Faith vs Works

Human beings love to fight and to form factions, and Christians alas are no exception. Paul warns against meaningless speculations and controversies, largely in vain, judging from the fights he had to deal with: I am for Paul, I am for Apollo, I am for Christ. During the Reformation, Christians decided to pick a fight about the relationship of faith and works. Reformers maintained with Paul that we are justified by faith, not by works; Catholics with James insisted that faith without works was dead and did not justify.

On which side does the following writer come down?

For what reason was our father Abraham blessed? Was it not because he wrought righteousness and truth through faith? Isaac, with perfect confidence, as if knowing what was to happen, cheerfully yielded himself as a sacrifice Jacob, through reason of his brother, went forth with humility from his own land, and came to Laban and served him; and there was given to him the sceptre of the twelve tribes of Israel.

All these, therefore, were highly honoured, and made great, not for their own sake, or for their own works, or for the righteousness which they wrought, but through the operation of His will. And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

So we are justified not by works, but by faith. So taught Pope Clement I, the fourth bishop (88-99 AD) of Rome.

However, he goes on to say

What shall we do, then, brethren? Shall we become slothful in well-doing, and cease from the practice of love? God forbid that any such course should be followed by us! But rather let us hasten with all energy and readiness of mind to perform every good work. For the Creator and Lord of all Himself rejoices in His works. For by His infinitely great power He established the heavens, and by His incomprehensible wisdom He adorned them. He also divided the earth from the water which surrounds it, and fixed it upon the immovable foundation of His own will. The animals also which are upon it He commanded by His own word into existence. So likewise, when He had formed the sea, and the living creatures which are in it, He enclosed them [within their proper bounds] by His own power. Above all, with His holy and undefiled hands He formed man, the most excellent [of His creatures], and truly great through the understanding given him— the express likeness of His own image. For thus says God: Let us make man in our image, and after our likeness. So God made man; male and female He created them.  Having thus finished all these things, He approved them, and blessed them, and said, Increase and multiply.  We see, then, how all righteous men have been adorned with good works, and how the Lord Himself, adorning Himself with His works, rejoiced. Having therefore such an example, let us without delay accede to His will, and let us work the work of righteousness with our whole strength.

We do good works because they are good, they are beautiful and desirable. God delights in his work, and so should we. Both God and man are “adorned” with good works. Good works are not a painful duty to win God’s favor, but an overflowing of the goodness which is in God and which He has implanted in us through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

As the Baptist minister, the Rev. Jack Carter, summarizes:

Paul: Faith is complete trust in, and obedience to, Jesus Christ.

Works are outward acts of ritual and adherence to a code to attain merit.

James: Faith is belief in Jesus Christ, the resurrection, and salvation.

Works are spontaneous acts of love that spring from the fruits of the Spirit.

I think he and Pope Clement are substantially in agreement. There may be important points for Catholics and Protestants to enjoy a good fight about; this is not one of them.

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