Faith v. Works, it’s a case that has been on trial among Christians for centuries. Just like many wars, I suspect that some blindly follow its cause. Some followers don’t even know its origin or even what they’re fighting for after being so many generations removed from the onset. For some, it’s a case they were taught to defend from early childhood, but never really understood its purpose and meaning. I suspect that this is the case for some, and likely many. Unfortunately, I think this case has gone on far too long and with unfortunate consequences. Fortunately, I think rational minds may be able to bring this case to a close with a peaceful resolution, even if only among themselves.
The impetus for this discursion is the notion that non-Christians cannot know God if they do not know Jesus, that they cannot be saved (past, present and future) if they do not believe that Jesus is God. Those who hold such a notion often refer to the first two thirds of passages in Romans chapter 10 for support, such as Romans 10:9: “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” They even use parts of Romans 10 as a link to Jesus’ Great Commission (see Mark 16:15 and Romans 10:14-15), which they use to reinforce the importance of the confession of the mouth, and consequently faith.
Now, I do not intend to diminish in any way the value of the confession of mouth that Jesus is God, or going into all the world preaching the Gospel. These things when done in the right spirit are precious and bring glory to God. However, if these things are not done, it doesn’t preclude someone from knowing God, or being saved. The common rebuttal to this argument is to quote John 14:6, which says: “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.'” Yes, I believe this to be true, but in a profoundly different way than the rebutter.
Ironically, the latter third of Romans chapter 10 provides some insight as to God’s character, and how people who don’t know the name of Jesus may know God and may have salvation. Paul cites passages from Psalms and Isaiah (see Romans 10:16-21) almost as if to calm and reassure believers that God reveals Himself to all inhabitants of earth, even if the revelations do not include Jesus by story and name. After all, is it our belief in what God has done that makes it significant, or is it independently what God has done that is significant? I’d argue the latter. Whether or not people know the story of Jesus, it does nothing to diminish the significance of Jesus. It is then in the hands of Almighty God to dispense grace and salvation, afforded to us by the atonement of Jesus, as He deems. Redemption with God is afforded to us by the atonement of Jesus, which correlates to John 4:16, but redemption with God is not reserved to only to those who have heard the story and name of Jesus, or confessed with their mouth that Jesus is God.
If you agree with the last sentence, then wouldn’t you agree that the debate over faith versus works is futile? Of course, one could argue that works are the outpouring of faith, so as to give faith preeminence. And of course, the other could argue that works is proof of faith, so as to give works preeminence. But, does one need to do a particular work to hold a particular faith? Or, does one need a particular faith to do a particular work? I think not. But, what would be the point of doing a particular work without holding a particular faith, or holding a particular faith without doing a particular work?
Faith and works only exist and have purpose when united. There is no dichotomy between faith and works, rather they are symbiotic. It may just be that what you say is not what you do, or what you do is not what you say – that you may place your faith in something other than what you profess, or that you do works that contradict your faith. I suspect that James would agree with me. James 2:21-24 says, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.”
So, isn’t the debate between faith and works unnecessary and unproductive? I think so. Would it not be better to focus on the ways in which our worldviews either support or contradict our way of life and visa versa? Wouldn’t we then have a greater understanding for what it is we really have faith in and why we do the works that we do? Again, I think so. It is the only way to increase knowledge of, responsibility to and care for. Of course, there are those who subscribe to the saying “ignorance is bliss,” but if they are capable of knowing, responsibility and care, I strongly believe they’re choosing ignorance at their peril.
And yet, perhaps these questions may remain for some: why become a Christian, or why do Christian proselytize, if knowing Jesus is not required to know God, or if confessing with the mouth that Jesus is God is not required to be saved? First, Christians believe that Jesus is God and that God is the one and only God. Christians believe that God is the one and only Truth and that there are no other gods. Second, just as one cannot know someone fully, even if your spouse, one can know someone more fully. The more one communes with another, the more one understands the other. Christians believe that if there is a faith we ought to hold, and works we ought to do, then there is God we ought to know, trust and obey – and He exists.
* Origin of Discursion: Talking with friends about misunderstandings about Christianity and the significance of Jesus.