Saturday, November 5, 2016

Faith and works. . .

"I'm not Catholic. I'm a Methodist," Hillary Clinton said at the Al Smith Dinner. "But one of the things that we share is the belief that in order to achieve salvation we need both faith and good works."

It was a statement that slipped past most of us.  Faith is an achievement.  It is something you achieve.  Faith and good works are the prime ingredients to this achievement,  Now supposedly Rome and Methodism do not strictly teach that salvation is a personal achievement born of faith and good works.  Jesus' death fits in there somewhere.  But my point is how easily a statement like this passes by without notice because it reflects the conventional wisdom if not Biblical wisdom.   I fear that most Lutherans would be hard pressed to say why such a statement might be wrong (at least on face value).  Barna and others are always telling us how our catechesis has not sunk in and our people are Pelagians or semi-Pelagians.

Lutherans are often accused of diminishing the value of good works -- as if they just might be harmful to the faith!  Luther is clear.  Faith does not live in a void.  Faith shows itself in good works.  These good works are not needed by God but they are needed by your neighbor.  Read Luther's sermons.  He spends a great deal of time commending good works to the people who claim to believe the faith of the creed.  Faith without works is dead.  It does not matter if Luther had some questions about James, this is the Word of the Lord.  Luther is captive to that word.  Lutherans are captive to that word.  If James's words do not convince us, Paul's will.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.  (Eph. 2:10)

No one but a fool would challenge this and yet the problem is not whether good works are needed but what those good works do.  Clinton has it wrong.  Good works do not add to faith as ingredients necessary to achieve salvation.  But good works do show forth the faith that we claim lives in our hearts.  Perhaps you think it is a little thing, semantics, but it is not lost on pastors who must sit with families in their grief and hear them being consoled with the encouragement that their loved ones "lived a good life."  In the shadow of the 499th anniversary of the Reformation, living a good life is hardly consolation in death and will not commend us to eternal life.  Those who would be saved believe the catholic faith -- the Holy Trinity and the incarnation, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the Son of God.  Only in this context do works mean anything at all.

So, pardon me, Mrs. Clinton, and all who would not quibble with her statement, salvation is not achieved by us nor do our faith or works contribute to that salvation.  We are saved by grace alone and not works lest any of us presume to boast here or before the Lord.  This grace is apprehended by faith alone and it is manifest when we learn to ascribe salvation to Christ alone.  

For what it is worth, I have no confidence that Donald Trump would say it right, either.


Chris said...

But faith without works is a dead faith. And James is clear on that. WHy Luther went out of his way to contend with that is beyond me.

Anonymous said...

Luther didn't. He extolled good works. They're necessary; just not in order to be justified. We are saved through faith alone, but faith is never alone.