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Christians: Faith or Works?
06-01-2009, 07:39 PM (This post was last modified: 06-01-2009 07:40 PM by Parousia.)
Post: #1
Christians: Faith or Works?
My first thread! Smile I was surprised not to find a thread on this already or maybe I just did not look hard enough.

The Question: What is needed for salvation / eternal reward? Faith? Works? Both?

Exactly what and why?

My own opinion is that Jesus himself very plainly stated that it is works that is necessary and he downplays the role of faith. (Note: All verses below are NIV.)

Matthew 19:16-19

16 Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?"
17 "Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments."
18 "Which ones?" the man inquired.
Jesus replied, " 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony,
19 honor your father and mother,' and 'love your neighbor as yourself.'"


Some observations:
  • In v16, the direct question is posed – how to obtain eternal life.
  • In v17, Jesus takes the trouble to downplay his own part in it.
  • In answer to the question, Jesus then quotes several of the Ten Commandments, but leaves out all of the ‘religious’ ones.
  • But he adds “love your neighbor as yourself”, a good catchall for everything else one should do or not do to act morally.

This passage is repeated almost verbatim in Mark 10:17-21 and Luke 18:18-22.

The “love your neighbor as yourself” formula is repeated a number of times in Matthew, Mark and Luke as the second greatest commandment, the first being to love God.

Matthew 22:39
Mark 12:31
Mark 12:33
Luke 10:27-28

Luke emphasizes that “do this and you will live”. He also tells us of the Good Samaritan, not a Jew but a good neighbor nonetheless.

And finally Matthew records the parable of the Sheep and the Goats. Matthew 25:31-46

The ones who performed works of charity are rewarded with eternal life. Those who did not receive eternal punishment. Neither was aware of any religious import at the time they acted. It was all about works.

All of these passages support the idea that it is works that counts when it comes to earning eternal life with no mention of faith at all and even an explicit downplaying of the role of Jesus or any religious intentions.

What’s your opinion?
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06-01-2009, 11:10 PM
Post: #2
RE: Christians: Faith or Works?
(06-01-2009 07:39 PM)Parousia Wrote:  ...The Question: What is needed for salvation / eternal reward? Faith? Works? Both?...

...My own opinion is that Jesus himself very plainly stated that it is works that is necessary and he downplays the role of faith...

Several times Jesus does talk about faith--your faith has saved you (Luke 7:50)...I have not found such faith in all of Israel (Luke 7:9)...when the Son of Man returns will he find faith (Luke 18:8)...and so on.

While Jesus does talk about works, sometimes there is a "humanly impossible" aspect to the works--what is impossible for us is possible for God (Matthew 19:26)...and just the tiniest bit of faith can accomplish the seemingly impossible (Luke 17:6).

I guess my vote is for "faith" as primary, with the caveat that our faith is demonstrated in the works that we do.

http://www.biblicaltraining.org/ --- http://www.ntwrightpage.com/
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06-02-2009, 08:57 PM
Post: #3
RE: Christians: Faith or Works?
(06-01-2009 11:10 PM)Stereophonic Wrote:  Several times Jesus does talk about faith--your faith has saved you (Luke 7:50...I have not found such faith in all of Israel (Luke 7:9)...when the Son of Man returns will he find faith (Luke 18:8)...and so on.

While Jesus does talk about works, sometimes there is a "humanly impossible" aspect to the works--what is impossible for us is possible for God (Matthew 19:26)...and just the tiniest bit of faith can accomplish the seemingly impossible (Luke 17:6).

I guess my vote is for "faith" as primary, with the caveat that our faith is demonstrated in the works that we do.
That is an interesting choice of references – exploring several aspects of what faith means.

Luke 7:36-50

The woman repents of her sins and is forgiven. Her faith has saved her. But what exactly did she have faith in? Presumably that Jesus was the Messiah and had the power to forgive sins. (The idea that the Messiah was God was not in the popular imagination at this time, but the Son of Man mentioned in Daniel was to come down from heaven and could reasonably be assumed to have more authority than a mere prophet.)

Forgiveness of sins is an important aspect of obtaining eternal life. The injunctions given by Jesus in the several references I gave mandate performing good actions and avoiding bad actions. But nobody is perfect (even if the rich man claimed to be) and there will inevitably be a need for forgiveness along the way. But it seems to me that it was the woman’s strongly repentant attitude that was most important. Jesus notes that she recognized that he had the ability to forgive sins, but I am sure she would not have been forgiven on that account alone, without repentance.

Luke 7:1-10

The centurion’s servant is healed at a distance, because the centurion believed Jesus could do it. Jesus is not physically present anymore but his power is not diminished because of that. But will the centurion receive eternal life? It seems to me that it depends on whether he follows the admonitions of Jesus on how to receive eternal life – do good works, avoid evil ones.

Luke 18:1-8

This parable urges people to ‘keep the faith’, to not give up hope that vindication is on the way. The bad will be punished and the good rewarded, as promised. It strikes me not so much as an indication of faith being an essential requisite for that reward except as it may influence action.

The three parables in Matthew 25 have a similar import but go even further. The “bridegroom” is late but he will come. While the master is away keep doing good things with your ‘talents’ (oh happy coincidence of meanings!) What things? Good works of course so you will be among those rewarded.

Matthew 19:23-30

A common belief at that time was that worldly success was a sign of God’s favor. When Jesus says that a rich man will have a hard time getting into heaven, the disciples are shocked. If a rich man (favored by God) has trouble, what about the dirt poor disciples who have given up everything to follow Jesus on the road? Jesus assures them that they should not be concerned because the last shall be first and the first last – an idea straight out of the Vindication tenet of apocalypticism: the scales will be balanced when the end of days arrives. The good will be rewarded in the kingdom of heaven and the evil punished.

Luke 17:5-6

It seems to me that Jesus only makes promises like this – performing miracles through faith – to the disciples, who he expects to carry on his mission throughout the world. I have this suspicion that this was a way of arming these few individuals mentally and spiritually for what was going to be a tough job, and not an offer made to everyone in the world. We see Paul mention miracles being performed by apostles/disciples and Luke describing them extensively in Acts. But let’s face it: mountain moving is a pretty rare event these days despite what seems to be an abundance of genuine faith in some quarters. That’s my opinion anyway.


Your references were certainly interesting and even thought provoking, but it still seems to me that works is the important factor.
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06-02-2009, 10:43 PM
Post: #4
RE: Christians: Faith or Works?
(06-02-2009 08:57 PM)Parousia Wrote:  ...it still seems to me that works is the important factor...

What good work did the lost sheep do?

What good work did the prodigal son do?

The lost sheep no doubt is frightened and desperate, hoping to be rescued; and the prodigal son does recoil from his own self-inflicted misery to seek mercy from his father. Do you view repentance and/or cries of desperation as "good works"? Or are they just frank admissions that we cannot save ourselves from the messes which we have created for ourselves.

Are we really capable of doing good works on our own, without the help of God? Is "remaining in the vine" a good work? (John 15:4)

It does seem that Jesus expects his followers to do good works, but the good works are not the basis for their salvation, but rather they are the fruit or evidence of the salvation which could only be gained through Jesus' own work on our behalf (else why would Jesus have needed to die for the sins of the world?).

I know this is disjointed--it's late and I need some sleep!

http://www.biblicaltraining.org/ --- http://www.ntwrightpage.com/
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06-03-2009, 10:15 AM
Post: #5
RE: Christians: Faith or Works?
The problem here, a problem that many theists have, is you're taking a parable meant to illustrate a specific subject and you're applying it to a different subject. Parables are never perfect. Metaphors are never perfect. Over-analyze them and insist that they are perfect, and you just get lies.

What does the Prodigal Son teach? It teaches that God is forgiving to the repentant. It teaches that no matter what you've done, you can come to God. It teaches that those who have not done bad things, who have been faithful, should not resent these new converts. It is NOT the end-all-be-all of the salvation story.

You know, it's weird. I generally insist that the Bible be taken literally, or else it is meaningless (as a religious book. It always has meaning as a historical and moral work.) But taking the Bible literally means understanding literary form to be able to tell when it's intentionally speaking metaphorically. When Jesus tells a parable, he's speaking in metaphor. And yet Christians who cherry-pick their verses and don't take the Bible literally seem to cling to those parables as literal truth. It's just weird.
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06-03-2009, 10:53 AM
Post: #6
RE: Christians: Faith or Works?
(06-03-2009 10:15 AM)GTseng3 Wrote:  ...yet Christians who cherry-pick their verses and don't take the Bible literally seem to cling to those parables as literal truth...

You are talking in vague generalities here, without making any specific claims about any actual sentence or phrase in any of the above posts. Who is clinging to these parables as literal truth, and what "literal truth" are you talking about?

Please be specific: quote fom the actual post and say what it is that you understand the poster to be saying. I think if you do this, it will become evident that you are not debating any actual poster on this thread, but rather with your own preconceived notions of what you assume the poster(s) to be saying.

I will say, however, that you are correct when you write "Parables are never perfect. Metaphors are never perfect. Over-analyze them and insist that they are perfect, and you just get lies."

http://www.biblicaltraining.org/ --- http://www.ntwrightpage.com/
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06-03-2009, 11:30 AM
Post: #7
RE: Christians: Faith or Works?
I think you meant to reply to Stereophonic. He is the one talking about the Prodigal Son. But I see Stereo has already picked up the ball.

I will rejoin the fray (Big Grin) tonight when I have more time.
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06-03-2009, 11:32 AM
Post: #8
RE: Christians: Faith or Works?
You, when you ask what good work the prodigal son did, and what good work the sheep did. The tale of the lost sheep is a tale of the jealousy of God, and how the shepherd wants all his sheep, and looks after them. Quite honestly, I'd hope that people wouldn't see themselves as merely sheep, that's a rather insulting metaphor if you take it too far. So obviously it doesn't have works in it, that's not what the parable is about.

As for the Prodigal Son, the works are actually done by the elder brother. He works well, he works hard, and he gets the reward (the rest of his father's lands will be his.) Theoretically, after the prodigal returns home he will also do those works.

But in both cases, the parables are not about works at all. They're about the mercy of God. Don't try to take parables about the mercy of God and use it to say works are not necessary.
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06-03-2009, 09:02 PM
Post: #9
RE: Christians: Faith or Works?
(06-02-2009 10:43 PM)Stereophonic Wrote:  What good work did the lost sheep do?...
The lost sheep no doubt is frightened and desperate, hoping to be rescued
Matthew 18:1-14

The lost sheep parable really needs to be taken in the context of the preceding verses. The chapter begins with the familiar apocalypticist “first shall be last” idea, this time using the idea of becoming a humble child in order to be great in the kingdom. This is followed by a fierce admonition to never cause a child to sin and to avoid causes of sin at all costs.

The parable of the lost sheep is explicitly about rescuing children from the danger of sin.
See v14 “In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.” There is no mention of the lost sheep being frightened and desperate. Even if he was having the time of his life on an adventure, he would still need rescuing from the danger of sin. It seems to me that the shepherd is not Jesus or God who is going to go rescue children who are heading toward sin. Rather it is we who are charged with ensuring that children are kept from the danger of sin, with severe penalties previously cited. V6: “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”
(06-02-2009 10:43 PM)Stereophonic Wrote:  What good work did the prodigal son do?...
…and the prodigal son does recoil from his own self-inflicted misery to seek mercy from his father.
… Do you view repentance and/or cries of desperation as "good works"? Or are they just frank admissions that we cannot save ourselves from the messes which we have created for ourselves.
Luke 15:11-32

The prodigal son repented of his evil ways and returned home, “works” also meaning obeying the commandments as Jesus said, not just doing charity. (Of course he only did it because he ran out of money.) He was welcomed back into the family. The father did nothing except welcome him. The moral here is that that there can be forgiveness of sin if repentance is sincere. But nowhere do I see the son getting any help (except circumstantial) with his giving up sin and repenting for it. He did it himself as far as I can see. This is why the father is so joyful.
(06-02-2009 10:43 PM)Stereophonic Wrote:  Are we really capable of doing good works on our own, without the help of God? Is "remaining in the vine" a good work? John 15:4
John 15:1-17

Again, read it all in context. How does one remain in Jesus?

10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love,

12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.

14 You are my friends if you do what I command.

17This is my command: Love each other.


(06-02-2009 10:43 PM)Stereophonic Wrote:  It does seem that Jesus expects his followers to do good works, but the good works are not the basis for their salvation, but rather they are the fruit or evidence of the salvation which could only be gained through Jesus' own work on our behalf (else why would Jesus have needed to die for the sins of the world?).
Why Jesus died is a complicated question in my opinion. One short answer is the Catholic one: to redeem original sin, but we still have to repent and pay for our personal sins. (Not that I am a Catholic, you understand…) This question would probably be a complete thread in its own right and I am not sure I have the time and energy to do it, especially with half a dozen other threads boiling over in my brain. Wink

Epilog
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06-06-2009, 01:41 PM (This post was last modified: 06-06-2009 01:50 PM by Stereophonic.)
Post: #10
RE: Christians: Faith or Works?
Like all of the other posts here on this thread, this is hardly the definitive, end-all-be-all theological treatise; still, these passages are understood by many Christians to indicate that faith has priority (even though outword works are supposed to be a normal indicator of inward faith):

Quote:For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God's one and only Son (John 3:16-18, ESV, emphasis added).

Quote:Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:28-29, ESV, emphasis added).

Quote:Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26, ESV, emphasis added)

Quote:Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:30-31, ESV, emphasis added).

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