Thursday, July 17, 2008

A mini thesis on Faith and Works

This post is going to be pretty long, but I really would like to hear some feedback on this stuff... the age old debate in the Christian Church. All perspectives are welcome.

I am reading the book Red Letters by Tom Davis. As part of the required feedback for the free book I am giving some commentary, but I think this post is a little more than what he is thinking and I would probably post it with out solicitation.

On p. 104 Davis shares a story from Matthew 25 about when Jesus separates the sheep and goats due to their caring for the poor, hungry, outcast etc.

Davis then goes on to pose the question, "What if there is a huge secret about what it means to "work out our salvation" in this verse? What if a life of faith is all about what Jesus was saying here?"

For some reason I stopped in my tracks while I was reading this (while working at NoFo on the deck... slow day). I seems like this was taking the works thing a bit too far. I've read and heard other arguments throughout my life that I think take the faith alone thing too far as well in ways that help to justify lifestyles that don't reflect Jesus at all, but now I'm stuck... so which is it? Faith? Works? Both? What really matters?

In order to move forward I asked the next two questions:

1) What does this debate in my head matter for?

Salvation, sanctification, the Kingdom of God, eternal security, life to the full on the earth...

2) To whom does the answer matter?

To God, to Jesus, to you, to me, to scholars out there, to the people we serve or fail to serve, to the people I lead...

All of these seem like valid perspectives and points of view to consider, but for me there are 2 reasons why I think its so important:

1) It matters to me personally for the way that I view and life my life. Basically for my internal battles and ability to live a healthy life style. Let me explain...

I lean most naturally towards perfectionism and go towards works when pursuing my value, worth, and identity. But, doing this has contributed to an eating disorder, unhealthy family patterns, and unnecessary stress because I am artificially taking on what I believe to be Jesus' role. Its only when I truly fall head on into God's grace (by faith alone) that I am free to live and act and serve.

I don't want to do or say anything that would contribute to others having to face the same internal turmoil that I have because I put too much emphasis on my works.

2) It matters to me as an evangelist because I believe that I am called specifically and all Christians are called generally to lead other people to following Jesus .

I don't want to lead others towards following something that does not reflect God's heart. If there should be more of an emphasis on works, then I want to help people discover that... if its faith and nothing else, I want to hold fast to that... if there is some mysterious mixture, I want to help people uncover that in their lives.

So, this leaves me attempting to put these ideas together. Here is where I stand:

Its both! In some mysterious way it is impossible to separate the two. I say this because Christ called us to follow him... he healed people, he sacrificed, he changed the world, he "worked". However, following him can't happen apart from trusting in him. That has to happen by faith. Following Jesus also means believing the things that he said about himself are true.. that he is God, that he died to redeem the world, that he rose from the dead, that he forgives us, that without faith it is impossible to please God. That he railed against the Pharisees and teachers of the law during his day because they put heavy burdens around people's necks that they could not fulfill without his grace and power. That he cares about our hearts more than our actions.

In the very next section of Matthew a woman pours purfume on Jesus' feet. This "waste" according to the disciples was responded to with great praise from Jesus.

I will finish this off with a quote from the book (p.105) Davis quotes Richard Rohr;

We don't think ourselves into new ways of living, we live ourselves into new ways of thinking.

I am going to choose to live with the assurance of Grace, that I am valuable because Jesus loves me and created me. When I mess up, am selfish, desire to control every aspect of my environment... I turn to Jesus. I will turn to scripture regularly to help me frame my outlook on the world. I will continue to struggle with tough questions. I will have faith.

I am going to choose to live with an open planner and wallet and will so that I can respond to needs. I am going to look at people as if they are Jesus and hopefully respond accordingly. I am going to hold onto my stuff loosely and place myself in situations where I will see needs that I can respond to.

I am not going to do this alone, but commit to being part of communities where there are other people who ask similar questions and are committed to seeing truth and participating in God's kingdom.

Please give me your thoughts if you have them.
If you made it this far... Thanks!


Anonymous said...

I'm with you traci...i couldn't have found the words...i think the most at peace i am with these two concepts is when i write or pray responsively to scripture. there is no way i could risk doing the "work" God has called me to, without complete reliance upon His grace. Even when the "work' he calls me to do is to stop working in ways "the world" or my "people pleasing personality" tells me to.
Nothing makes sense to me except "Jesus" Himself...and He only makes sense because he abides in me, and i in Him. mama

traci said...

Thanks Mom!

One more action step that connects the two...

this is coming from the book Red Letters as a suggestion of how to respond to the AIDS crisis.

Spend 5 minutes a day praying for those infected with HIV/AIDS.

I am planning on doing this with the focus on those who have been trafficked or are at risk of being trafficked and sexually exploited.

One step...

Tom Davis said...

Thanks you guys. These are great responses!

Hannah said...

Hi Traci. Tom forwarded your article to me the other day, so I read it and then today I read Tom's most recent blog entry and thought you'd like to glance at it. : ) It's a click through article by a guy named Mike Morrell, and it addresses some of the issues you grappled with in this post. Enjoy! : )

With joy,
children's hopechest