A long standing argument is whether good works or faith alone gets you into heaven, that is salvation by justification. To state it differently, is it enough just getting on God’s good side or are you guaranteed a place in heaven by simply believing in Him?
In a future post, I’ll argue you may be in God’s favor by your good works even when you are not a Christian. But for the current discussion, we have two theories on the path to salvation based on doctrine from the Catholic Church and its rival churches.
Good works are actions we impart on our fellow humans that are objectivley good in nature, however simple or complex in execution. For example, returning something that someone dropped by handing it back to them is a nice simple gesture. Something more extreme is a philanthopist who donates all his fortune to aide the poor. Both are good natured with positive outcomes, hence something that should be pleasing to God.
Faith is the unequivocal and unfailling belief in the existence of God and His son Jesus as Christ and savior of man. This is a seemingly simple thing to do, right? But as I continue to express here, there’s a major difference between “thinking of God” and full-on “belief in God’s existance” with faith in His power over your life.
“8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. 9 For we are Gods fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.” – 1 Corinthians 3:8-9 (ESV)
For attainment of salvation, we’re comparing two approaches, one executed internally and the other externally. To argue over the supremecy of one over the other is incorrect, because your intent is what really matters. Being altruistic or selfish both come from your state of being. Whether it’s discernable by man or not, it’s always so by God. If you do “good works with ill intentions” is it still a good work and will God accept that? Likewise, if you wholly believe in God but live a selfish life, does your belief alone make up for it?
God is watching our every move, inspecting our every thought, measuring our hearts intent. This is true of all who walk this earth, Christian or not. God is overseer and His judgment comes as a result of our overall behavior, thoughts and inner state of being combined. If you outright do not believe in God, or worse denounce God, you are in a separate category of discussion, with the latter being unforgivable.
The early church developed a complex understanding and set of guidelines based around the teachings of Jesus. However, people were uneducated across most of civilization throughout history. Widespread education is a very recent occurrence, starting in the 20th Century. Evangelists, Pastors and Priests had to educate an illiterate population on very sophisticated ideas. The only way to do so was by simplifying those ideas into basic parameters of behavioral rules and simple church rituals. You learned and practiced those rules at church. Whether you understood the value and meaning or not, you were told that your salvation was assured by practicing them.
Church rules of conduct are very effective in keeping people acting pleasantly in society. But other than getting along with each other, could it really lead to salvation if you don’t “get it”, that is, the overall meaning of your Christian commitment? The gnostics argued that salvation can only be had when one truly connects spiritually with God, a connection that comes from a powerful and deep understanding of God and by His willful inclusion of you. Hence, no spirit inside of you, than no connection to God, than no salvation.
Sola fide, also known as justification by faith alone, is the core doctrine of the Reformation. At the time of it’s inception, the Catholic Church was in a poor state, with politics ruling the church more than the proper adherence to Jesus’ teachings. It was a much needed philosophical shift to bring the power of salvation through Christ back to the individual and out of the sole authority of the church leaders. The new reformed idea was that God speaks to us all and not just to the privileged few.
It must be clearly stated that the great thinkers through all of Christendom, from the Apostles, Saint Thomas Aquinas and Martin Luther, to todays great Christian leaders like the Grahams and Osteens and Pope Francis, have given the deepest scrutiny to every detail of the Bible, the church, it’s history and it’s future. Keep in perspective that during the Reformation it was a much simpler time. The ideas as conveyed to the public then were intentionally made easy to understand by necessity. For us today, that can no longer suffice. We understand the complexities of our human selves and that God can only be infinitely more complex. There can be no more catch phrases to lead us to a greater understanding and connection to God.
I also want to point out that there is no one formula for all peoples of this earth. Each individual is being evaluated by their own thoughts and actions. Two extreme examples are: One person being the most giving loving person in the world with absolutely no connection to God. Another is a person who is the most faithful to God, but never connects with other people. The majoroty of us are in between.
God’s universe of math, physics, energy and matter, along with His methods for controlling it, are complex beyond our understanding of it. It stands to reason that His requirements for salvation are equally complex.
Good works please God. Belief in God (faith) connects you to God. But it is your overall “life with God” that’ll matter in this existence and the next. Don’t let pride or ignorance stop you from experiencing the finest state of being possible. Include God in your already awesome life. If you’re struggling, reject the enemies game playing and replace it with a renewed assurance of Gods bounty and salvation.
Invite God into your world. Read Gods word as taught by Jesus, it will change you. Let God’s Spirit that is Holy fuse with yours and empower you to accomplish things beyond your imagination. This is not just a new beginning. It is justification. It is salvation. It is a profound energy of love that will live in you and ignite all that you touch.