Thursday, October 18, 2012

Faith and Works: Introduction

I. Introduction

For the average person, the debate of faith and works will change little in their lives with regard to how they live it out. Even still, I urge anyone who considers themselves a student of faith and of Christ to examine more closely the relationship of faith and works. The reason is not because I wish to change your faith or to suggest one good work over the other but rather that the way which we conceive a relationship between ideas affects those ideas.

I will give two analogies to help illustrate this:

A basketball coach conceives that defense wins games and because of this the offense of that team will proceed from the defense (e.g., turnovers lead to fast-break points, etc.). This is to say that the idea about defense builds the idea of the offense.

Tom Thibodeau, coach of the Chicago Bulls, prides his team on perfecting their defense first. The Bull's refined defense leads them to shutting down teams and winning even if they shoot 30% or score only 80-some points. Their offense depends on their (and the coach's) passion and vision for defense.
Likewise, when a man and a woman are married, one (or both) may have an image about what their marriage should look like, such as what a good husband/father/man does and what a good wife/mother/woman does. They make this image of what the relationship should strive for and they order their daily lives, thoughts, and actions to look like that idea and image—for good or ill.
Regardless of all the work that goes into the perfect photo, reception, and wedding, a couple gets married in order to live a full life together, a life of trials, periods of loneliness, difficulties, and disappointments just as much as they will experience joy, peace, and togetherness. The difficulty lies in the greater emphasis being placed on perfecting the beginning as opposed to perfecting each other along the way.

What I mean by these two analogies is that the way we look at faith and works are important. Where we may have an idea of faith and an idea of what (good) works are, the relationship between faith and works is a third idea added to these two. It is the nature of these ideas, so to speak, that I would like to write about for you.

As I considered the relationship between faith and works I found that the matter can be more difficult than it first appears because of the nature of faith. Faith can be a difficult subject for a few reasons. On the one hand faith is a very personal affair, for each one of us has experienced God in a particular way and we have grown in that relationship in various manners. On the other hand, the purpose of faith is unity, not just with God but with each other as well, for “I pray … that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they may also be in us, so that the world may believe that you sent me” (Jn 17:20, 21). Faith is furthermore described as “the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen” (Heb 11:1) which is related to ourselves as well as for the whole world. For why else would we pray, in faith, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” if it wasn't for the hope that all might be as one? In the Old Testament the covenant was for a people of God. Whether the king of Israel sinned or the people sinned the whole land was afflicted with injustice and many other evils. Faith in Christ is the new covenant. Through that faith we are all connected. Far be it from me to suggest faith is impersonal, but I hope to show in addition to faith being deeply personal that faith is at its core equally communal.
This depicts Moses speaking to the children of Israel. All of them are intently focused on him. They receive one word and one people which has come from one God.

When I reflected on works I found that whether or not one believes in the efficacy of works for salvation it nevertheless follows that good works are preferable to evil ones. Further still, whether good works are inspired by the Spirit or come about as a result of personal effort (or both) they are often considered a sign and expression of faith. Works point toward that supreme Good toward which all men strive to varying degree. I do, however, still plan to speak on works as they pertain to Scripture and how they pertain to faith in greater detail.

My overall goal is to elaborate on the relationship of faith and works in a manner that neither diminishes nor emphasizes one over the other. In short, how shall we understand this passage by James? “You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by the works … See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:22, 24).

With these introductory remarks being said I will move onto my investigation in subsequent pieces. I shall begin by moving away from directly speaking about this matter and instead focus on love. Perhaps if we examine love more closely we will see more clearly the matter at hand.

For next time:

To Speak of these Things We Must Speak about Love”