The Good News, Faith, and Works

20130803-075517.jpgI wrote the following in response to a discussion on Facebook about faith and works and decided to cross-post my thoughts here.

A person who is blessedly assured of the Gospel is more likely to have that bubble over in what we think of as works or fruits than someone for whom the perception of God’s judgment still looms.

Overflowing!

Thinking of a hierarchy of needs model, whenever we have our own needs taken care of, we are more able, willing, maybe even eager to address the needs of others. So having our need for the Gospel addressed, we naturally turn outward as expressed in works/fruits.

So then, works, in my view, are a natural overflowing of receiving the Good News (for we have received grace upon grace). A living, vibrant faith would naturally result in works just because God’s grace is just so huge that we can’t contain it!

Trying Too Hard

On the other hand, the person who perceives rightness with God as being in question may try to appease God with works to attempt to earn God’s favor. But this is all toil, no joy, and ultimately futile because God is not asking us to earn his favor (and we couldn’t even if he did). The works, in this case, are irrelevant, not at all indicative of a living faith, and powerless to save. Here the works themselves are dead.

Suspicion

But what about the person who claims to be a Christian but has no works/fruits to show for it? Is it fair to say that person’s faith is dead because there are no works/fruits to see there?

Perhaps.

But then, maybe not so fast.

A Closer Look

How do we know that someone has zero works/fruit? There may be lots of things done in secret that are works/fruits overflowing in that person’s life. Or maybe that person’s gifts are so very different than ours that the works/fruits look very different than our own. This is perhaps one of those times to be sure to put the best construction on our neighbor’s actions (Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, explanation of the 8th Commandment).

More Suspicion

Furthermore, what if there is a quantifiable dwindling of works or fruits in the life of a Christian? Do we leave that brother or sister for “dead” on account of a “faith” that lacks works?

I sure hope not, because sometimes, in the ebb and flow of life, our reserves get depleted. Sometimes we face challenges that require every ounce of grace we have for ourselves. We can’t bubble over at that time because we’re wrestling with God about our current state of affairs.

Drained to Death?

These crises of faith may lead to a scenario in which someone decides to abandon the faith altogether. But then, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” (Psalm 139:7-8) We may decide to walk away, but where could we possibly go that the Spirit of God will not continue to draw us with the Gospel?

Hope Beyond the Wilderness

Oftentimes though, the crises of faith, the wilderness times, lead us to a deepening of faith. Perhaps in the middle of it we “withdraw for a time” but that in itself can be a very faithful “work.” But even in this, it is God who is at work assuring us of the Gospel and replenishing us with his love. We can then emerge from the crisis of faith as even more joyful servants with a renewed vigor for the outward works/fruits for which we are freed and to which we are bound to do!

What do you think?

2 responses to this post.

  1. I see the concept that fruit comes from faithfulness more in a community sense, I guess. It’s not so important to figure out who has faith by looking at whether my life or the lives of others are fruitful. What counts is that when the Spirit gives just a little faith to someone, everyone around will benefit. It has a ripple effect. Fruit happens– even when you have lots of faith and I have almost none, or when I am really wrong about something and someone else forgives me. In those lopsided situations, I don’t think that the Spirit has the goal of proving one part of the Body to be righter or more faithful and chalking up the fair amount of credit– rather, that the part of the Body that is hurting receives special attention, that enemies become victorious together over the attitudes and injustices that drove them apart, that those to whom faith comes easily can encourage others while learning to be tender with the new growth that so often comes from a crisis. This can take a long time and we may not even perceive the actions and shifts that occurred except in hindsight. It doesn’t matter whose fruit is whose except that it all comes from God, so when I’m in a dry time, I can lean on someone else and not worry that my brokenness is the last word, or that my self-absorption cancels out everything that God is doing with my life.

  2. Thank you Jen so much for this post: you write with such health and truth. I feel as though I’ve eaten a highly nutritious spiritual meal, full of color and flavor, right out of the garden, after I read one of your blogs! : ) What a lovely thought: that learning to lean into God’s unending and unstoppable grace and love actually strengthens me, naturally, to do good, naturally. I don’t have to scrounge for courage: I have it.
    When I don’t have it, I know God is still 100% with me and for me, and I can trust that.
    AND – I can trust God at work in others, even and ESPECIALLY when it looks to me like there’s no fruit in their lives. What do *I* know?! I can’t even see, a lot of times, what God is doing for *me*.
    Becky i really appreciated your comment and I resonate so strongly to it as well, especially what you wrote about dry times.

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