Tuesday, April 24, 2012

An Over De-Emphasis of Works

A couple of weeks ago I attended a funeral service in a Catholic church.  The priest during his homily came extremely close to presenting a Gospel message.  In fact, just when I was about to do a "Yahoo" in my mind, he started into works.  The Catholics believe we are saved by faith and works.  The Bible of course teaches that we are saved by grace through faith.  The only work that has to do with our salvation is the one performed by Jesus when he suffered and died for our sins.  In response to the Catholic position, however, some Protestants take the other extreme.  They throw out any part of works when it comes to our faith.  They teach that any talks of works is only putting people under bondage.  They throw the baby out of the bathwater and almost teach a purely positional Gospel.  What I mean is that they teach that by accepting Jesus one need not be concerned with any change in life.  I have even heard it preached that other people are saved by our example of us coming to a faith in Jesus Christ and not any effect it has in our lives.  Of course, one has to question how do you show faith if are no works to back it up?  I am not the first to pose this dilemma. 
But someone will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.  James 2:18 NKJV
So how does one show faith without works?  James is making the point that you can not.  We are saved by faith, but works are the evidence of our faith.  This is not to say that we are saved by works.  What I am saying is that works naturally follow from being saved.  Salvation causes works, not the other way around.  Many attempt works at some attempt for salvation, but that simply does not work.  The kind of works that the Bible speaks of are selfless acts meant to bless others.  For someone who is trying to earn their salvation by works, those works are undeniably selfish.  If not for the desire for salvation, that person would never do any works.  The blessing that any others may feel as a result of those works are merely collateral blessings and not the primary target.  They are merely a means to their ultimate goal of salvation.  Sadly, they will never succeed.  We can not be saved by works. 

The other kind of works I am not speaking of are works that are designed to earn us favor with God.  Once again, the ultimate goal is favor with God and whatever perceived extra blessings that come along with that favor.  It has nothing to do with selflessness, but only for the selfish reward they think they have coming.  When God says that He will repay what we give the poor, He did not mean that His repayment should ever be our motivation.  The other side of this reason are those who performs works out of some fear of retribution from God.  They think that if they are not constantly doing some kind of a work, that God will be angry with them.  God is not seeking blind robotic grudging obedience.  That is not a Father-son relationship, but the relation of a harsh master who has slaves who either perform to earn a better lot or out of fear of retribution.  The Bible does tell us, however, what God does want.
If you love Me, keep My commandments.  John 14:15 NKJV
These few words really reflect the heart behind our works.  Jesus did not say if you fear my retribution, keep my commandments.  Jesus did not say that if we want Him to love us, we should follow His commandments.  Jesus did not say that if we want to be saved, we should follow His commandments.  If you love Jesus, I can not see any circumstance how you would not be saved.  In fact, you can not honestly say you love Him and not be saved.  So, if you do love Jesus, works will naturally follow.  The works we do are a natural outpouring of our love for Him. 

And so the works we do show our faith in several ways.  First of all, selfless acts to bless others are a sign of our love for God.  They show how God has worked in our lives and turned us from self to others centered.  Our works are a reflection that God can change lives and that He has change our lives just as He can change the lives of those we are trying to reach.  I do not know how one can say they love Jesus but do nothing of what He asks us.  I will challenge you just as James challenges us all.  Show me your love without your works and I will show you my love by my works.  Without any sign, what have you to show for your love of Jesus other than your words?  Some say that works are easy to fake.  While that may be true, it is much easier to fake words.  If the works that are being done are truly selfless and meant to bless others than there is no motivation for fraud.  You can tell the frauds because they always want great praise and credit for the works that they do. 

Furthermore, works are not only a sign of our love but they are a sign of our faith.  Faith in word alone is really meaningless.  Would you eat food given to you by someone who says that he has ever faith that it is not poison but yet refuses to try it?  Or how about a repair man who says that he fixed the brakes on your car yet refuses to test them himself?  The same applies to our faith in God.  It is empty.  The Bible calls it dead.  You can not say you have faith if nothing in your life backs up that faith.  I daresay that true faith can not exist with no resulting works.  Works are the natural effect of saving faith.  Seriously, the Bible never says anything to to effect of "You are now saved, go out your life as though nothing happened living just the same as you always have."  There is always change, there is always an effect when we have our encounter with God and accept His free gift of grace. 

The Bible is filled with accounts of Jesus and His followers performing many great works.  Many of these works were miraculous.  Why did Jesus perform miracles?  He did so to show Himself the Messiah.  Anyone could just go around saying it, but Jesus lived and showed it by the miracles He performed fulfilling all of the Messianic prophesies.  The greatest miracle, of course, being His resurrection.  This again was not just because He wanted to show off, but to prove His identity and prove to us the validity of the everlasting life He offers us.  The apostles also did many great works and performed many miracles.  Those were always done to give weight to the message of the Gospel they were about to share.  Not all of us have been involved in performing miracles, but each of us in Christ is a miracle.  We were saved from our old sinful selves and turned into new creations in Christ.  We must now live as that miracle of God's grace as we share the message of redemption to an unbelieving world.  As is always the case when Jesus speaks on a matter, He said it best, and so I will leave you with the words of our Lord.
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.  Matthew 5:16 NKJV

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