Long ago, a clever fellow named Martin Luther changed the way a lot of people look at Christianity.
In his day, you see, the Church was a political organization that gave religious traditions almost as much importance as God’s commands. Luther protested against the Church, claiming Christianity was less complicated.
Luther’s beliefs were based on a few simple doctrines. Two of the most important were sola fides and sola gratia—faith alone and grace alone. His idea was that people didn’t have to do stuff to be saved. All they needed was to have faith in God, and God’s grace would save them.
Luther was bothered by the book of James in the Bible, which emphasizes the importance of good works. It seemed to contradict the rest of the New Testament, which claimed salvation comes through grace.
So which is it, faith or good works?
In the end, Luther’s followers came to this conclusion: “We are saved by faith alone, but if faith is alone it is not faith.” In other words, faith without good works is empty—as James put it, “faith without deeds is dead” (2:26).
I’ve spent a lot of my Christian life swinging like a pendulum from one extreme to the other. I tried living only by faith, and I became complacent. I tried living only by good works, and I became legalistic. Both extremes brought disillusionment and anxiety.
At last it occurred to me that it’s possible to live by faith and good works: to do my best to live for God, and to trust that his grace is sufficient for me when my best isn’t good enough.
C.S. Lewis put it really well: “Christians have often disputed as to whether what leads the Christian home is good actions, or Faith in Christ. I have no right really to speak on such a difficult question, but it does seem to me like asking which blade in a pair of scissors is more necessary.”
Both scissor blades are necessary, of course. In the same way, both faith and good works are necessary. Each is inadequate and incomplete without the other.
It’s a simple lesson, but an important one.
The Apostle Paul wrote:
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:8-10).
God saves us by grace. We accept that salvation through faith. Once saved, we’re equipped to do good works.
In other words, we do good works not to be saved, but because we are saved.
Before I conclude this series, there are two things I’d like to say.
First, I’d like to affirm that the Christian faith is an awesome, joyful, exciting adventure. It can be hard. It’s a relationship with God, and every close relationship—whether a marriage, a friendship or a parent-child relationship—has difficult stretches.
In the end, however, it’s worth it. Heck yeah, it’s worth it.
Nothing in the world—not coffee, not Legend of Zelda games, not my closest friendships—has even begun to come close to being as awesome as God.
Through everything, God has been there. No matter how great my mistakes, he has never let go of me—not once. His faithfulness has been perfect. His kindness has been incredible. His love has endured.
Faith in Christ can be hard. It takes commitment, patience and persistence.
It’s worth it.
The second thing I’d like to say: Thanks for reading!