Believing is Doing

Last week I had some reflections on “faith” in Colossians 1: perhaps the defining aspect of Christian faith is that this faith that exists in Christ. In the opening, thanksgiving section of the letter the triad of faith, hope, and love, as it is embodied by the Colossian church(es), is Paul’s source of celebration.

He then moves into his prayer for them: that they’ll be filled with the knowledge of God’s will so that they can lead lives worthy of the the Lord. Please God; bear fruit; grow in knowledge; endure with patience; give thanks.

Protestantism has created some odd heresies. One of these is an elaboration of justification as by “faith alone” that renders the works, i.e., the everyday life of a Christian, inconsequential. For the Pauline letters in the NT, nothing could be further from the case. Paul’s missionary goal is to bring about, not faith alone, nor even faith in Christ per se, but “the obedience of faith” (Rom 1). Paul celebrates the Thessalonians’ work of faith (1 Thess 1).

The reality into which Christians enter is not merely a different set of heart thoughts (I now believe in Jesus) but a whole new sphere of life.

The paragraph ends with Paul’s affirmation that God has freed us–we are now in the kingdom of the beloved son. Not merely freed from condemnation, we are now freed to learn, to grow in the knowledge of God. Not merely free to learn, we are free to act in accordance with what we know.

To be one who exists in Christ is to have a life defined by a certain kind of actions. This is not merely the repetition of “belief” in Christ, but a whole life lived so as to please our God and Father.

20 thoughts on “Believing is Doing”

  1. Imagine my frustration trying to teach this truth in a church that, though often accused of uplifting the “work” of baptism, is still a church that teaches faith alone.

    My first discovery of this truth was in Ephesians 2, the most famous passage used by the “faith alone” camp. If they would only carefully read the whole sentence though, they would find that we are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus TO DO good works. We cannot separate the reaction from the action, God’s grace coming to us by faith MUST lead to works.

    Thanks for the great thought this morning.

  2. I think Paul has in mind a distinction between works of righteousness and works of law that our heretics don’t pick up on.

    Second temple Judaism I think viewed circumcision, washings, tithes, Sabbath-keeping, as “works of righteousness” – i.e., proofs of covenant relation. These Paul is counting as nothing as compared to faith in God’s Messiah and the new freedom to act on one’s faith which is initiated by his Spirit (since Pentecost).

    The comment by MattS above mentions baptism – another ‘work of righteousness’ which may be counted as nothing without faith.

    On the other hand, “works of Law” (doing God’s will) had also been downgraded by Second Temple nabobs to a kind of rule-following behavior rather than action from a spirit of love. Paul recognizes that these are not set aside lightly, i.e. not by faith alone but by “works of faith” – action from love in Christ.

    I think the NPP (new perspective on Paul) broaches this topic.

  3. Dan,
    In my Colossians commentary I have a fair bit on Colossians and “faith,” usually rendering it “faithfulness”.

    1. Dude, you’re never going to call me “Daniel” are you?
      70 times 7.
      70 times 7.
      70 times 7.
      In Jesus Christ Mike is forgiven, thanks be to God.

      Sounds good, Mike. Is it still slated for mid-July release here in the U.S.? I’m doing notes on Colossians for a study Bible, I’ll have to take a look at what you’ve done.

  4. Curious problem for me.

    Trust owes in proportion to the trustworthiness of the object trusted (an inverse on Hume against miracles). I trust my rock-climbing rope to break my vertical falls for the number of falls and the break-weight for which the rope is rated. After it has taken its rated number of falls, I toss it. My life’s at stake. I don’t trust my rock-climbing rope to hold a school bus full of children dangling over a cliff. Proportionality.

    I trust my combined intuitive and professional skills to diagnose and prescribe remedies to case problems at demonstrated levels of competence subject to strenuous peer review (and reflexively trust my peers to such review), but I don’t trust myself nor my peers to perform transforms of water into wine. Proportionality.

    I trust gravity reflexively and innately when I stumble down the hall at 3:00 a.m., waddling to the head, that is, I trust that I don’t end up floating in zero gravity upside down bouncing off the ceiling. I don’t care what you say about “what a long, strange, trip it’s been.” Something about the sum total of the past trustworthiness of gravity to orient me and long evolved proprioception innately to know more about the physics of gravity than Richard Fenyman could ever forget – I don’t need to prevent a neurotic breakdown by scouring Newton’s “Principia” to reassure myself of the inverse-square law every time before stumbling my way toward the head. Though Piper seems to insist that I need to so scour his books and babble “justification by faith” cacophonously upon my every step on my way to the toilet – just to reassure him that I get it! Let Piper go unassured. So inversely I don’t trust myself to jump over the moon in a single leap. Not anytime in the near future.

    Trust in proportion to the trustworthiness of the object trusted. Experimentally with more failures than successes along the way. Hence skepticism in proportion to the skept-worthiness of the object of distrust.

    Always a ratio of trust/distrust for every object – not just evidenced, but measured by my doings.

    Yes, my doings tell more about the status of my trust than my sayings.

    And God knows I’d trust Fenyman over Tillich and Barth and pied Piper merged at their best intersections to guide the proportion my trust on my daily walks (my paths of integral formulations of daily life) and for every matter – any day.

    But, that silliness is just theology versus science. And it’s a distraction because …

    … the curious problem for me is an innate and cultured sense deeper than my sense of the trustworthiness of gravity that the turn to epistemological (blah, blah, blah) self-preoccupied neurosis unto a paralysis of doing, in both theology and philosophy, is an escape artist’s trick deliberately to distrust God that upon our willingness to do/obey (John 7:17), God solves our knowledge problems by Self-Revealing. At least by revealing enough for us to know – what to do – in our doings – next. “In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him” (John 14:20-21). The disclosure is God’s problem. The inner Prompt, “take a sack of groceries to your neighbor,” is intimate knowledge which becomes the object of my trust. And if that’s the only disclosure and object that I get case-by-case, then that’s adequate (Paul, “sufficient”) for my trust – unto doing. And for a reason – doing is trust’s seal. The problem is that I’m clueless what those without intimacy are really trusting, if not trusting only in their own abstractions?

    But it’s not my problem. I won’t own it.

    And its solution is Someone Else’s anyway.

    Which means that Quaker silent worship without a homily is my way of shutting up, so that doing is doing nothing save listening, and getting out of Someone Else’s Way.

    Peace,

    Jim

  5. Core to the problem is a failure to see faith as integrated through all of life. If the only mission is to save people from hell, then pressing people to “believe” is a sufficient goal. However, if the mission is more universal (and it is!), then a more comprehensive plan of action is necessary.

  6. I do think it’s faith alone, but evangelicals tend to have a thin picture of faith, and for that matter, repentance.

  7. It’s definitely time to admit that “sola fide” is a historical reaction to the RCC. We need to grow up a bit and start asking what Scripture teaches about faith, not simply what the Reformers taught.

    1. Hey Will, I do understand where you are coming from in going back to the Scriptures. My question would be isint that what the Reformers did?

      1. Yes, in a sense. They tried to do that, and I think we’re all better off for their efforts. But those of us who find ourselves in the reformed tradition have not followed their example. We’ve just taken their conclusions as the final word. Many in the reformed tradition simply parrot “sola fide” and don’t bother to follow the reformers in continuing to examine what the Scriptures teach. What was once a motto of sorts for the reformers, “Ecclesia semper reformanda est,” we have left by the wayside in favor of the comforts and security of our tradition.

  8. I think works are necessary for salvation, but that they do not cause salvation, because faith alone gives life. We must say that good works are necessary for salvation. It is necessary to work. However, it doesn’t follow that works themselves save us simply because they are necessary.

    I don’t know, does that sound right?

  9. Well stated, Daniel. The tradition in which I was raised strongly walled off believing in Jesus (saving faith) from following him (legalism). The irony is stunning–the worst thing you could do as a follower of Jesus is to call others to do the same!

  10. Romans ala roman a clef (under lock a key!) –

    Daniel, on proportion (my prior post) and on doing in proportion to trust (trust/mistrust ratio) – “Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith …” (Rom 12:6, “analogia;” but cf., Romans 12:3, “metron”).

    Analogia wrongly taken is taken to substantive doctrine, but not so! Analogia a sweet Aristotelian metric, and that measure for measure (did Paul know Aristotle’s “Prior Analytic”?), and if I’m wrong on analogia (and I’m not!), then I’m certainly not on “metron” (cf., Romans 12:3).

    Certainly, I’m wrong. Certainly, I’m correct.

    This is not Paul on poetics nor on church fathers’s centuries of substance.

    It’s Paul on praxis!

    In praxis, it’s a clinical judgment to map analogia/metron to diagnosis and prescription. It’s cruel to push any mediating-reconciling-forgiving-restorative justice client and plural parties beyond their true valued metron/analogia at any moment. Psycho-metric tests are all about getting metron/analogia in proportion to an entire ecology of judgment case-by-case so as to avoid clinical hamartia.

    Romans through – roman a clef – is that Romans is an epigenetic text for fixing the fixity of a measure of faith in a clinical ecology of judgments, and Romans calls for doing in proportion to trust in the trustworthiness of the Object trusted and its local (case-by-case) charismed leadings!

    Trust that which is in measure, distrust that which is without. The ratio of metron/analogia. It’s praxis.

    “If prophecy, according to ….”

    But prophecy must come from Somewhere, in praxis …

    Cheers,

    Jim

  11. “To be one who exists in Christ is to have a life defined by a certain kind of actions. This is not merely the repetition of ‘belief’ in Christ, but a whole life lived so as to please our God and Father.”

    Love it. This has been a point I have tried to articulate for a while now as I’ve begun to wrestle free from the notion that “faith” is merely acknowledging the validity of an event or a particular interpretation of that event (namely, the cross and resurrection).

    Should we also add that these certain kinds of actions are defined by the way of the cross, that is, “having the same mind as Christ” like Paul describes in Philippians 2?

  12. I just preached through Matthew 17:24-27 as a springboard that faith is our active response to what the living God has done/said. I appreciate Moltmann’s line in the Coming of God: “It is not my faith that creates salvation for me, salvation creates for me faith.” Everything we do is faithful response to what God has already accomplished- not seeking to get the ball rolling.

    Faith and works/action are two sides of the same coin and trying to separate them has led to some ridiculous errors. Thanks for this word.

  13. The grounds of justification is by faith alone, the declaration of the genuineness of that faith is shown through our works. Good works are never the grounds of our justification. Could you be more specific with regard to what Protestants have come up with this heresy of justification by faith alone? It must be a fringe position, because the orthodox position is not that good works are “inconsequential”. Without them, your faith is “dead”.

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