Website owner:  James Miller

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On faith and works

One of the most important things I know about Christianity is the importance of the practice. I know that the practice of the teachings of Christianity, the practice of what Jesus taught, obedience to Jesus in doing as he taught, is absolutely essential. I know that the heart of Christianity lies in a love of God that results in living a clean, straight, virtuous life. How do I know this? I know it through several different ways:

1. Large bodies of scripture. The entire emphasis of the Old Testament is on the importance of obedience to God — obeying his commandments, in the form of an upright, good life. And there is a large body of scripture in the New Testament, including many statements of Jesus himself, in which obedience and practice is emphasized as being crucial to salvation.

2. Intuition. My intuition tells me it must be so. If it were not, Christianity would be a religion of sham.

3. Reason, common sense. My reason and common sense tell me it must be so.

4. Experience. I know from experience that it is so. I know from experience that the practice does work and that a Christianity devoid of the practice simply doesn’t work. A Christianity without the practice produces confused, unhappy, mixed-up people.

Why do I say the above? I say it because there is a problem. The apostle Paul, all through his writings, asserts with great emphasis that salvation is by faith and not by works. He makes a big issue of it. He obviously considers it a very important point. He spends a lot of time on the issue. That is very perplexing to me. It is perplexing because it appears to me to be in conflict with the idea of the importance of obedience to God in the form of practice. I find his discussions of this topic very dark and abstruse. I am unable to follow his logic. I don’t understand his arguments. To make things more confusing, he does also emphasize the importance of obedience and practice to salvation. For example,

Gal 5: {19} Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, {20} idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, {21} envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. {22} But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, {23}gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.

1 Cor 6:9-10 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, {10} nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.

If these kinds of sins lead to hell, does it not logically follow that clean, upright living is of critical importance to going to heaven? Is there not then a logical conflict in the assertions he is making? If obedience to God in the form of upright living is essential to going to heaven, how is salvation by faith only and not by upright living? The answer to this apparent conflict may lie in Paul’s use of the term “works”. Perhaps he meant something different from how I interpret it. Perhaps he meant by the word “works” all the Jewish practices, rites and ceremonies (such as the procedures for washing of dishes, hands, etc.) derived from Mosaic law. See Is salvation by faith or by works?

The New Testament contains much scripture on the importance of faith. Faith is very important in Christianity. Christianity is built on a foundation of faith. We cannot prove the existence of God and our entire belief system rests on a foundation of faith.

Without faith it is impossible to please God, for he that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.           Heb 11:6

We do not minimize the importance of faith in Christianity. However, simple common sense tells us that the very heart and core of Christianity lies in obedience to the teachings of Jesus, obedience to the teachings of the Bible, in practice. To neglect or minimize the importance of the practice of Christianity is Christian apostasy. True Christianity is a religion of both faith and practice.

June 2014

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