Friday, August 22, 2008

Saved By Grace, Judged By Works

A repost from 3 years ago (Sheesh. That's pre-Connor)

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


Ben said...

...and we always seem to go down these trails that ultimately come back around toward helping us better understand the complexity and simplicity of the "greatest command" - love.

That's what I heard you just describe.

Phil said...


And the thing is, good theology is ok. But we can't put too much importance on what we believe. Demons have great belief. The demons have a great Christology. It's their practice that fails.

All of our beliefs can be perfect, but if we don't act on them with love, we're just the clanging cymbals that Paul talks about.

Keith Brenton said...

If I were a soldier or civilian worker or journalist in Iraq, and a platoon leader jumped on an exploding IED and died to save my life, would I be able to return to the States and keep quiet about it - never mention it to anyone? Just be thankful that he/she did it and confident that I am alive by that sacrifice? Could I keep that a secret forever?

Or would it bust out of me to everyone I could bear to tell it to - widow/widower, kids, parents, senior officers, other soldiers, senators who could arrange for medals and commendations, complete strangers, anti-war protestors?

You know I'm not a big fan of the war in Iraq - and you know that's not my point - but wouldn't life be a lot more precious, and that story impossible to keep to myself?

How would others judge me if I did that?

Brian said...

Phil, I like the balance you've got. Too much grace makes lasy Christians who don't have to do anything because "grace covers all", and too little grace makes makes most of the religions of the world where salvation is purely by the works that are achieved.

Justin said...

First, I don't think our job is to "bring about" the Kingdom, but live as though the Kingdom has all ready come in full, and that Jesus is our King all ready.

And the second point is that I think often we are still too blinded by our old understanding of salvation. When we stop thinking heaven and afterlife, and start thinking about salvation in the present... I've been saved from a meaningless life that leads to death, a life of selfishness, a life that is not to the full... then the debate stops being about what is necessary for salvation... its not an in out thing. When you repent, meaning, when you radically realign your life to live according to the way Jesus taught, when you trust in God's way for you rather than the world's, that is what salvation is. And we can live that way because we no longer fear death because we (supposedly) believe in the resurrection of the dead.

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