Faith & Works & Obedience
I know this is going to offend some folks, but I don’t mind. I often hear the question, “what is the balance between faith and works?” I have heard a whole lot of people dispute that works have no bearing on whether or not we enter into the kingdom of heaven – sticking tight to their belief that our faith alone saves us. This conversation has disturbed me for quite some time. I cannot agree that how we choose to live has zero impact on our entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven.
This makes us move around in our seat a little bit because we’ve always been taught that there is nothing “we” could “do” to get to God. This is true. But there was something Jesus could do and He did it. Then he told us what “we” needed to “do” in order to gain access to eternal life.
As we confess that Jesus is God, we typically use the 2 words “Lord” and “Savior”. We truly enjoy the savior part. It’s an amazing thought to consider that the eternal God stepped into human history to become sin for us. But the other term we use is “Lord”; a term that suggests we want to give up control and become subject to His desires. The chief way we do this is through obedience. I would like to propose that obedience to a specific command is not a work; and that whether or not we truly let the words of Jesus reign supreme in our lives is the key factor in whether or not we are truly His disciples – and therefore, whether or not we have access to the Father.
Let me explain what I mean. Obedience is not the same thing as works. Works are things we do to try to gain favor in God’s eyes. They are almost always motivated by fear of how God thinks about us rather than by our passionate desire to make Him smile. Works are giving a lot of money to the church, mowing the grass for an elderly couple, passing out tracks, spending your Saturdays volunteering in the community, giving to charity, and praying on street corners. Works are sometimes products of following Jesus commands, but are also sometimes attempts to appear more righteous than we are to others. The latter is always what Jesus called in the lives of the religious leaders. This is because they didn’t have much interest in truly obeying God, just in the appearance of it. At one point Jesus says, you should have done everything you were doing while still loving God and justice. It wasn’t that they believed their works would save them, rather that their corrupt hearts had convinced them that acting pious is the same thing as being pious. It’s not. But we cannot abandon the truth that how we live has an impact on how we spend eternity in the name of, “works don’t save us”. This is a teaching rooted deeply in Augustinian and Calvinist theology, that we could never even have a single good desire because we are inherently evil – we therefore can’t base our salvation on anything from our end. It’s the idea that only God can elect us and pull us out if he chooses. It denies that truth that Jesus gave all people the opportunity to “choose” to be restored to God. Choosing to take those steps is a process of action. If Jesus did give all people the chance to choose, your salvation is dependant upon whether or not you take the steps He says we must take in order to gain access to eternal life.
Loving each another is not a work. Neither is discipling other people to Jesus. Neither is confessing that Jesus is God, repenting of your sin, or getting baptized. Being led by the Holy Spirit is not a work. Neither is ridding ourselves of the sin the apostles’ called out stating, “Those who practice these things will never enter into the kingdom of God”.
Jesus says, “this is how you know you are my disciples: if you obey my commands”