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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Faith and Good Works

Martin Luther once famously wrote that you can no more separate good works from faith in the Christian than you can separate heat from light in fire. This pertains to classic Reformation teaching next to traditional Roman Catholicism (and ironically much of "evangelical" protestantism).

I think a Roman Catholic would want to stress that we cannot separate true living faith in Christ from a transformed life of holiness. We agree that these must not and cannot be separated.

However, even though faith and works cannot be sliced apart, they should be distinguished. Take the fire example once again. I cannot separate the heat from the light but I understand the distinction. Heat and light may be inseparable in fire but they are different and have different functions.

So when I want my plant to grow, I don't subject it to more heat, but place it in better light. And when I want my leftover pizza to taste better, I don't set it in the light, but apply some heat.

So even if faith and works cannot be separated in the life of the Christian, I understand them to serve different functions. Faith is the instrument by which I apprehend the benefits of Christ's life and sacrifice, namely forgiveness and salvation. Works are the natural outflow of living faith.

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1 comment:

Kurt Wall said...

Heat and light are inseparable but distinct. In all but the most extreme cases, where there is light, there is also heat. So, light is to grace as heat is to good works; where grace has entered, one is surely likely see good works.

You can't press the metaphor too hard, though, and some contrarian will surely point out that an abundance of good works does not necessarily point to grace's presence.

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