THE GREAT DIVORCE
For centuries it has been going on. The controversy surges back and forth. In the great courts of doctrinal debate the papers are filed and the lawyers argue. But the divorce has not happened. Faith and works are married, and always will be!
Strangely enough it is not the marriage partners who are trying to divorce each other. It is the theologians, pastors, and evangelists who file the claims of "incompatibility"...
Also strangely enough, it was in the backwoods of a third-world country listening to an earnest, well-meaning evangelist (in the more Biblical sense of an evangelist, that is, one who goes forth into the "highways and byways" and "knocks on doors", not the modern concept of a preacher who comes to hold a week of meetings in some plush church-house, and never steps out to talk personally with the people) sharing the life-changing news to another of his fellow countrymen that it hit me fresh that faith and works are inseparable. Before I had considered them as two separate entities working independently. But somehow it hit me anew- can they truly be divorced?
The young evangelist had used a metaphor of a boat having two oars. "If you have only faith and no works, or you have only works and no faith, you are like rowing a boat with only one oar", he explained to his listener, "and you will go in circles if you have only one." Certainly you will go in circles if you have only one! But...
Really, can a man have faith and not have works? Can we say a man is saved by faith, and that surrendering to the principle of repentance follows his conversion (when he understands beforehand that repentance was taught by Christ)? Or, that after his conversion he has to make more decisions concerning sanctification and a consecrated life (again, when he knows that Ďwithout holiness no man shall see the LORDí)?
Ever since the Protestant reformation, it seems that many of the Protestants have had an aversion to "good works". "Salvation by faith alone" has been the battle cry. "Our own righteousness is as filthy rags" is another favorite. In some settings it almost seems as if the phrase "good works" has become a sort of "dirty word" that you use only when necessary to say how little value they have. To do them smells of rank legalism and earning salvation.
For all the erroneous wanderings of the Roman Catholic Church into selling indulgences, confessions to the priest, penances, and such like, the Protestant reformation has hit the other ditch with a resounding splash. You are as likely to hear that one doesn't need to confess openly his sins (suggesting that to do so is some sort of legalistic earning of salvation), just to God alone; that to make restitution is self-righteousness since that God clears all sin upon faith in him: "so just believe and be saved tonight. Donít worry about good works, they might come sooner or later, but they are not necessary. Salvation is by faith alone!" And in some cases the works do come: sometimes that is. And, sadly, "sometimes" it's years down the road before men deal thoroughly with their sin and find deliverance from it. Because we have divorced faith and works.
When a man and woman get married (in first-time situations), in God's eyes they become one flesh until death. Faith has been married to works from eternity past and will be forever. The confusion can come in because there are "works" not of faith. But there is no "saving" (for lack of a better term) faith without works. If a man says that he believes that "super- unleaded" gasoline is a better buy for the dollar than "regular unleaded", but whenever he buys gas he buys "regular unleaded", he has not put his faith in it. He may say it, and have a mental assent (which isnít faith) but he has not put his faith in it! If a man says he thinks the Democrats have a better plan than the Republicans, but always votes Republican, he has not put his faith in it. And a man that says he believes in Jesus, but does not repent of his sins (the ones he has knowledge of) has not put his faith in Christ.
Of course, a man can have works that do not originate in faith in Christ. These works are not the works that have married faith. Just like there are many Marys in this world, but only one was the wife of Joseph, "father" of Jesus. And there are many works in this world, but only one is married to faith in Christ. And the same as if you invited Joseph to come live in your house, Mary would have came also, the same that if faith comes into your heart, works will come too.
As there are works without faith, there is also a type of "faith" without works. In reality I hate to call it faith. I think it would better be called a "mental assent". In simpler words we might say someoneís mind agrees to a fact. When a person puts his trust in something, he acts upon that trust. We have faith in bridges when we drive across them. We can know a bridge exists right in front of us that will get us across the river, but if we do not drive across it, we have not chosen to put our faith in that bridge. Those that "believe" in Christ with mental assent that He indeed is the Christ, but choose not to put their whole life into that knowledge, are like the man that believes a bridge will get him across a river, but refuses to drive across it. He believes with his mind, but he has not put his faith in the bridge. We can "believe" in Jesus with our mind, but not put our faith in him. This is "faith" (notice the quotation marks) without works.
(Note- sometimes the word "believe" is used as "to give a mental assent to" and sometimes it is used as meaning to "trust, or put faith in". Whenever you hear or read the word, be sure you put the right definition to it!)
Once a man has eaten of the fruit of the tree of knowledge and evil (the law), there is no turning back. He knows what is right and wrong in a matter, and for the rest of his life he is accountable to it. Once a man knows that fornication it sin, he will have no peace with God until he deals with it in his heart. If he is living in fornication, there is no salvation for that man until in his heart he gives it up. Perhaps you say, "that is salvation by works". If a man believes in Jesus, and knows that Jesus considers fornication sin, he will surrender his heart to whom he believes in. If he does not surrender his heart, he has not put his faith in Christ. If he believes, he WILL act.
It is for this reason that it seems harder for a child raised in a Christian home to come to Christ than those who have not. Notice, that I use the word "seems". When one comes to Christ in faith, an unconditional surrender is necessary. A surrender of looking to ourself (or another) for life and help, to the life and help of Christ. Perhaps the word surrender sounds "worksy". But is it faith if a man comes to Christ saying, "I believe in you, but Iím going to continue in my own road"? Perhaps this is the reason for such a lack of genuine spirituality in churches- men adding Jesus to their own program. Like putting a bumper sticker that says "California bound" on your bumper, but still heading for Florida... For this, a child raised in Christian home who knows that (for example) the Bible teaches for a woman to have long hair and a man to have short hair will never, I repeat, NEVER, find peace with God until his/her heart surrenders to that (if it has been in rebellion to it) knowledge of good and evil. You can say, "They can be saved without that if they have faith." But if they have faith, and believe what the Bible says, they will ACT upon what they know. To say they believe in Jesus, and then run right over what he says, is foolishness and mockery. To put our faith in Christ is to surrender our heart to whatever he says. For this reason those that know more are more accountable, and faith will mean more immediate works.
Those who have been fed more from the tree of knowledge of good and evil have more "things" to deal with in their surrender than the innocent ones. The cowboy paraphernalia (boots, hat, buckle, etc.) have to be surrendered by the worldly minded young man who loves this form of worldliness (when he knows that God hates the pride that comes with being stylish) before he can enter the kingdom. The innocent young man next to him can enter the kingdom running, and leaping, and praising God with his snakeskin boots, 6 inch buckle, and shiny black hat. But above and beyond these particulars, nothing less than a complete surrender of our will to the will of God shall allow us to become God's son.
Anyone that knows much of any thing of Christ knows that Jesus had a real problem with the way we naturally go. One of his first sermons recorded in the gospels is a short one that contains a very important word. "Repent". Can we say we believe in Christ but not have repentance? Can we throw ourselves upon him, and overlook what he has told us to do? Can we expect to find peace with him when we know we are walking over his sayings? "If you love me, keep my commandments" he tells us. And then we expect to come to him for salvation and forgiveness without surrendering to Him and changing our ways (in our hearts)? Absolute nonsense! Sound "worksy"? Sounds like faith to me! I believe, therefore I do!
Another possible area of confusion is when the lack of knowledge comes in. If a man has absolutely no knowledge of the good and evil God has proclaimed, and only hears the message "Look to Christ and be saved!"; he can be saved by the same faith as anyone else. He can be saved and be living in fornication, his hair can be to his belt, and he can have a Buddha statue in his living room. Without any knowledge that these are sins in God's eyes, still, by believing in Christ, he can be saved: and go home, lay with his prostitute, bow to his Buddha, and sleep in peace with his long hair. And he would have a security as sure as the Apostle Paul had should he die that night. His faith is in Christ.
This is an extreme example of course. As time goes on, and he learns more of Christ and his teachings, the idol, prostitute, and long hair WILL go if he maintains his faith. For him to say "I was saved by faith with my idol, a prostitute, and long hair, (without these particular works being reconciled- in ignorance) so I can maintain my relationship with Christ without doing any more works" is, of course, nonsense. Can a man believe in Christ and not listen to what he says?
The man on the cross was saved by faith. But had he been able to get down from that cross 3 seconds after his confession of that faith, the works would have started. In his heart, the works were started. Only a few big nails hindered him. I donít know what he would have done first- make restitution, reconcile with an enemy, go home and rejoice: but the good works would have started. Immediately! He had repented of them in his heart when he believed on Christ. Even though he had not outwardly changed anything, God knew his heart and the reconciliation was done. God knew that he truly believed, and given the opportunity, he would do, starting immediately!
If we had to wait until our knowledge was up to a certain level and the proof of our belief lived out until we could have assurance of salvation, we would have a tough time of it. God saw that Abraham believed in Him, and it was accounted to him for righteousness even though he had not left Ur nor offered Isaac as of yet. And God sees our hearts when we look to him in faith. He saves us as soon as the faith starts. And the works will start in our life immediately also. Those areas where we are in rebellion and know it are surrendered (immediately). Circumstances may keep us from "living it out", but in our hearts the works are done. We have left Ur and sacrificed Isaac already. Because we believed! When he believes, the man with the idol has left his idol in God's eyes. The prostitute has been put away and the long hair has been cut. Because God knows that whatever he says will be done by the man that has faith.
Faith without works isnít faith. Faith that does not surrender the heart to the knowledge of good and evil that it has (repentance) is not faith. Faith that does not grow in more and more good fruits is not faith. Faith is married to good works!
I am convinced that in trying to make salvation so simple we have divorced it from good works at times. Yes it is true, "believe in Jesus and you shall be saved." Put so much of your trust in him that you start doing what he has told you, and are committed to do what he will tell you. Trust him "lock, stock, and barrel". Be so convinced of Him that you will believe what he has said, will do what he has said, and want to know more of what he said. Absolutely, thoroughly, totally, completely convinced that he is the Son of God, and has the message of God for mankind. And that he knows what he is talking about. Believe him so thoroughly that you do what he says even though you donít understand the reason why he wants you to. As the saying is: put all your eggs in one basket. This is faith.
I believe- therefore I do... -Mike Atnip