Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Faith and Works

      Most Protestants believe that because humans are completely dependent on Christ for forgiveness, only faith matters for salvation. Good works are seen as a byproduct of faith in Christ, but one's actions or obedience to commandments are not seen as directly related to salvation. Because Mormonism maintains that works and faith are both required for salvation, critics sometimes accuse Mormons of blasphemy. To say that our works have anything to do with salvation, they say, is to arrogantly believe that we can earn our way into heaven, and denies the role of Christ.

      Both Mormons and other Christians believe that there are requirements for salvation, and that our choices determine whether or not we will be saved. (Calvinism maintains that God has predestined some for heaven and others for hell, and that man has no freedom of choice to change his destiny. Protestantism has largely abandoned this doctrine.) Most Protestants believe that the only requirement is to exercise faith in Christ as the Savior, without whom we are all hopelessly lost, but with whose help anyone, even the vilest of sinners, may be saved.
      Mormons, on the other hand, believe that there are additional requirements, such as the commandments to be baptized (John 3:5), repent (Luke 13:3; Acts 2:38), and forgive others (Matthew 6:15), to name a few. It is true that no one can earn his or her own way into heaven, because we are all sinners who need Christ's saving grace. But in addition to our faith, God requires our best effort to obey, pitiful as that effort may be.

Two Extremes

      There are two extremes regarding the importance of our works, and when we identify them, it is easy to see that the truth lies somewhere between the two. On the one hand, there were the Pharisees who believed in salvation through strict adherence to the Law of Moses. They did not understand the need for a Savior, because they thought they were righteous enough to deserve admission to heaven without the need for forgiveness of sins. Paul preached against that idea, saying that works cannot save us, because we are all sinners. In Romans, chapter 3, he explains that we must recognize that we are sinners and dependent on Christ for salvation. (See especially verses 23 through 28.)
      On the other extreme, there are those who believe that one may accept the concept of Jesus Christ as Savior, and then receive forgiveness for any amount of sinful living. With this interpretation, the doctrine of Christ's Atonement is twisted into an excuse for unlimited sinning without consequences. James preached against this belief in James, chapter 2. He famously and clearly stated, "Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone" (James 2:17), and "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only" (James 2:24).

Works Necessary to Develop Faith
      Perhaps the most significant of James' statements is in verse 22: "Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?" James says that faith is made perfect by works. In other words, strong faith is built through obedience to God's commandments. Jesus Christ also taught that doing the will of God was necessary in order to believe (John 7:17) and enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21). In the Book of Mormon, Alma taught that faith is like a seed, which must be carefully cultivated in order to grow. It begins as a mere desire to believe, but can become a tree of life, "springing up unto everlasting life," if we nourish it with our righteous efforts (Alma 32).
      When we understand the interdependence of faith and obedience to God, we do not discount either. Both are necessary, and they lead to each other. Paul and James do not contradict each other. It becomes clear why the Bible says both that we are not justified by works (Galatians 2:16; Romans 3:27), and yet that we will be judged by our works (Matthew 16:27; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 1 Peter 1:17; Revelation 20:12).

In summary
Argument: It is blasphemous to believe that our works and actions affect our salvation. We are all sinners, and the only thing that makes any difference is whether we have faith in Christ.
Response: There is no such thing as accepting Christ without striving to obey Him. No one is perfect and everyone needs Christ's saving grace, but He requires us to make an effort nonetheless. Faith without good works is not true faith.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sin keeps us separated from God, both in this life and in the next. Jesus said that in oder to go to heaven one must be 'born again'. That is to have a spiritual rebirth...becoming a new creation. We do this by receiving the redemption available only through the blood Jesus shed on Calvary. Sin has a penalty and it is death. Jesus paid that penalty for us, providing the only way we can be atoned for our sins. However it is not automatic. It is provided as a free gift, but we need to accept it. We accept it by 1) recognizing our sin and repenting of them, then 2) receiving Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord. We do this by putting all our faith in Him and his redeeming work. We don't split it between His work and ours. We trust completely in Him. However, this new 'birth' brings amazing things to our lives. We now have a redeemed heart that the Spirt of God can dwell in and He begins to teach and change us into the individual he wants us to be. We now desire to do good works to show our love and gratitude. It becomes not only an act of praise, but evidence of our faith. Faith with no action (works) is dead.
It may not be the best example, but I think of salvation to be somewhat like marriage. It is my agreement to accept him as my husband during a marriage ceremony that makes me married, not loving deeds. I can do 100 kind loving acts, but it won't make me anymore married. The loving acts show my husband that my love is real, but it was the ceremony that made me married. It was the ceremony that gave me a new role, a new name, a new title. It was my repentance and acceptance of Jesus that gave me new things too--- a new spiritual life, new heritage (I'm now adopted into God's family) and a new promise of eternity in God's presence. My good deeds don't give me this, but I will continue to do them to show my Father in Heaven my love and gratitude, and to serve Him.