We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Paul Says that Salvation is Not by Faith Alone

Since Luther, we Protestants have repeated the dictum that salvation is by faith alone and not by works.  We have selectively quoted scripture to prove that point and largely avoided reading those parts of the Bible that don't support our insistence that we cannot be saved by what we do but only by what we believe.  The thing is there are many places in the scriptures that say exactly the opposite, even in the writings of the Apostle Paul.

Take Galatians 6:1-10.  It states in the clearest language possible that Paul's readers were to pay attention to their works, change them, and then test them. He urged them to do what was right and to give up things of the flesh for things of the Spirit.  In verse 9, we read, "So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up." (NRSV, italics added)  In verse 7, Paul invokes the law of karma, warning his readers that they will reap what they sow.  In context, it is clear that he was writing about their behavior as verse 9 demonstrates.

In Galatians, Paul expressly warns his Christian audience that they cannot be saved by the Law.  Nowhere does he state that their "works" are not part of the equation of salvation.  I've said it before—(here), (here), and (here)—but let me say it again.  The life of faith involves both putting our trust in God in Christ and living accordingly.  Faith and works are not really two things.  They are two sides of the same coin.  We both believe in the Kingdom by God's grace and work to create it as co-conspirators with God.  It is Christ in us and us in Christ.  Amen.