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04 September 2018

“Faith-righteousness”: Saved by what you believe.

Christians who think having the right beliefs saves them—and don’t realize orthodoxy is simply a good work.

FAITH RIGHTEOUSNESS /'feɪθ raɪ.tʃəs.nəs/ n. A right standing (with God or others) achieved through orthodox beliefs.

I coined the term “faith righteousness” some years ago. It’s a common American belief, based on several false ideas.

First of all misdefined faith. Properly faith means trust; and Christian faith means trust in God. When we Christians talk about “justification by faith,” what this properly means is we trust God, and God considers us all right with him based on that trust. Y’know, like when Abraham trusted God, Ge 15.6 which was the foundation of their relationship. (And the foundation for Paul’s teachings on justification. Ro 4.3)

But in popular American culture, faith means one’s belief system. It’s a definition we find all over Christianity too, especially among Christians who don’t care for the word “religion,” and like to use the word “faith” instead: “I don’t have a religion; I have a faith.” Meaning—to their minds—they don’t have rituals they do, but things they believe. Proper beliefs; correct beliefs; orthodoxy. And these things comprise “my faith”—and this winds up the “faith” they’re thinking of when they talk about “justification by faith.” We believe certain things about God, and God considers us all right with him based on our beliefs.

You should be able to immediately see how this can go wrong. Thing is, if you’ve been practicing faith righteousness all your life, you’ve got some pretty heavy blinders on, and your response is gonna be, “I don’t see what the big deal is. Of course we’re all right with God because our beliefs. And heretics aren’t all right with God; they’re going to hell. What, are you suggesting they’re not going to hell?”

No; I’m pointing out if you’re correct—that God determines whether we’re destined for his kingdom or hell based on our beliefs—you’re going to hell.

Because we’re all wrong. Every single human being alive, with the exception of Jesus, Jn 1.18 lacks a fully accurate picture of who God is. Not just because he’s an infinite God and we have finite human brains; you recall when Jesus became human he had a finite human brain, yet still got God right. Because it’s not really about what you know. Jesus has God’s nature. We are still learning how to have God’s nature—but we keep mucking it up because we’re so warped by sin to stop projecting our own demented ideas upon God, and misinterpret his goodness, motives, abilities, and pretty much everything about him. Everybody gets him wrong. One exception, and you’re not him. (Neither am I.)

Fundamentalists claim they do so have God right. Not in all things, but they definitely have the fundamentals right: They have the most important beliefs right. They believe all the things every Christian is required to believe about God. Each belief is kinda like a different key to the many gates of heaven, and you need the full set.

Thing is, who drafted these required beliefs? Jesus?

Nope. ’Twas the Fundamentalists. Or, if you’re looking towards the creeds for your fundamentals, ’twas the early church fathers. But even though the Fundies and fathers got their lists of mandatory beliefs sorted out, and declared everyone else heretic… the fact is Jesus never said if we get any of these beliefs wrong, we’re out of his kingdom. In fact the only reasons he told us to consider people out of his kingdom, is rejecting the gospel, Mk 6.11 unrepentant sin, Mt 18.17 fruitless behavior, Mt 25.41-46 and apostasy. Lk 18.11-13 In short, bad fruit. Wrong beliefs don’t put us beyond the pale; Jesus anticipated wrong beliefs, which is why he sent us the Holy Spirit to pull us back onto the path.

Now y’notice the creeds, the Fundamentals, and many a church’s faith statement, don’t always remember to include Jesus’s list of mandatory things. If you wanna compare the Jesus’s list with theirs, you notice some very different priorities. The church fathers didn’t want false beliefs to mislead fellow Christians; the Fundies didn’t want false beliefs to corrupt them and their churches. But when it comes to false beliefs, Jesus—unlike us!—does grace.

I grew up Fundie, and I guarantee you many a Fundie will even claim Jesus’s list doesn’t even count anymore. (’Cause their system of interpreting bible lets ’em claim that.) Jesus’s list doesn’t take precedence in their mind. Theirs does.

So like I said: If we actually are saved by having the right beliefs, but our beliefs aren’t the same as Jesus’s beliefs, and even negate some of his beliefs, where d’you think you’re going on Judgment Day? Hint: It’s hot and stinky.

Thankfully we’re not saved by beliefs, but God’s grace. So we don’t have to worry about this whole scary scenario. Well, unless we don’t believe God’s grace saves us; unless we’re adamant our beliefs do. Then, I’m totally fine with such people worrying their heads off—because in order to feel any peace again, they’re gonna have to ask the Holy Spirit for help, and he’s just gonna tell them what I’ve been saying: We’re saved by grace. Ep 2.8 Not good works.

And right beliefs are good works. Which are good! But don’t save.

James 2.19 KWL
You have faith that God is One. Good job!
The demons also have this faith—and it grates on them.

’Cause the demons are in competition with the One God—a competition they’re gonna lose, y’know. And deep down, they know. But like James said, they do rightly believe God is One, for all the good it does ’em.

I’m not knocking orthodoxy. For the same reason I don’t knock goodness or good deeds: It’s good! We’re meant to believe as Jesus teaches, and let the Holy Spirit sort us out when we’re wrong—whether he corrects us personally, or through bible, or through fellow Christians. (All of which oughta jibe with one another.) By all means, strive for orthodoxy. But don’t fall into the error that it saves anybody. Grace saves. Orthodoxy should’ve taught you that.

Salvation by works produces pride, y’know.

Second of all: Pride. “Knowledge puffs up,” Paul and Sosthenes wrote, 1Co 8.1 and this is particularly true when we know a lot about God. After all, he’s the most important subject in the world, and if we know about him, we kinda have the most important data in the world. Or so it can feel.

But there’s a vast difference between knowing about God, and knowing God. One produces pride. T’other produces incredible humility, ’cause one simple God-experience convinces us how ridiculous we sound whenever we say, “Oh, I know about God.” We know nothing. Infinite God, 70-terabyte human brain; no matter how big the number you try to divide by infinity, you’re functionally gonna wind up with zero. (Humility, I should add, makes it way more plausible that God saves us by his grace: We really are pathetic in comparison with God. But God is just that good.)

That said, it’s fair to say a Christian who insists on faith righteousness has yet to have a proper God-experience. A number of ’em even insist God-experiences ceased after bible times—thus distancing themselves from the chance of ever having one. When a hardcore proud faith-righteous person has an authentic God-experience, it has a pretty good chance of breaking their brains. But y’know, God is kind; he breaks us so he can fix us, and make us better than before. Pride needs to get broken if we’re gonna grow as Christians.

Recognizing our beliefs don’t save us, that only God saves us, gets rid of all the impatience and unkindness we have with Christians who struggle to grasp difficult theological ideas. Gets us over our hangups about interacting with different Christians. Gets rid of the legalistic ways we insist an idea has to be phrased exactly right to meet our God’s approval. Gets rid of the joylessness we might feel towards pagans who are resistant to our ideas—because they don’t need to believe our ideas before God can get through to them and save them. Plus (and here’s where I get controversial) God might not even require they believe exactly as we do. He’s more interested in them following Jesus, not us.