Faith and Works Go Togethercomment (0)
February 16, 2012
By Bob Terry
The debate going on in evangelical circles about the Church’s mission would be laughable if it were not so tragic. One side declares that Christians are “justice people because they are Jesus people.” The other side retorts, “They need Jesus to be justice people.”
The sides argue as if there were some kind of divide between faith and works, a dichotomy that excludes one from the other. There is not. The Bible teaches that faith and works go together.
Undoubtedly the starting line is a right relationship with God through personal faith in Jesus Christ. The finish line is becoming a disciple who receives God’s welcome of “well done, good and faithful servant.”
Both the Old Testament and the New Testament condemn those who want to believe right without doing right. In Isaiah 58:1–10, God describes a people whose beliefs result in religious activities and discussions alone.
Beginning in verse 6, He asks, “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter — when you see the naked to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”
Jesus, in Matthew 7:21, warns that “not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Even some who prophesied, cast out demons or performed miracles will be cast away because they did not do the will of the Father.
Jesus illustrates that point in Matthew 25:31ff, in which those who cared for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the prisoner were invited into the kingdom of God and those who ignored the needs of others were cast out.
The story is not a case for earning salvation through good works. It is a story illustrating that because one is rightly related to God, one works to bring all dimensions of life under His lordship. That is exactly the point of James 2:14ff, in which the writer links faith and works together in a way that cannot be separated.
When Jesus voiced the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19–20), He did not charge His followers to gain intellectual consent to a theological teaching. Instead Jesus announced the goal was “to make disciples,” followers who not only believed in Him as their Savior but also lived out the values revealed in His life. (See Comment by Bob Terry, Feb. 9).
As one writer observed, Christians are not in a holding pattern until it is time to go up and meet Jesus. We are called to serve and engage the world, stop the decay and be the light of hope. Christians are to be the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world.”
A recent study by the Barna Group pointed to the importance of recognizing that faith and works go together. In a survey of churchgoers, Barna found that nearly half (46 percent) said their lives had not been changed at all as a result of churchgoing. Less than one-quarter of churchgoers in the Mosaics generation (18–27) or Busters generation (28–46) said attending church greatly affected their lives. And the findings were similar across congregations of all sizes.
That is a serious indictment of the way the church in America has responded to the Lord’s command to “make disciples.” Perhaps we have been guilty of creating a false dichotomy in the gospel and failed to emphasize that faith in Jesus Christ is supposed to change the believer’s values to be Christlike.
The failure to connect faith and works is a problem for other areas of the world. Africa is one place where the number of confessing Christians has grown exponentially. In 1900, there were a reported 9 million Christians. By 2000, that number had risen to 380 million, and it is expected to reach 600 million by 2025.
“With this kind of growth, it is easy to believe that all is going well with the church in Africa,” observed Emmett Dunn, director of the Baptist World Alliance’s youth department. “But the lack of a Christlike lifestyle in dealing with matters of politics, ethnic tensions and social challenges” has created great challenges.
Speaking at a Bread of Life conference in Lagos, Nigeria, Dunn pointed out that 95 percent of Rwandans regard themselves as Christians. Yet Rwanda descended into genocidal chaos in 1994, when more than 800,000 people were killed in a matter of weeks. In Liberia, more than 85 percent of the population considers itself Christian. Yet the country underwent decades of civil wars that cost thousands of lives.
Being Christian does not mean that differences on social and political issues will disappear, but it does mean that disciples are to bring Christlike values to bear on every issue.
On the anniversary of the Arab Spring in January, the International Mission Board released a story in which a representative with extensive experience in the Arab world shared, “If you were talking to many Western Christians and we asked ourselves how to pray for places like Egypt, we might pray for stable governments, government that is not corrupted, for government that is representative.
“But those are often very Western prayers. We want to pray that we will take every opportunity we can to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give that cold cup of water in Jesus’ name. We must pray for the absence of fear for both believers in country and those from the West who are seeking to meet the needs of both the body and soul inside these countries.”
That is discipleship. That is linking faith and works.
In the current issue of Christianity Today, Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, and Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham, pay tribute to Francis Schaeffer, whom they call “the great prophet of the 20th century.” In the article, they wrote, “Drawing on Jesus’ words in John 13:34–35, Schaeffer reminds us that Jesus gave the world the right to decide the genuineness of our faith by our observable love for one another.
“Schaeffer’s challenge remains pertinent today,” they wrote. “The mark of Jesus in us is crucial and it is compelling. None of our activities — evangelism, social ministries, missions and worldview work — will receive God’s full blessing if they are not guided by the ‘final apologetic’ of demonstrating observable love for one another.”
Again faith and works go together.