8/12/15 Ken late 40’s
Ken, late 40’s, was out fishing at a local park lagoon when I reached out to him with some questions – first about fishing but then about his spiritual beliefs. Ken reminded me of Peter, after Jesus’ crucifixion. Peter had just spent three years with Jesus and the other disciples – beginning with Jesus’ command to “follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” Then, during the fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection, Peter sort of shrugged his shoulders and went back to his former occupation – fishing for fish. Like Peter, Ken had a strong spiritual background, but seemed to have shrugged his shoulders also when it came to going forward in his faith.
I believe Ken’s struggle to answer this question was caused by – or was the cause of – some confusion he had regarding what it means to be a Christian in the first place. I had asked him what he believes the difference is between someone who ends up in heaven and someone who ends up in hell. “After all”, I asked, “no one is perfect, so how does God decide who is saved and who is not on Judgment Day? What is God’s standard for judgment?” “Well”, Ken said slowly, “If you believe in Jesus, you can go to heaven” I pushed back a little. “You mean, that’s all we have to do, just believe in Jesus? I mean, it says in James that even the demons believe. Is it enough to believe in Jesus as an historical figure like, say, George Washington?” “No,” he answered, deep in thought, “You need to do good deeds. James also says ‘faith without works is dead’. So you need to believe in Jesus and do good deeds in order to be saved” he concluded.
This is a confusing point for many believers. On the one hand, it seems that someone should do more than just say they believe in Jesus in order to go to heaven. On the other hand, the Bible says that we are saved by grace through faith – not by works. (Ephesians 2:8-9) Trying to explain, I told Ken that there are at least two different kinds of faith. One is ‘dead faith’, which also implies there is ‘living faith’, and there are different things to have faith in – like the lawn chair he was sitting in. He has faith that it would hold him up, but of course this doesn’t qualify as “living faith”. I told him the relationship between faith and works is this – ‘faith works’. Faith is a noun and works is a verb. Good works are the result of a true, living faith in Jesus, but it is only the faith that saves. We can’t add anything to what Jesus did on the cross for us. He did it all. We can only receive it by repentance and faith and respond with good works. As James so rightly said, “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.” (James 2:18) We are saved through the kind of faith that works!