforts and is pleased by them, because of Christ. That is a great reassurance because if now that we are saved, we had to do good works always gladly, we might be paralyzed by it. Still do the work, and repent of the hesitation, and rest assured, we are forgiven.

Christopher D. Hall said...

I think Lora raises a good point here. It's a good post, except for that line about them "happening," as if they were on autopilot. Yes, our Lord said one hand should not know what the other hand is doing, but we still gotta be moving the one hand, you know?

Someone in one of my Bible studies remarked that they had always heard or understood that good works just kind of go by themselves, or that God does them for you or at any rate you don't have to worry or think about them. But we do, else Christ wouldn't have told us what to do, nor would the Epistles be full of exhortations to do good.

Don't mean to beat up on your for one little phrase, but here I am doing it anyway ;)