Thursday, May 5, 2011
If I were to ask you, "what is the most important part of breathing, is it inhaling or exhaling?" What would your answer be? Seems like a silly question, right? I mean, breathing, by definition is both inhaling and exhaling. As soon as you stop doing one or the other, then you've stopped breathing. In fact, as soon as you stop doing one or the other, you're dead. So we can't separate breathing into its parts and try to determine which part is more important.
That's the best way I can communicate what I have come to believe about our salvation. I had some feedback about my last post, and I thought it was deserving not only for those who asked, but those who wondered and didn't ask, to create a separate post to speak to the subject.
Since Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the door in Wittenberg, we have debated and divided amongst ourselves as Christians. "How are we saved?" The Catholic church before Luther had answered we are saved by observance of Sacraments that could only be administered through priests. Luther's reaction against this kind of (in my opinion, false) teaching set us down these divergent paths - Catholic or Protestant. Then, of course, as Protestants we divided further, as did Catholics into Catholic and Anglican. Each of these divisions was complex, but in some way they were all a part of this one large question, "what do we do to be saved.?"
Now, in my previous post I made a statement about how we as Evangelicals have read Paul's words over Jesus, and come to prefer salvation by "faith alone," sola fidelis as Luther had said. I want to be clear - I don't think that Paul's words in Scripture are any less valuable or inspired than those from Jesus' mouth. I have spent my entire Young Adult and now Adult life to studying, as deeply as I can, those words. My contention is not that Paul is wrong, its that we have read him wrong and created a false dichotomy.
I don't want to turn this post into an exhaustive study of all the passages about faith and all the passages about works. I would first say I meant what I said in the last post about viewing redemption the way Jesus' describes it in the Gospels. I do want to address the standard "faith alone" verses quickly though:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. - Ephesians 2:8,9
This is one of the most used verses to defend "faith alone" salvation. The idea that we are so sinful we would boast about any works that could lead to salvation, so God removes them from the equation. But lets let Paul finish his thought:
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:10 (one of my favorite verses! Paul describes us in the Greek as "God's poetas - his works of art!)
So in Paul's mind God's grace opened up a vehicle to salvation, "faith," that then activates within us the "good works" that we were created to do. So if there are no "good works," then is the faith real? Inhale or exhale?
The other classic verse used is from Romans 10:9 "If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."
Firstly, even within this verse there is a "work," "declaring with your mouth." That "work," is declaring Him "Lord." Since being Lord means He's in control, without even having to take Paul further, we already see that works is implied, since if a "Lord" says jump, you better believe you're gonna start jumping! But lets examine even farther what Paul is trying to say:
Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. Romans 10:3
So here is Paul's opening statement, that his own people, the Jews of the 1st Century, had tried to establish a system of works that led to righteousness, but that they had done so apart from God. They had "works" but no "faith." I say wholeheartedly I agree with Paul here! While I don't believe we are saved by "faith alone," I also think its equally wrong to go to the other extreme (which many non-Evangelical denominations have) and say we are saved by "works alone." Inhale or exhale?
I'll close with the words of James, the brother of Jesus and leader of the church in Jerusalem:
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
The scandal of the Gospel is that it opens not just salvation, but service to God to anybody and everybody, even prostitutes like Rahab!
Faith or works?
Inhale or exhale?
at 9:24 AM