Monday, July 18, 2011

The Top 10 Things Every Christian Should Know #7

Number 7- "Work" Is Not A Bad Word

There is a pervasive mind-set within the American Christian community that to do works is somehow in opposition to the Gospel. If you've ever heard a pastor or a well-meaning Christian chastise someone for acts of service by saying, "That's works, brother" then you know what I'm talking about.

It's easy to understand how this idea has crept into the Church here in America. We've equated the idea of doing good works with Liberal Theology, or cultic misunderstandings of the gift of salvation. By doing so, we've defined service to others out of existence, and in some cases we've even made people feel guilty for acting out their faith in any overt way.

Our mantra has become, "Salvation is a free gift! You can't do anything to earn it, and you don't need to do anything to keep from losing it." Therefore, we've concluded by inference, or by direct argumentation, that works of any kind must be in opposition to the concept of the free gift of salvation offered to us by the work of Christ on our behalf upon the cross of Calvary.

However, this idea of works being against the Law of Grace is a twisted concept. Paul the Apostle never teaches this, Peter never teaches it, and Jesus certainly doesn't ever suggest that doing good works is against the will of God. Far from it. The fact is, Jesus and the writers of the New Testament all agree that to be a follower of Christ is to be a doer of good works.

The real problem lies in our misunderstanding of the concept of Grace. Our pulpits have been polluted with a gross misrepresentation of what Grace is really all about.

First, let's talk about what Grace is not. It is not a free pass to sin so that you can pray for forgiveness when you're all done. It is not a license to do nothing. It's also not a "Get out of good works free" card.

Grace is opposed to earning your salvation. It is not opposed to exerting effort towards helping someone in need or serving others as you would like to be served.

Our misunderstanding of Grace has confused our calling and purpose on this Earth as Christ's Ambassadors. It has given us permission to barricade the doors of the Church, shutting us off from the pain and suffering beyond our sacred walls. It has infected us with apathy and assuaged our guilt with lies about how we might endanger our salvation if we act out the love of Christ.

I find it fascinating that one of the main verses of scripture used to argue in favor of this twisted version of Grace contains a clear call to do good works in response to the Grace of God;

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." - Ephesians 2:8-10

There it is. Grace and Works in the same breath. One does not cancel out the other, in fact, if you really understand Grace your first response will be to serve God with all your heart simply because you truly understand what has been done for you...and what it cost.

To be a follower of Jesus is to be one who is saved by Grace, not by the works they do. At the same time, the works they do testify to the fact that they have been so redeemed by this Grace, and that it is real, and lasting, and effective.

My dumbed-down expression of this process is, "Swimming won't make you a fish, but if you're a fish you will swim!"

Early on, from the beginning really, the followers of Jesus were known for their good deeds and their works of kindness and compassion to others. They even wrote an entire book of the Bible on the subject of doing good works and they named the book "Works", or "Acts". In fact, the only way to carry out the command of Jesus to "love one another" is to do something.

Love, it turns out, really is a verb.


2 comments: said...

Love the swimming fish analogy. John Wesley, whose theology was grounded in "works of piety" AND works of mercy, said that once we are saved by the grace of God we WANT to do good works. It's like the love of your life--you WANT to do things for the one you love so much,not to win their love or ensure that you keep their love, but to show your love for them for love's sake.

Kass said...

I liked this and learned from it. Thank you.