I am wading in to waters that have already been stirred countless times over the ages by men and women far more knowledgeable than me, but permit me to share my thoughts (or just quietly ignore me…all two and a half of you). This is certainly not an exhaustive, or comprehensive, musing on the matter of faith and good works. Rather, it is just one morning’s worth of meditation on the subject.
A lot of energy seems to go into this debate, particularly among various groups that profess to be Christian. My casual observation is that Christians are split into two generic camps (with obviously a lot more distinctions as you look closer): the Good Works Christians and the Faith Alone Christians.
The Good Works group claims that faith means little if you don’t have good works, or you aren’t doing good deeds. The Faith Alone group asserts that your good works amount to nothing if you don’t have faith as the impetus for your good works.
On the surface neither group has it wrong, so to speak, but as philosophy gets put into practice both of these groups seem to miss out on what really matters: glorifying God.
The Good Works group looks with contempt at the navel-gazing Faith Alone folks because they aren’t doing as much as they are to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. The Faith Alone group scoffs at the Good Works group because their theology is a convoluted mess of feel-good self-help manuals that miss the establishment of a proper attitude toward God. (The best part of all of this is, in America, we take it out on each other on the battlefield of politics.)
Maybe that’s all an over simplification, but that’s basically my observation.
Why not be both? Well, that sounds nice but then we start to argue over which should be first, which is more important, etc. Again, it strikes me all as moot unless you keep one thing in mind: glorify God!
If the purpose of your good works is to bring glory to God, amen. If the purpose of your faith is to give glory to God, amen.
Let me have Paul speak for a moment:
Titus 2:11-14 ESV
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
In that passage he starts with people who have faith (the grace of God bringing salvation) and ends with people who are motivated to do good works. Not to mention all the good stuff in between.
In the next passage, he starts the same way, but takes care to exhort believers to live out their faith in a measurable way by doing good works.
Titus 3:4-8 ESV
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.
So, have both. Do both. Or have one and do the other. Either way, faith and good works are not mutually exclusive and both are critical in order to call yourself a Christian. And keep in mind that we are Christ’s not because of our righteousness but because of God’s unsurpassable goodness and His unfathomable love for you.
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