On Saturday I put up a post about Martin Luther and the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Today I want to look at some of the practical implications that this split has had on Protestant church. One of the major areas of disagreement between those Reformers and the Catholic church was the understanding of grace versus works in the role of salvation. Protestants believed that Catholic doctrine taught that salvation was achieved by faith and works, thus you had to earn your salvation. In response, the doctrine of Sola Fide, “by faith alone”, became one of the cornerstones of Protestant theology.
Unfortunately, over time the practical result has been a separation of “faith” and “works” and the idea that obedience is not a necessary part of salvation. After all, Ephesians 2:8-9 says:
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”
But in Chapter 2, James says:
What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.
You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
So is it faith alone, or is it faith plus works? Perhaps it is a misunderstanding of the nature of faith that even leads us to ask that question. In the Biblical world faith looked very different than it does today for much of Protestant Christianity. We tend to understand faith as an intellectual assent to information. Thus faith is an agreement with a statement about who Jesus is. In the Biblical word the concept of faith included this intellectual assent, but it was more. Faith was a belief that required action.
Let’s say you are sitting in your house and something in the kitchen catches on fire. You could simply sit there and say “there is a fire in my kitchen” and you would be correct. But I would question whether you truly had faith, whether you truly believed that there was a fire. However, if you were to say “there is a fire in my kitchen” and than got up and tried to put it out, or called 911, or evacuated the house, than I would think you truly believed that there was a fire. Your actions would indicate that you truly believed what you said you believed.
The James passage references both Abraham and Rahab who are also mentioned in a passage we often refer to as the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11. This chapter talks about many of the heroes of the faith, but does so in a way that I think illustrates the Biblical understanding of faith. Below are some examples of the people mentioned in Chapter 11 and how it talks about their faith:
By faith Abel offered . . .
By faith Noah . . . built an ark to save his family
By faith Abraham, when called . . . obeyed and went even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home . . . By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice.
By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau.
By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons and worshiped . . .
By faith Joseph spoke . . .
By faith Moses parents hid him . . .
By faith Moses refused to be known as the son of Pharoah’s daughter.
By faith the people passed through the Red Sea.
By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days.
By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she had welcomed the spies, was not killed.
As I read that passage I see that faith is connected with a lot of action verbs. I don’t think the Protestant Church’s theological doctrine of “Sola Fide” is wrong. I think Scripture is clear that we are saved by grace through faith. However, I think that in emphasizing “Sola Fide” the church has lost the connection between faith and action. We have become content with calling ourselves “Christian” and “disciples” and “followers of Jesus” because we have intellectually agreed with a creed, or a statement of faith and prayed a prayer asking Jesus to save us. And in the process we have often ignored the command of Jesus to obedience through good works.
If your name were added to Hebrews Chapter 11, what else would it say?
By faith ___________ . . .