Friday, July 22, 2005

Saved by Grace. Judged by Works?

OK. This may be a long post, because I’m thinking out loud on this. This is a topic that requires some explanation of my history to understand where I’m going with this. Also, I’m really hoping for dialogue with all of my 4 readers on this, so if you see holes in my thinking or think I’m on the right track, let me know.

For most of my adult life, I have fought against a works-based salvation. Growing up in the Church of Christ and becoming very angry at that due to a couple of reasons, I decided the Church of Christ was dead wrong about having to do something to earn salvation, whether baptism or going to church or whatever. Kind of an “if saved, barely saved” ideology. I started attending a charismatic church in high school and through my first two years of college, but went to a Church of Christ college (Lipscomb) with the intent of showing all the Pharasiacal hypocrites how to be a real Christian. Ah, the folly and arrogance of youth.

Well, long story short, I learned that being Church of Christ and being spiritually minded were not mutually exclusive (Thanks Doug Varnado) and even ended up back at the church I grew up at (Otter Creek). However, my views on grace and works didn’t change and I even found people who agreed with me. We all viewed the works that we did as a response to the grace we had received, but not an obligation at any time that would earn us salvation (defined as our ticket to spend an eternity with God).

And then I start reading Brian McLaren. And rereading the Gospels and the OT prophets. And I start reading this stuff in those about what we do mattering, about what we do having eternal consequence. And my brain starts to feel twisted up. Let me explain.

Matthew 25:31 - 46 is one of Jesus’ clearest statements on judgment. He’s talking about the end of the age from chapter 24 and in this section he talks about when he (the Son of Man) comes in his glory. In this section, Jesus talks about how he’ll separate the sheep from the goats. And the basis for his judgment is NOT what these people believed, what statements of faith they ascribed to, what church they attended, what acts of worship the did or didn’t do or mixed together. The standard for his judgment is how they cared for the needy among them, the sick, the imprisoned.

And as I look through the gospels, Jesus talks very little about what people believe. He is much more concerned with what they do. Now, do I think faith is unimportant? No. I think it is, but it seems that it is less important than what I do with that faith. James said this. “Faith without works is dead.” Works are important.

As I wrote about two weeks ago, being saved by grace is great. It is a wonderful gift given by God. BUT if we don’t do something about that, we will be judged. We will be held accountable for that. When we are saved by that grace, we are all given a joyful responsibility: to bring about the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in Heaven. That’s the message that Jesus preaches throughout his ministry. When the gospels talk about the good news of the Kingdom, this is it.

This also begs the question of what does judgment mean. Traditionally, I’ve thought that when I die (or if Jesus comes back before that), I’ll wake up in a big room with everyone that ever lived and because I’ve got grace, I’ll be a sheep. I’m not so sure about that anymore. I do think judgment is an important part of eternity, but (and now I’m really thinking out loud, so take this or leave it) what if judgment is eternally occurring? What if my daily walk is being judged in how I help bring about the Kingdom? That can sound scary on one hand, but on another, it’s extremely hopeful. Because what if judgment and mercy are two sides of the same coin? What if the mercy that God offers is a part of his judgment? I don’t know how all of that plays out. I don’t know what all of this means, honestly.

Here’s what I think. My job as a follower of Christ, as a disciple of Jesus, is to help bring about the Kingdom of God. I’m going to try my hardest to do that every minute of every day. I’m going to find a community that will try and do that with me. And I’m going to genuinely love (no matter how hard it is) the people I come in contact with.

I think that’s the Law and the Prophets. I think that’s the message Jesus came to bring. And the grace that we receive through his death and resurrection both empowers us and makes us responsible for that mission.

So, how off base am I? What holes do you see? What resonates with you? Looking forward to the dialogue.


Tony Arnold said...

I am no theologian, but I struggle with similiar thoughts. In fact, I would question one's committment to discipleship if they did not struggle with these very issues.

I don't think you are off base. I am coming to the conclusion, which I don't think I articulated into my conscious from the sub-conscious until reading this post, that: the reasons for the paradoxes in the Bible and in Jesus' ministery, such as works v. grace, are intentional in order to keep us from getting to comfortable or regimented in any one area of Christianity.

Jesus wants us to die to our humanity, and then let Him live incarnate through us. Is this the Kingdom then? Could be. But only when we let this happen will the paradoxes reconcile themselves in our lives and minds.

I think you are right on about the Kingdom work.


judy thomas said...

Phil, as Ronald Reagan would say, "There you go again." Just as I have found a nice place on a soft cloud surrounded by the heavenly host, you start asking such questions. I don't have any answers, but I do know that reading and rereading Romans 5-8 (especially in the Message) calms me down as I begin to fret.

Preston said...

Two things from McLaren's latest book stick out in my mind as being true for me.
First, God's justice is merciful. This is in my opinion just as big of an apparent paradox as saying that we're saved by grace but that we'll be judged by our works.
Second, judgment does not equal condemnation. Just because I or anyone else am judged by my works does not mean that I will be tormented or obliterated.

Clarissa said...

Although not necessarily in those words, I've been trying to do this since childhood ... to bring about the kingdom of God ... in the ways I could see, in the ways I knew how, when I was able ... look out for the underdog, the picked on kid ... look for the lonely one, the one who needs a word of encouragement in class ...

Oh, not every day was filled with such esoteric thinking, but my father especially showed me that each person had value and should be treated as such, a value he learned from his father before him ... and it's all about being like Jesus.

Yes, saved by Grace. Now do something about it! Yes, yes! I'm walking this road with you! Not perfectly, goodness, no. But I try, I try, I get up and try again. And every now and then I think I'm close to getting it a little bit right. And let's encourage each other when we see the kingdom furthered! To the glory of God above!

Whew. That was intense. To make peanut butter sandwiches becomes very anticlimactic.

Phil said...

Clarissa, I would argue that fixing those sandwiches for your kids is as much a part of the kingdom as anything else.

You're showing service and love to them, which helps them see a measure of Jesus in you.

Preston, I agree about the judgment. I just don't know how all of that works.

c said...

i think i erased your email. sorry to post it on here:

scott ownings told me that DMiller was coming but didn't know for sure. i hope to come and maybe bring my wife. i work up here but live in m'boro so it depends on what time it will be. thanks for giving me the heads up.

jettybetty said...

I don't understand all this--
I think I used to "work" so I could be saved--
I learned about grace and now I "work" because I am saved.

I really like your summary statement-our purpose is to bring about the Kingdom of God.

I am just still learning how do to that!


Preston said...

Maybe it's not that we work because we're saved, as jettybetty suggested.
Maybe we are saved to work, or saved so that we can work.
Again, I think that salvation has precious little to do with our eternal destinies and more to do with the life we live every day. Before I was "saved" from my natural tendencies toward selfishness, greed, etc., I could not do good works. I could not live a kingdom life. But I have been "saved" from my enslavement to the powers of pride and lust and the need for power, so now I am free to do good works, to live for others. From that point of view, we don't do good works out of gratitude for our eternal salvation. Rather, we are saved or redeemed to live as we were intended to live, to do good works and be sacrificial.

Phil said...

I think that's exactly what I was trying to say, Preston. You just said it in many fewer words.

ritchie christianson said...

Phil, I think you are right on the money. I think it is easy to see we are saved by grace, not by works. But Jesus also made it plain in the Sermon on the mount in Mat 7:21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
Mat 7:22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
Mat 7:23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. The first man recorded as being taken to heaven was Enoch. He did not get there because he racked up points. He got there because he walked with God. The description of those who are saved in Revelation emphasizes obedience and faith in Jesus. Rev. 14:12. Romans chapters 7&8 not only spell out the need for obedience but also the futility of providing that obedience without Holy Spirit empowerment. The list of the saved in Hebrews chapter 11 makes it plain that this is an achievable goal, but Paul wasn't joking when he called the Christian life a battle and that we need the whole armor of God.

revrufusw said...

I came across this post while preparing a sermon on "saved by Grace; judge by works" and was amazed to find the same thought patterns. Being from a "works based" Salvation culture as a child I have, for the past several years, had my personal Q&A sessions with the Bible and Prayer to better understand Christ in the fullness. I readily admit that I am not an authority on this subject but understand that both Grace and works serve a specific purpose. In my reading, Grace was part of the OT but "Salvation by Grace through faith" only came after the death of Jesus and works was part of the law prior to the death of Christ; and yet we will be judged by our works. My message is that works is not a prerequisite to Salvation but an attribute OF Salvation; and yet we read that we will be judged by our works. With Salvation comes the responsibility to read the word of God to show ourselves approved and understand WHY we believe what believe. I my opinion we will be judged by what we did with the knowledge that God blessed us with... I am not sure of the consequences because we are saved by Grace. I hear opinions of different levels of Heaven and also understand that we will judge in the new kingdom but will have to do more in depth study before I can make any educated contribution. As I Pray and study I know that God will up open my understanding as to what to teach but I know that ABOVE ALL we must love our neighbor as ourselves. Thanks for your blog!

Marco said...

Beloved,it looks like there is a BIG difference in understanding. Jesus came to the sheep of Israel. He came to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom to believers. It´s a gospel of works. Mat 4:17
He preached the Gospel of Grace only to non-believers. It´s a gospel of salvation by grace through faith (not works). Jo 4:26
The difference: by grace, we are spiritually revived and earn eternal live graceously. Our spirit is newborn and live forever. Eph 2:5-11 By works, our soul (mind, will and emotions) is restored (saved) to the image of God Mat 28:18-20 and we are elligible to receive our rewards Rev 5:10 We cannot reign with Christ if we don´t save (= heal, restore, rescue, cure, free) our souls, to the image of Christ Rom 8:29 Gal 5:19 It´s a choice we have. Either we do the works of God or we will suffer loss of our rewards 1 Cor 3:9-15 Doing the works of God our soul is restored, transformed into the image and likeness of the Christ (mission). The man Jesus accomplished His mission with flying stars and received His rewards Heb 4:14; Rev19:16; Phil 2:9-11; Eph 1:21-23;
Because He loves us, He ordained how to walk His path in order to become an Overcomer as He is Mat 28:18-20 and receive the rewards that God has set aside for each of us 1Cor 2:9, including the crowns.
Our spirit is ready, with the same spiritual nature of Jesus (Jo 14:6the life that gave life to our dead spirit Eph 2:1)but our soul need to be saved (= restored, healed)Rom 2:12 and our character grow to be conformed to Christ´s. 1 Pe 2:9 No works, no soul transformation, no rewards (judgement by woks), but has eternal life.

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