Blog # 433 A Single Saving Vine
Most likely you would be surprised if you came across two otherwise normal people discussing, let alone arguing over whether it was more valuable to have a particular color eye or the ability to see. Yet it seems something similar has been done in the history of Christian faith.
For several centuries now a frequent focal point of serious discussions and arguments between Catholics and others has been the question of the relationship in God's saving plan between faith and good works. My contention is that, just as in the truth of the matter there is no competition between the color of one's eyes and the ability of a person to see, so, in the truth of the matter there is no real competition between faith and good works.
On the physical plane, in God's creative plan, the color of one's eyes and the ability to see work together for the good of the whole person. On the spiritual plane, also in God's creative plan, Christian faith and good works blend together for the salvation of the individual believer, the good of those around us, and the glory of Jesus. Why and how can we argue about that? Yet argue, contradict, condemn, and remain divided over the issue we do, all, we would like to think, in the name of Jesus. It must be something like the Moslems fighting Jews in the name of God, Irish fighting English in the name of God, Hutus fighting Tutus in the name of God all over the world, long ago and now. It may be hard to understand and justify when you are not involved in the process, and it is as sad as it is real, but real it is So it is with our arguments and division over the relationship between faith and good works.
Using the Bible as our source of ammunition, we line up on two sides and throw texts at
each other as though they were poisoned arrows capable of overcoming the contradictions to God's word, as we see it, in one another. There is plenty of ammunition available for both sides. When we put all of our texts together in a row, we wonder how it could be the 'other side' does not see it our way and follow as we all should do on the clear path we have discovered. One of the problems is that each side is as confident and sincere as the other.
There is also the danger of not seeing the real problem. The real problem is our division. Since we are dealing with God's plan of salvation in Jesus, as long as we remain divided in our conviction as to what that plan is, all of us are missing something essential God desires us to have, and. to that extent, all of us are wrong.
There are several texts from Scripture that help us focus our efforts to understand one another and reconcile our differences with regard to the question of the relationship between faith and good works.
First for the side of faith. "Before faith came we were under the constraint of the law, locked in until the faith that was coming should be revealed. In other words, the law was our monitor until Christ came to bring about our justification through faith. But now that faith is here, we are no longer in the monitor's charge. Each of you is a child of God because of your faith in Christ Jesus." (Gal. 3: 23 - 26). "Verily, verily I say unto you, he that believeth in me hath everlasting life." (Jn. 6: 47 KJV). "What must I do to be saved? The answer was "Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, and all your household." (Acts 16: 30,31). "If you have faith, everything you ask for in prayer you will receive," (Mat. 21: 22).
Then on behalf of good works. "I solemnly assure you, the person who has faith in me will do the works I do." ( Jn. 14:12). " In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor lack of it counts for anything, only faith which expresses itself through love." (Gal. 5: 6). "What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be you warmed and filled, notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body, what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works is dead, ..." (Acts 2: 14 - 17 KJV).
"When the Son of Man shall come in his glory...and before him shall be gathered all nations...then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father; inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me to drink..." (Mat. 25: 31ff. KJV.
"...faith that manifests itself in love" (Gal.5:6) seems to be the Scriptural solution to any problems we may have developed with regard to the relationship between faith and good works. God's gift of salvation is not one or the other, but both. Neither one lives or is itself without the other. The eye that sees is the eye that is brown, or blue, green, or gray. The color is part of the eye's design. So faith and good works are part of one another and cannot be true without one another. There are incidences in Scripture where faith is proclaimed and there are incidences where good works are proclaimed. One of these is the story of Jesus cursing the barren fig tree (Mat, 21: 19). Down through the ages believing Christians have used such incidences to argue, contradict, and divide ourselves.
In John's Gospel 15: 1 - 8 Jesus lays before us a different path. "I am the vine, you are the branches." We are to be one in Jesus in such a close relationship that we share the same life. Then, "He who lives in me and I in him will produce abundantly." The essential requirement throughout our Christian experience is to be united with Jesus through faith. Then, in union with Jesus, as branches united to a vine and to all the other branches, in one single life, we produce the good fruit of God's love.
The prayer of the Vine for His disciples was this: "...Father...I pray that they may be one, even as we are one."(Jn.17: 20 - 23. Then one day when Jesus had arrived home He asked the disciples what they were talking about as they walked along with Him on the way home. And remember what it was. They were arguing about who was the most important among them. ( Mark 9: 33,34.) History repeats itself.