Faith, Good Works, and New Creation (Part 3)

In the previous post, I looked at faith from the perspective of its object:  the person or thing in which we place our faith (in this case, God).  Essentially, our faith relies on God’s faithfulness.  Our faith must rest in God’s nature, not our ability to perceive him.  This worked its way toward God’s mission in the world, a mission in which we’re called to participate.  This was an unexpected turn, but I’ll run with it and return to trust and relationship later.

So, how on earth does faith relate to works?  These two have been wrongly divided in Protestantism for many years, although the problem goes back to the early Church, as James makes clear (James is reacting against a perversion of Paul’s message in James 2).  The Protestant discomfort with good works goes back to the reformation, with Sola Fide (by faith alone) being a banner under which most Protestants marched.  The problem is that in reacting to the extremities and perversions of medieval Catholicism (indulgences, self-flagellation, etc), Luther brought the Pauline message of justification by faith into direct contradiction with James:  “Do you know that you are not justified by faith alone?”  This has had enormous implications for subsequent Protestant teaching and ministry.  Any suggestion of the Christian duty to serve the poor, sacrificially give, or defend the defenseless throws up objections of works-righteousness.  “Oh, you’re just trying to earn your way into Heaven!” many exclaim.  However, even Paul insists on the necessity of good works.  He not only speaks of justification by faith, but also a justification according to works (Romans 2).

So then, how do we Protestants put the two back together?  If we reduce faith to mental assent to doctrine, it may be difficult.  But if faith is richer than this, if it includes trust in God, if it includes clinging to the blessed hope, if it includes faithfulness, then it is not as difficult.

Essentially, faith is not only the basis for good works (as if one could build a foundation of faith, and then leave it, not completing the house), but good works are the very means by which faith is proven.  One may have good works without faith, but one can never have faith without works, just as one may have sacrifice without love, but never love without sacrifice.  Good works must proceed from faith.  If we claim to trust in God, to believe what he has revealed in Scripture and in the Church, and then fail to act accordingly, then we betray our unbelief, our lack of faithfulness, our infidelity.  Now, this faith may express itself in any number of imperfect ways.  We won’t always see it;  in fact, we’ll probably rarely see it, both in ourselves and in others.  However, it’s no less necessary.  God is going to restore this world.  God’s saving mission for humanity is just the first part of him restoring the entire cosmos!  His mission in this world is much bigger than just saving a few souls.  If he’s going to redeem and restore the entire cosmos, then we’ve got work to do!  God loves to work through and with his human creatures.  This will take us to the next part of the series:  New Creation.  What are good works?  And how do they fit into God’s purposes for the world?  We’ll go all the way back to Genesis to sort through that question.  But I’ve rambled on enough for the moment.

Until next time,


Movie: The Book of Eli

I just saw the Book of Eli, which I had been looking forward to since I saw the previews months ago. I did enjoy the film, but it wasn’t as good as I was hoping. The end of the film had some great points and also some points that left you scratching your head. Some have complained that the movie was too churchy, but I’d say that it was more pro-religion in general than specifically Christian (Christ is not mentioned at all in the movie; there are only references to God). It will certainly resonate with our the Christian roots of our culture, but it would probably resonate just as well within a Muslim or Jewish culture with a few modifications. The fighting in the movie was mostly well done and appropriate to the setting, but the film overall left me with the sense that it was a great idea that could have been executed better. I’d recommend it, but with the qualifications that some of the dialogue and acting wasn’t that great.

Faith, Good Works, and New Creation (Part Two)

As I was working on the first post in this series, it occurred quite suddenly to me:  faith is inextricably tied to the character of the “object,”  the person, idea, or thing in which we place our faith.  I had been thinking about faith solely from the perspective of the person having faith (a rather selfish perspective).  However, it’s impossible to isolate faith from its object (for lack of a better word), particularly when Jesus tells us to “have faith in God;  have faith in me.” I want to explore the trust aspect of faith within this more “subjective” framework.

This is not a part of faith I hadn’t heard before.  I’ve read often enough that it’s the “object” of faith that is truly important.  I guess I just never paused long enough to consider the implications (plus object sounds too much like a grammatical word to be truly interesting ;-) ).  Essentially, faith by itself is of some value.  We tend to respect someone for following their convictions even if we disagree with them.  However, “earnestness” does not justify its action.  You can be completely sincere and completely wrong.  What we believe (or who we believe in, or who we trust)  matters just as much as how we believe.

So how does this relate to Christian faith?  Our faith must be rooted in the character of God expressed in Jesus of Nazareth.  I don’t think we can successfully root it in some “epistemology” of faith explaining why or how to believe in God.  Essentially, faith must start with God and work toward us.  We can’t start with ourselves and work toward God.  This is right in line with the message of Scripture.  “Be holy, for I am holy.”  “We love because he first loved us.”  We are to be faithful because God himself is faithful.  All of the ethical imperatives of the New Testament are undergirded and prefixed by the message Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension.  Jesus loved to the uttermost, so we must love.  Jesus forgave, so we must forgive.  Of course, it’s more than that.  Jesus inaugurated, or rather launched, the Kingdom of God.  Our faith is wrapped up in this Kingdom project that Jesus launched and that he has handed over to us.  “All authority has been given to me;  therefore go and make disciples of all nations…”   One day he’ll return for consummation, to finally fulfill that which he started.  Until then we must be faithful with the tasks he has given us.

So this post has taken a different path than I thought it would, but it still brings us quite nicely to an important topic:  Good works.  Soon enough I’ll examine why good works are absolutely crucial to our faith in God.  In stead of examining the interplay between love with faith, I’ll try to work that in as we look at how are faith expresses itself through works.