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014  Faith Equals Obedience

"By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them."

Paul the Apostle, Ephesians 2:8-10

"If you love me, you will keep my commandments."

Jesus, John 14:15

Last week I had a long conversation with a young man who does not believe that Catholic or Greek Orthodox churches are Christian. He argued that they are not Christian because they are not "biblical." They are not "biblical" because they do not teach their congregations that they are saved from the wrath of God by grace, but instead teach that they have to do good works to please God.

I think he may be mistaken regarding what the older denominations teach. However, what concerns me the most about his position is the horrible notion that the concern for the needy shown by these older, Christian denominations is for some reason to be dismissed as worthless. I hear Protestants say of them sometimes that they are "nice, but don't know God." I also encounter Protesants sometimes who restrain themselves from charitable works for fear that their good works might offend God. Incredible!

It is a common weakness to think that we are earning God's favor by our faithful Christian service. I've done it, and a lot of my fellow Protestants admit to having done it, too. It's always a mistake to think like that. Whenever I do, my inner peace vanishes and I end up walking around feeling miserable. Then I have to discover the error in my own thoughts and return to trusting God.

But it is also the case that people who possess real faith do good things with their faith. The eleventh chapter of the letter to the Hebrews is all about the powerful actions taken by faithful believers throughout the Old Testament. The Apostle James warns the churches that faith which does not produce good works is useless. "Show me your faith without works," he argues, "and I'll show you my faith by my works." (James 2:18) The Apostle John warns us not to be fooled by empty words: "The one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as [the Messiah] is righteous." (I John 2:7) And the Apostle Paul wrote the words that I included at the head of this message: doing good things is the very point for which God called us.

It takes real faith to take Jesus at His word. When He says "Follow me," only those who have faith will follow Him. When He says "Be baptized," only those who have faith will obey and get baptized. When He says "Visit the sick and feed the hungry," only those who trust Him, those who really want to be His disciples, actually do visit the sick and feed the hungry. I don't think Jesus cares much whether they heard His commands from a priest or read them for themselves in the Bible. I think He accepts whoever obeys Him.

So to those who dismiss Catholic or Orthodox believers because they're "nice, but not saved," I have a question:

How do you distinguish between good works done instead of trusting Jesus, and good works done because of trusting Jesus? (And what business is it of yours to judge that, anyhow?)

We may be entering a time when we no longer have the luxury of refusing the encouragement and fellowship of the rest of Christendom. The activists trying to remove our free speech rights don't seem to care much which church we attend. Those warriors from ISIS aren't asking the details of anybody's theology before they slice off their heads. "Christian?" Chop. So maybe we should just support the man next to us who may die for the name of Jesus, and shove aside any concerns we might have about his theology for a quieter time. 

Be good to anybody who names the Name, even if you think he's wrong how he does it, and I will try to do the same.


Phil Weingart


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