Monday, December 13

IT'S NOT FAITH VS. WORKS, BUT FAITH=WORKS


Okay, I've read enough mainstream press recently to realize that non-Christians, or even non-evangelical Christians, don't understand the "faith versus works" debate. So here's my attempt at explaining it as simply as I can:

The New Testament Gospels center around the life, origin, body and teachings of Jesus Christ. Jesus the Nazarene is declared the Messiah, the Son of God, the completion of God's revelation of His nature and the physical, earthly incarnation of the Word of God (His ultimate messenger to mankind). The Acts of the Apostles are a history of the early Church, starting with Christ's ascension into the Heavens after His resurrection, and his admonitions to His followers. The Epistles (most written by Paul) are lessons to the Church and the faithful (early Christians) on the behavior expected by and aligned with God and His plan for humanity. In succeeding books in the New Testament we find Peter, James, John and other apostles revealing their knowledge of God's will for the Church (I should explain that "the Church" is defined in the N.T. as the Body of Christ, those followers of Christ who are born again of the Holy Spirit, that is, have repented of their sins and accepted the grace of God's forgiveness and therefore redemption, or covering, for those sins).

Most world religions require some kind of valiant effort on behalf of the petitioner to reach "paradise," "nirvana," or otherwise called salvation. Christianity is unique in that its God provides to His children His own solution: it requires of the petitioner only a confession of one's personal sin or inadequacy in the face of God's law and an acceptance of the gift of grace, or God's favor. In the Old Testament God required a sacrifice of blood (the blood of lambs was especially well received) to cover or atone for sin. In the New Testament Jesus Christ was revealed as God's ultimate sacrifice on behalf of mankind, His only Son given up voluntarily (both by God and by Jesus himself) to atone for man's transgressions. That is, Christ died bleeding on the cross, He was the "lamb of God," His suffering offered to cover the sins of mankind throughout the ages. All that is required for an individual's salvation is to acknowledge and accept His sacrifice, and one thing more: to trust God with one's life, to put oneself into His hands. As The Good Book says, "The devil himself believes, and trembles." In other words, knowledge in the mind is not sufficient; trust, or faith, is required to complete the transaction. And what is faith? Acknowlegement, with actions supporting it, that the unseen is as real, powerful, and motivating to the believer as the seen.

Now to works. James says, "Be ye doers of The Word, and not hearers only" and "Faith without works is dead." He goes on to explain that BELIEF is not faith until it is "has legs" or is put into practice. "Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well; the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?" Satan knows the truth, but is not willing to align his will with God, the reason for his fall from Heaven. The man or woman who believes but does not practice Christianity is as doomed, or maybe more so, than the unbeliever. "What doth it profit a man, my brethren, though a man say he have faith, and not works? can faith save him?" And "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also."

Some evanglical Christians remember, and despise, the 19th century Christian movement in the United States and elsewhere that emphasized making progress in the social teachings of Christ -- "Give unto any one who asks of you"; "Turn the other cheek"; "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God"; and "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To care for the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted before the world." Today, many enjoy a campaign of erasing the "spots" not in themselves, but in others, but are not too willing to care for the widows and orphans.

For many of us who continue to believe that the entire New Testament is our faith guide, and not just the Old Testament (which is described within the Bible as God's attempt to train a nation who would understand His nature and be prepared to accept His only Son as final revelation), the Christian right emphasis on conversion to Christianity and (primarily sexual) moral behavior neglects the principle of discipleship, to which a great deal of the New Testament is devoted. Discipleship, obviously, is training in actually FOLLOWING Christ's teachings, not just blindly worshipping Him while rejecting His leadership. As disciples of Christ, if we have faith in Him, we believe that the results of our obedience to His teachings are up to Him and not subject to our re-evaluation.

When right-wing Christian activists justify their political agenda by citing Christian values and Biblical teachings, I cringe. Sexual "misbehavior," which seems to be their primary target, is definitely addressed in The Bible. It is lumped together with the sins of lying, stealing, idolatry, etc. It is never intimated that sexual misbehavior is in some kind of premier category of sin.

Here is how Jesus himself defined His message:

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your mind, and all your soul; and love your neighbor as yourself."

You simply can't accept Christ without accepting His Father's teachings. And the Bible, both Old and New Testament, makes clear that to God the Father, faith means believing Him. Abraham believed God's promise that He would give him and Sarah a son though they were extremely elderly and beyond human child-bearing years, "and it was accounted to him for righteousness." David sinned but was beloved of God because David believed God whenever and whatever God spoke, even when he didn't obey Him. It was also made plain that David truly loved God. I get that, and I can't explain my whole life in a few words, because I do too.

The Republican right claims righteousness because of their alignment of "values" with what they interpret of the Scriptures. But they are miserably deficient in the areas of sincere caring for the plight of widows and orphans, of peacemaking, which the Scriptures clearly identify as the issues closest to God's heart other than those associated with our trust in Him. It's obvious to me, through my studies and, probably more to the fact, through my prayers, that our trust is important to Him because He loves us so much and knows He knows what's best -- but He won't impose it upon us. He wants us to want Him.

I've taught my five children from their infancy, according to my own reading of the Scriptures (unlike that of so many commentators, I've actually read The Book several times all the way through, participated lifelong in any intense Bible studies I could, helped The Sage through seminary, and outlined my personal Bible in twenty-two colors according to subject) that God is not a meanie authoritarian or prude but, aside from His being the Creator, is the coolest of dudes, not just instructing us on what is RIGHT but on what is SMART. It's my Christian orientation that has made me a lifelong Democrat and progressive, because that is where I find the social activism most closely aligned to my understanding of WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?).

Bottom line is, if the people of the Christian "right" don't act like Jesus would, it's up to us Christian Democrats to insist on it. And remind them WHY.

Hope this helps some. Though mightily motivated, a mom of five with a big executive job still has to cook dinner. And I always take advantage of the lure to the good cooking smells to preach and teach to those hovering.

2 Comments:

Blogger ChesapeakeBlue said...

I've been reading Marcus Borg's Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, and he makes the point that Jesus' discussion of being saved by grace, and not by works, was directed at distinguishing his teachings from the existing "purity" culture (he used the Pharisees as his target), whereby salvation would come from adherence to a list of rules. Borg's point was that Jesus cannot be properly read as saying that you need not engage in works. I agree; Jesus' teachings cannot be properly applied without putting his words into practice.

Now, how to balance that with children and dinner is a problem I well know!

4:04 AM  
Blogger Motherlode said...

Saw your comment and checked out your blog. Verrryyy interesting! I'd like to add you to my blogroll if you're amenable.

Thanks for visiting.

6:35 PM  

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