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05 March 2012

Faith alone is not enough

Very few folks in America vote against God. The vast majority say they believe in God. The better questions is which god they believe in, and what they believe about God. But rarely are those questions pursued in public discourse or even in "mass evangelization." For our nations Protestant roots have embedded in us the notion that it is simply enough to believe. So much is this false notion emdedded within us that we often hear the slogan absent the object: "Just have faith" or "You've gotta believe." As if faith alone is enough.

Commenting on the Last Judgment scene in Matthew 25, St Augustine confronts head-on the false theology which says that faith alone is sufficient. When examining that scene, he points out that Our Lord charges the condemned "with having failed, not in faith, but in good works."
He does not rebuke them because they have not believed in him, but because they have not done any good works. For assuredly, lest anyone should promise himself eternal life by reason of his faith (which without works is dead), He went on to say that He would separate all nations, which before had been herded together, and were accustomed to use the same pastures... These [condemned] had believed in Him, but had not taken pains to do good works, as though they could achieve eternal life by means of that same dead faith.
Notice how our holy father among the saints characterizes the understanding of faith alone, or faith without works. He says that it is "dead faith." Living faith, however, is what Our Lord desires; and it is that faith which attains eternal blessedness and grants us the beatific vision. This living faith is active in love; in fact, the two are inseparable. For to believe in God is both to love Him and to love Him in others.

St Augustine indicates that this is the point that not only St James, but also St Paul also makes when he says, "Though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing."

3 comments:

Trent said...

St. John Chrysostom on 'faith alone'.

Is it then enough,” saith one, “to believe on the Son, that one may have eternal life?” By no means. And hear Christ Himself declaring this, and saying, “Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. vii. 21); and the blasphemy against the Spirit is enough of itself to cast a man into hell.

But why speak I of a portion of doctrine? Though a man believe rightly on the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, yet if he lead not a right life, his faith will avail nothing towards his salvation. Therefore when He saith, “This is life eternal, that they may know Thee the only true God” (c. xvii. 3), let us not suppose that the (knowledge) spoken of is sufficient for our salvation; we need besides this a most exact life and conversation. Since though he has said here, “He that believeth on the Son hath eternal life,” and in the same place something even stronger, (for he weaves his discourse not of blessings only, but of their contraries also, speaking thus: “He that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him”;) yet not even from this do we assert that faith alone is sufficient to salvation. And the directions for living given in many places of the Gospels show this. Therefore he did not say, “This by itself is eternal life,” nor, “He that doth but believe on the Son hath eternal life,” but by both expressions he declared this, that the thing doth contain life, yet that if a right conversation follow not, there will follow a heavy punishment. And he did not say, “awaiteth him,” but, “abideth on him,” that is, “shall never remove from him.” For that thou mayest not think that the “shall not see life,” is a temporary death, but mayest believe that the punishment is continual, he hath put this expression to show that it rests upon him continually. (Homily 31:1, On John 3:35-36)

Lois Johnson said...

I am still trying to understand what you said but my thoughts so far are that if someone truly has faith then works will be the fruit of the faith.

Rev. Greg said...

As a Lutheran pastor, I agree that faith is not enough. As written in the Formula of Concord, Faith alone saves, but faith is never alone. It is not a dead faith or a claim to believe that saves, but faith in the mercy won for us by Jesus' suffering and death for all people and received through a living faith, a faith created by the Holy Spirit through His Word of Scripture and that moves us to be renewed in thought, word and deed.