Works or Faith?
Works or Faith?
by Bishop Alexander (Mileant)
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father Which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).
1. The Two Extremes.
The age-old dispute still; each of the warring sides has dug itself deeply into its position and will not give even an inch:
Theasserts that salvation is based on :
Not only can a man make up for his sins by his acts and works,
he can even acquire a surplus of merit, which can be used by others.
In support of the correctness of their position, Roman Catholics advance those passages of Scripture which speak of the necessity of; for example:
- And there are other such citations.
Rejecting this doctrine,teach that all are saved by the alone:
The gifts of forgiveness of sins and eternal life are obtained, which is fully sufficient for salvation. There is no need for good works, ascetic labours or moral perfection: Only believe, and you are saved.
To support the correctness of their idea, they cite, among other texts, the following words of the:
Since both sides find support in, which is right?
It is sad to see that sometimes even Orthodox theologians get caught up in this argument about how man is saved. In their polemics with Catholics they use Protestant arguments, while in polemics with Protestants they use Catholic arguments:
This creates the impression that perhaps Orthodoxy does not have its own clear teaching about salvation, and that it stands for something midway between Catholicism and Protestantism.
An ordinary Christian who listens to the arguments of both sides might even be led to doubt the truthfulness of Sacred Scripture:
He might think that perhaps the Apostles did not fully understand Christ’s teaching, or that they had been unable to express His teaching with sufficient clarity, or even that the content of the Scriptures had been distorted by later additions made by heretics.
Such an opinion was held by Epistle of St. James the Apostle and the Epistle to the Hebrews,and other theologians, who disputed the authenticity of the
on the grounds that they speak more definitely about the necessity of good works than do the other books of the New Testament.
2. An Explanation of Terms.
In reality, there are no contradictions in the Scriptures, nor could there be any. The whole dispute among non-Orthodox theologians rests on a:
The question ofis reduced from the spiritual and moral sphere to the level of formal juridical categories:
came to be understood not as the renewal of a sinful soul, or as the acquisition of righteousness,
but rather as the result of a man’s satisfying certain conditions, whether(as with the Roman Catholics) or (as with the Protestants):
Then, if a man violates the required conditions, he cannot be saved.
In fact, the salvation or perdition of a man is the result of theof his soul. is not simply a place, but also the state or condition of a soul that has been renewed.
Christ came to earth not to move us into better living conditions, but rather to give us spiritual rebirth, to heal us of the corruption of sin, to restore to us the beauty of the image of God, and to make us children of God:
“If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature” (2 Cor. 5:17).
Since theof the soul depends on the inclination of the will, a man must use force (cf. Luke 17:20; Matt. 11:12). This is why our doctrine of salvation cannot be considered on the level of what we have done or not done.
has to be regarded as , carried out by the grace of Christ with the active participation of the one who is being saved.
In some people this process is completed quite quickly, as with the wise thief who repented on the cross, while in others it takes place slowly and indirectly.
Besides, what is spiritually required of one man or another varies with the individual, as does the level of spiritual perfection which he may reach;
this is evident from the parables of the seed and the talents (cf. Matt. 13:1-23; 25:14-30).
In order to be convinced that Holy Scripture is free from any internal contradictions, we must first be clear about its terminology:
specifically, what it means, and what it means .
In those texts concerning justificationwhich are cited by , the Apostle Paul’s words are directed not against good works, as such, but against the works of the law.
“” is a very specific term, by which St. Paul refers to the ritual and ceremonial aspect of the :
its Sabbaths and feasts, circumcision, washing and rites of purification, its scrupulous distinction between clean and unclean food, and finally its whole ponderous structure of ethnic religious customs which had been built up over the ages.
Imbibing “the works of the law” with their mother’s milk, the regarded their religion not as a force for moral regeneration, but rather as the sum total of all the requirements which had to be strictly observed in order to merit justification in the sight of God:
The more one fulfilled the works of the law, the greater his reward, in purely arithmetical proportions. Thus there arose that utilitarian and mercantile mentality against which St. Paul constantly battled.
When it comes toas the expression of a lively faith in God, St. Paul not only did not reject them, but positively exhorted Christians to perform them diligently.
For example, he writes:
“To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (Jas. 4:17).
Thus, when we speak about works, we make a very important distinction betweenand the , which have indeed lost all their importance in Christianity.
are not quantities that can be weighed and measured. Their value lies not in their number but in the with which they are done.
For example, the small coin of a poor widow was worth more in God’s eyes than the large sums which the wealthy were donating to the treasury of the Temple;
“for all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living” (Mark 12:44).
Furthermore, the very same work can be accounted as good or bad, depending on thewith which it is performed:
Theof the Gospel parable spent much time in fasting and prayer, but he derived no benefit from them, because he acted to show off his good works to others;
yet the prophetess acquired the Holy Spirit by her fasting and prayer (cf. Luke 2:36):
Those sectarianwho reject the fasts and prayers of the Church as being unnecessary should note the fact
that this righteous woman, by her works of abstinence and prayer, obtained God’s grace even at a time when grace was not yet accessible to men, since the Holy Spirit had not yet descended upon the Apostles (cf. John 7:39).
Finally, the worth of good works lies not so much in the deeds themselves as in their manifestation of man’s good qualities, his virtues.
There is a definite correspondence to be noted here. Every “leaves a discernible trace in his soul, whether positive or negative. If these acts are continued more or less consistently, they gradually render a man virtuous or base.” or that a man does
Thus, it is important to practice good works in order to acquire good habits (cf. Rom. 12:12; 1 Tim. 4:16). For this reason the Gospel says:
“Blessed are they that mourn .... Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness .... Blessed are the merciful .... Blessed are the peacemakers,”
- meaning that happy will be the lot of those who constantly and consistently do good.
Now let us try to clarify the essence of the:
When the Sacred Scriptures speak of the necessity of, they mean by this word not only an abstract, theoretical acknowledgement of certain truths of religion, but the consent of man’s will in submitting to God.
In other words,contains an active element, one of . In all the places where saving faith is spoken of in the Holy Scriptures, we always encounter definite acts.
In our ordinary, everyday life, an engineer is not valued so much for his theoretical knowledge as for his ability to apply that knowledge in practice.
In the same way, God expects of us not an abstract faith, but one that is living and active.
It is interesting to note that the mere knowledge of religious truth, without a corresponding way of life, not only does not profit a man, but incurs for him even greater condemnation;
as Christ said: “That servant which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes” (Luke 12:47; cf. Rom 2:13).
And so, a Christian’s faith must include a sincere desire to become a different and better man. This demands interior effort, self-examination, repentance, a change in one’s way of life,
so that our faith may shine like a bright light. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).
3. What Should We Strive Towards?
The question of whether man is saved by faith or by works is framed in the wrong way, because the soul’s salvation cannot be separated from its moral and spiritual condition.
The Son of God came to earth in order to restore to man a harmony among his thoughts, feelings and acts, and thus to reunite man with Himself.
Faith cannot be set up in opposition to works; they should be united, as are the soul and body of a living human being. The more a man practices virtue, the stronger his faith grows, and the stronger his faith, the more virtuous his life will be.
The two support each other:
God does not need either the bare acceptance of His existence or the mechanical performance of certain acts.
He loves us so much that He offered His Only-begotten Son as a sacrifice for our redemption. What could be greater than such love?
It follows that we ought to respond to God not with half-hearted love, but with a whole-hearted love which encompasses our hearts and our lives.
To sum up the essence of Christianity, St. Peter the Apostle writes to believers:
How can one become temperate without fasting? How can one become kind and charitable without giving aid to the needy?
Clearly, to be virtuous in soul requires a life of practicing virtue:
As St. Peter further writes, “He that lacks these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins” (2 Pet. 1:3, 5-9).
This brief instructive passage is noteworthy in that it combines the most important elements of Christianity: personal effort and the assistance of God’s grace, a virtuous life and progressive improvement of the soul.
Of course, all this requires time and patience, as the Apostle Paul teaches:
“Let us not be weary in well-doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men” (Gal. 6:9-10).
“Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord” (Rom. 12:11, RSV).
In vain have non-Orthodox writers argued about how a man is saved:
“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith which works by love” (Gal. 5:6).
Any Christian who does not work to better his soul is wasting the grace which he has received, without any profit. As our Lord said,
“He that gathers not with Me, scatters abroad” (Matt. 12:30).
beautifully summed up the disposition which we should constantly strive to maintain in ourselves: