Topic #3 I’m wrestling with God over: faith vs. works

I’ve been exploring the topics I really struggle with: things that I know my explanations come up short in explaining. It’s tempting to down play these issues. Part of me wants to just ignore them, and pretend that I don’t see that there is something I’m missing. In general, I think it’s hard to admit that we don’t things. To be a person of faith, it’s even more difficult to say “Well, I haven’t worked that out yet.” Part of this might be because there are things I am sure of; things I know I have worked out. At some point maybe I’ll ponder why that is. Today, I think I’m going to go in a different direction.

There is one side which says the bible is really clear. If we accept Jesus as our Lord and savoir, we are assured of Heaven. These people rely heavily on formulas. Say this prayer and your eternity is settled. Try to convince other people to say the same prayer so that there eternity is settled. Look foreward to hanging out with them all in heaven. That’s the meaning of it all.
There are reasons that this perspective is convincing. One of the reasons is that there’s a good ammount of scripture backing it all up. In some ways this is an easy position to take, because there are a handful of pithy verses that are easy to quote.
Additionally, I love the idea that in Christ we are assured of our salvation. That it’s so simply done, that it’s something we can rest in, this is beautiful.

In what I say next, I do not want to discount that it’s all about faith. Faith is an act of courage. It’s a difficult act, to believe. I do my very best to put Jesus at the center of what I do. This is not about de-emphasizing him.
The reason I struggle with this is not only that it’s hard to see how this makes sense in terms of salvation… I’ve heard all the arguments about how none of us can earn our way into heaven. I can accept them, as far as they go. But is anybody really comfortable with the idea that a Christ-confessing torturer in the Spanish inquisition is going to spend eternity in heaven while a Budhist who dies in Burma fighting for others’ freedoms is going to spend eternity damned?
Furthermore, there aren’t as many pithy verses but there’s lots of stuff at the level of chapters in the gospels that express Jesus’ contempt for legalism. The whole “salvation as a 3 step process that fits on the back of a business card” mentality feels like modern-day phariseeism.
Jesus spoke so often about the way we treat others; he told his followers to feed his sheep; he told us whenever we deny those in need we are denying him… God speaks, too, in the old testament, about how we treat the widow, and the orphan.

I find some solace in the book of James. I haven’t got it all worked out yet, but I think that this tension gets resolved in whether or not our proclamation that Jesus is Lord really touches us… Works are never, ever, ever a substitute for faith. But a faith that doesn’t spur works is a contradiction in terms maybe.

Looking foreward to your responses,


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

4 thoughts on “Topic #3 I’m wrestling with God over: faith vs. works”

  1. You know that recipe for salvation, say this prayer and you’ll be okay? Don’t the Muslims have the same thing? I think theirs is to say something like “There is no God but Allah.”, or something like that.


  2. Hmm, I know that the phrase “There is no God but Allah” is incredibly important to Muslims. However, it’s not a faith I’m very educated about… I have heard a missionary to Islamic nations state that Muslims don’t have an assurance of salvation, just hopes, but I couldn’t say for sure if that’s one specific group.


  3. Hey, I’ve never posted on this blog, but I love it! A couple things:

    I’ve heard said before “Christianity is not a game.” Your comment about “say the prayer, go see how many others you can get to say the prayer, then party in heaven later” reminded me of that quote.

    And on the subject of Muslims:

    They have five pillars I believe. One is to pray to Allah (facing west? or mecca?) five times a day. Others are like giving to the poor. Oh, and one is a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their life (I don’t know what the Quran has to say about poor people who can’t afford to make the pilgrimage).

    That was probably more than you cared to know, or what you already knew, but I had to get my two cents in.

    Keep up the blogging by the way! I love it!


  4. Thanks, Christian.
    I very much see the connection between the idea that Christianity is not a game and the things I was talking about here.
    If memory serves, the pillar about making a pilgrimage says “all able-bodied Muslims”… I always took that to mean that if you had some physical limitation you were exempted. It’s an interesting question, how it works if you’re financial limited.
    I hope you’ll come back and post again!


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