Sunday, 11 January 2015

Faith and works

Faith is contrasted with works when we suppose that somehow our behaviour merits God's grace. It doesn't. But to suppose that what we do does not otherwise matter is false. God saved us to do good works. The work we are to do is either general commands (eg. show hospitality) or specific tasks that God has for us. This is why James says that he shows his faith by the works he does (Jam 2:18). His works are not salvific, but they demonstrate his salvation. We must not think works are unimportant, or optional for the Christian. Dallas Willard writes in The Spirit of the Disciplines.
We have simply let our thinking fall into the grip of a false opposition of grace to "works" that was caused by a mistaken association of works with "merit". And history has only made things worse. It has built a wall between faith and grace, and what we actually do. Of course we know there must be some connection between grace and life, but we can't seem to make it intelligible to ourselves.
In fact, to not do the good works we are commanded to do is disobedience. Obedience is a necessary component of the Christian walk. Redeemed men cannot walk in disobedience. To walk in disobedience is to not be included in the elect. But to try and earn our salvation by doing good works is a failure. We cannot be completely righteous and and righteous acts do not atone for our sin. We need righteousness imputed to us. As John says, Jesus is the atonement for our sins yet,
Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. (1Jo 2:4-6)
Lest this seem impossible, God gives us grace, and grace comes before obedience. God delivered the Israelites from slavery before they were given the Law. We receive Christ's salvation before we are to walk in obedience to him. But just as many died in the desert because of disobedience, so we should also tread carefully lest we be wanting (1Co 10:12; Eph 5).

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