Faith, works, and faith righteousness.

by K.W. Leslie, 05 September 2018

If you believe in faith righteousness, you’ve misdefined faith as orthodoxy. Which is a work. Yet faith isn’t a work… right?

Yesterday I brought up faith righteousness, the idea we’re saved by having all the correct doctrines and beliefs. I’ve found it to be a pretty widespread belief among new believers, who haven’t yet learned better; and Fundamentalists, who should’ve learned better, but those Fundamentals are just so darned important to them. Anyway they’re wrong; God saves us by his grace.

Orthodoxy is a good work, so by all means pursue the right beliefs about God. By all means do good works. But we’re not saved by works. We’re saved first, by grace, so that God can empower us to do such works. Doing the works first, and trying to achieve salvation by merit, doesn’t work either. Not that plenty of people, including plenty of confused Christians, don’t try. Karma is a mighty ingrained idea in humanity, and it’s hard to wean us off it.

But one common and odd little side effect of believing we’re saved by “faith,” is this insistence you’ll find among the faith-righteous folks: Faith isn’t a work!

’Cause it’s not. Says so in the bible.

Ephesians 2.8-9 KWL
8 You’re all saved by his grace, through your faith.
This, God’s gift, isn’t from you, 9 isn’t from works; none can boast of it.

Salvation isn’t from us. Isn’t from works. It’s from God, from his grace. It’s typically God’s response to our faith, though of course God reserves the right to save various people regardless. And since Paul said it’s not from works, but is through faith, he indicates faith isn’t a work. My trust in God isn’t something I do; it’s something I have. And if I really do have it, I’ll wind up producing good fruit and good works, Jm 2.22 because faith which produces no good works isn’t actually there, i.e. is dead. But the faith ain’t the works. It’s a whole different thing.

Well, when faith-righteous people are talking about faith, they don’t mean trust; they mean beliefs. And they try to shoehorn their new definition into the discussion about faith and works. Their doctrines, they claim, aren’t works! They aren’t things they do, but things they have. Also a whole different thing.

Except they’re not.

Christians believe what we do because we put our faith in Jesus. We trust that he’s right; we trust he doesn’t steer us wrong; we take his word for it that his teachings apply to our lives and accurately reflect God’s character. Again, trust in Jesus isn’t something we do, but something we have. Unless we don’t; then we don’t bother with his teachings, for we don’t believe him, for we lack faith.

The teachings—the stuff we believe about God—aren’t the same thing as faith. Yeah, we can have these beliefs, kinda like we have faith. But the basis of having these beliefs would be faith in Jesus. No faith in Jesus; no beliefs. (No real beliefs, anyway. Empty beliefs, or hypocrisy, ’cause without Jesus what good are they?)

So beliefs are based on faith. They’re the product of faith. The fruit of faith. The works of faith. They’re works. Works might prove that faith is real, Jm 2.18 and depending on the belief, they may do a really good job of conclusively demonstrating one’s faith. But they still aren’t faith.

Not that they won’t try to claim beliefs aren’t works.

If you’re a new or immature Christian, and you listen to a faith-righteousness teacher try to explain faith, you’re gonna immediately wonder how on earth the “faith” they’re describing isn’t a work. (And I should remind you the faith righteous regularly mix up the participles in Ephesians 2.8, claim we’re saved by faith, and never seem to notice it’s really grace.)

ME. “The way you describe faith, it sounds like a work.”
HE. “Well it’s not.”
ME. “How’s it not?”
HE. “Because faith isn’t a work. ‘By grace are ye saved through faith’—see, you’re saved by faith—‘and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.’ It’s faith not works; therefore faith is not works.”
ME. “But we accept our faith. We adopt our faith. We proclaim our faith. We practice our faith. These are all verbs, all actions, all works.”
HE. “Well the bible says faith’s not a work. So it’s not.”
ME. “It’s an awfully hard-working non-work.”
HE. “Hey, either you believe the bible or you don’t.”
ME. “Believing it is gonna take some work.”
HE. “Stop it.”

Y’notice the problem isn’t really with the bible; it’s with the bad definition of faith. The obvious contradiction should lead Christians to realize, “Wait, maybe I’ve misunderstood something.” Should, but doesn’t; plenty of Christians find it much easier to turn off their brains, casually accept paradoxes, and claim they’re “mysteries” whenever somebody points out the inconsistency. So much for loving the LORD our God with all our mind.

By the proper definition of faith, it’s not a work: We trust God. We just do. No effort required. Might take some effort to adopt certain beliefs based on that trust; might take some effort to grow that trust. But once we learn how trustworthy God is, faith takes no effort. It’s just there.

Beliefs are a whole other deal. And even though “faith” gets used all the time in our culture to describe religious beliefs, let’s make it clear: The “faith” which isn’t works, only refers to trust in God. Every other kind of “faith” is a work. Especially the kind which insists we have to believe certain doctrines in order to get into God’s kingdom. Unborn babies who die prematurely, or newborn babies who die in the crib, never had to believe any such things before God could save them. Because we’re all saved by grace. Not works!