He Made Me a Believer Again!
C. Michael Patton is a writer I can’t recommend enough. His excellent Parchment and Pen blog had an especially great offering today. I started by disagreeing with the premise, but by the end, he had me believing his thesis wholeheartedly.
I think that good works are often neglected in the course of our salvation. I believe that good works are not only important, but a necessary part of salvation. I believe this next to writers like J.P. Holding, who attempt to view the Bible through the lens of first century Judaism. Holding writes that believers are saved not just through faith, not just through works, but through the Semitic totality concept of both faith and works cooperating with one another. This is the camp I sit in.
Please understand one very important thing: I am not saying that good works are the way that one is saved. I’m saying that good works are related in a very special way to the salvation of the worker. Good works flow from one’s salvation naturally. Holding says:
Applied to the role of works following faith, this means that there can be no decision without corresponding action, for the total person will inevitably reflect a choice that is made. Thought and action are so linked under the Semitic Totality paradigm that Clark warns us [An Approach to the Theology of the Sacraments, 10]:
The Hebraic view of man as an animated body and its refusal to make any clear-cut division into soul and body militates against the making of so radical a distinction between material and spiritual, ceremonial and ethical effects.
Thus, what we would consider separate actions of conversion, confession, and obedience in the form of works would be considered by the Hebrews to be an act in totality. “Both the act and the meaning of the act mattered — the two formed for the first Christians an indivisible unity.” [Flemington, New Testament Doctrine of Baptism, 111]
Put another way: You can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs. If you are a committed Christian, your life and attitudes are going to show that. If you aren’t, then your life and attitudes will show that. The work of the Spirit will manifest in the true believer.
But Patton forgoes all the discussion about works and instead says that right knowledge and right doctrine are pleasing to God in and of themselves. It seems to Patton, God wants first to be understood.
And that makes sense. We’ll never fully understand God, but we can endeavor to know him personally through Jesus Christ. And in the end, that is what will truly matter. As the prophet Jeremiah said:
Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD. (Jer 9:23-24)
Although I agree with Patton in principle, in practice we would do well to heed one of his commenters:
An article like this one may be entirely correct, but it provides “theological cover” for those who are looking for yet another reason to spend nearly all of their institutional resources (money and time) on “faith” and almost none on “love”. (Yes, those should not be separable, but they often are.)
The fact is, it ought not to be possible to believe correctly about (let’s say) prayer, and not actually pray. But it is very much possible. It’s possible to devote enormous resources to learning the theory and theology of prayer, and not actually do it much.
Heed the Lord’s brother James: Faith without works is dead (Jms 2:17, 26). While Patton’s post is correct, and knowing God is the ultimate goal of faith, faith without works creates some serious problems. To the first century Jew, as noted above, faith and works were a total and unified concept. However, today they are clearly not. As the commenter points out, it is possible to develop a strong belief in something without actually practicing it. This is the error that James’s epistle was addressing in part in the first place.
So don’t just say that you love Jesus. Get out there and demonstrate that love. Don’t just study the Word; apply what you know to your life. If you need help, follow the Discipleship 101 link on the left side of the page and start to work through that Bible study.