Faith and Works
There was a guy up at the front of our main campus building with a sign, “Church is a joke, have a personal relationship with Jesus.” So I went up to talk to him, but when I got there I sat back and watched some of the interactions others were having with him. Most of the people that were approaching him were Protestant. They would scream at him and say the sign was offensive and that he was reading the Bible wrong. But was he? I started thinking, who are you to tell him his interpretation of the Bible was worse than your interpretation of the Bible? Really, what qualifies you to interpret the bible? You say you read the Bible a lot, but how did you know that he does not read it more than you? Your pastor told you his interpretation, but what qualifies your pastor?
The Bible is a rather large book and has a lot that one can pick up and interpret with ease; however, there is a lot in the Bible that is not so easy to interpret and in fact is pretty damn hard. St. Peter even makes this statement in the Bible: “There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.” Would the real interpreter of the Bible please stand up!
In the 1500’s there was a man most of us know, Martin Luther. He was heralded as the savior of Christianity and the freer of the bible from those supposed, “dark Medieval Catholics.” Most importantly, it is believed that Martin Luther freed the Bible and Christianity from the tyranny of the Pope. He is said to have given the power back to the people.
Now, us Americans go crazy for teachings like this. This is what our country is founded upon, this is our national pride! However, Martin Luther actually was not breaking from the Catholic Church’s authority to give power back to the people; he thought his interpretation of the Bible was the interpretation that should now be adopted by all Christians. He wanted to get rid of the letter of James and the book of Revelation. He called the letter of James the “epistle of straw.” He said that it contradicted his new theory that man is saved by faith alone, not by works. Martin Luther believed his new interpretation with such enthusiasm that he said, “sin boldly!” And that, if a Christian was to commit adultery 1,000 times in one day, yet believed that Jesus was his savior, he would still be justified – that’s a lot of viagra!
James speaks strongly concerning works, saying: “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead (James 2:17).” It also makes you think of that reading from St. Paul that you hear so much at weddings its seems to be on repeat: “and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing (1 Cor. 13:2).” 1 John 3:6-9 also states, “Anyone who abides in him does not sin; He who commits sin is of the devil…The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil…Anyone born of God does not sin…By this it may be seen who are the children of God, and who are the devil.” I don’t think I want to sin boldly.
What Did Paul Mean?
What did Paul mean by the words, saved by faith, not by works? Paul was referring not to works of love, but works of the Law of Moses – in which, a Jew believed, if he lived by these laws he would be justified (pleasing) before the LORD GOD. In the Torah, there are 613 commands given that a Jew must follow. Moses taught if a Jew follows all the laws they will be blessed, but if they fail they will be cursed (Deuteronomy 28). However, Moses’ laws were flawed, and Moses knew this! And so did Paul. Why then do Jews have to follow them?
Paul says they were added, because of transgression (Galatians 3:19). In Exodus, God gives his people His laws, the Ten Commandments and a series of other laws to help them become a nation when they get into the promise land. However, while Moses was on the mountain with the LORD GOD, God’s people were down at the bottom of the mountain having a big orgy. Scripture says they, “rose up to play (Exodus 32:6),” and that isn’t to pass go and collect 200 dollars. During their travel to the promise land they murmured and broke the covenant with God so much, that God did what He always does when one continues in sin, He gave them what they wanted.
He backed off and let Moses make the laws, because they were tired of this invisible God – and that’s exactly what they got, Moses’ laws (found mostly in Deuteronomy). Laws such as, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth (Deuteronomy 19:21), ability to divorce (Deut. 24), and total extermination of nations that inhabited the promised land (Deut. 20). THESE WERE NOT GOD’S LAWS! Why did Moses command these things?
They were the lesser of two evils. Moses knew God’s people were stubborn and hardhearted, so he made concessions on God’s law. For instance, if Moses would have commanded that divorce was forbidden, many of the Israelite husbands would have killed their wives for the chance to remarry. Why total extermination of the nations? The nations inhabiting the promise land were so corrupt that beastiality (Leviticus 18:23), burning of their children to the Canaanite god Molech (Lev. 18:21), incest (Lev. 18:6-18), witchcraft (Lev. 19:26), etc. were common acts. Moses foresaw the Israelites were not leaders, but followers and if they were surrounded with acts like these they would participate in them – and most likely become even more corrupt than them (and they did; Ezekiel 16:47).
Sin is messy, the law is messy. That is why one is not saved by Moses’ laws, but Jesus’ perfect laws. “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17).” “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven..'(Matthew 5:43-45).” “He said to them, ‘For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so’ (Matthew 19:8-9).”
Faith in Jesus is not an intellectual belief he is savior, but a full entrustment of one’s life to his WAY, because he is the TRUTH, and the LIFE. “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Mt. 5:20, the Pharisees and the scribes were teachers of Moses’ law).”
Martin Luther described salvation with this statement: One day when he was traveling by a cow farm it started to snow. He saw the snow falling on the cow dung and the snow slowly covered the dung, so all that he could see was the snow. He had an epiphany (so he thought): Grace is like the snow and the Christian is like the…poop. When one accepts Jesus as Savior, the grace covers the soul and all that God can see is grace.
What the heck! Really! So, we are turdsicles? It’s like God has on beer goggles and the ugly dude, through the faith lens, suddenly seems cute.
The Catholic Church teaches not, snow covered cow dung, but inner transformation. You can not change on your own, only by grace is real transformation possible. Without grace, the outside can only be changed into niceness, but the inside will still be filled with envy, greed, gossip, lust etc. So grace comes in and cleans the “crap” out of your soul, leaving you as white as snow on the inside and out; but be forewarned! Grace also demands hard work! It is like someone who never really took the health of his body serious, but one night saw an Insanity infomercial and realized he needed to get in shape. Does this realization automatically transform his potbelly into a ripped 6 pack? Ah..no, now comes the hard part, actually doing it! But, just like in the gym, one day after much hard work you will look at your soul and you will see some of the same heavenly strength as this lady:
Or this guy:
The Catholic Church envisions Heaven as a party for those perfected in love, by grace and sacrifice! One of my favorite movies is Cinderella Man. It’s about the true story of the boxer, Jim Braddock. He was one of the world’s best boxers, but during the Great Depression he lost everything. His family was about to be separated, because he couldn’t afford to pay the heat in the dead of winter. Braddock did what any amazing Catholic father would do, he humbled himself so much that he begged for money in order to keep his family together. This is faith working through love (Galatians 5:6).
“Love; It will not betray you, Dismay or enslave you, it will set you free, Be more like the man you were made to be“
– Mumford and Sons, Sigh No More