OpusDei [Downloadable .pdf version for easier reading].
Make no mistake about it, your works do matter to your salvation. Read the ‘red letters’ in your Bible. The works required of you are neither difficult, nor for public glory, nor for any other purpose than the fulfillment of your Divine Destiny as someone asking for the Eternal Grace of God. Empty faith alone will not suffice to meet the needs of your purpose in life. Faith, however, is the only thing that will sanctify your works and Grace alone will suffice to overcome your inadequacies as a flawed human. The Ultimate Price was paid so that this Grace might be extended to all of us.
Those who teach others to be complacent in the accomplishment of these necessary works, or requiring others to do the work required of us alone, will not do well in the kingdom of heaven. I directly challenge any reader of this article – Prove to me otherwise by the Words of Christ Himself.
Many Evangelicals, Mainline Protestants, Catholics and other Christian denominational faiths begin just about any theological debate with a view toward determining whether the opposition truly believes in salvation by grace alone, salvation by works, or some hybrid theory. As with all theological debates about what it means to be a “Christian,” it seems that we all ought to take a look at the actual Words of Christ as a starting point. This particular piece focuses on the ‘red letters’ as found in the Book of Matthew. I cannot help but find that faith alone, without daily living proof of that faith, will not suffice.
I believe this article is timely given the death of the Kansas late-term abortionist, George Tiller. Many of us pro-lifers, whether we want to admit it or not, felt a refreshing sense of relief that he is no longer able to tear apart babies who would have otherwise survived outside of the womb, but for his act of dismembering them or vacuuming out their brains. By his own account, he may have taken as may as 60,000 infants’ lives.
Of course, for the Christian, the question becomes, “What if Dr. Tiller gave his life over to Christ in the last 30 seconds of life?” Moreover, there exists a serious theological question as to whether the murderer of Tiller blasphemed the Holy Spirit by taking the life of Tiller in a church. If Tiller’s potential plea for last-minute salvation failed, he went straight to Hell. Even if Tiller’s shooter, Scott Roeder, was a holy person till that moment, if blasphemy unto the Holy Spirit occurred, he’s done as well. The ‘red letters’ actually don’t leave much room for debate on these points. Obviously, if one thinks that the Words are just a form of philosophy, good advice, or just simply one view among many, there is no sense in even attempting to understand the clear choices put before us. The Good News is that we don’t need to personally worry about Tiller’s and Roeder’s issues since we have plenty to do ourselves to act upon our own Faith.
With these points in mind, a step-by-step analysis of Matthew reveals some interesting answers about whether we are required to engage in certain works before we may avoid the fires of Hell. For me, the question is readily answered by even a cursory review of Jesus’ words. The Great Story of the Book of St. Matthew is set forth as follows.
First of all, we are told that we cannot live by material means alone. It is written that we must live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. (Matthew 4:4, KJV). In this same vein, it also naturally follows that we should not participate in the temptation of God with the help of the Enemy (4:7). These commands are then concluded with the thought that we are to commit ourselves unto God through our service and worship to Him alone. (4:10). Oddly, the Scripture does not say that we are to make this commitment only by worship or belief alone. This can only be reasonably construed to mean that my faith is not sufficient for salvation, but that faith with works is. Our faith, however small, can grow into the greatest of works (even so much as moving a mountain) and we will need the Grace of God to be fully sanctified. (17:20; 19:23-24, 26; 21:21-22).
After Matthew recounts the time Christ spent in the desert with Satan, we are given a not so subtle description of why all of this matter. It is summed up by saying “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. […] Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (4:17, 19).
Well, what could “follow me” possibly mean? Using the words literally, as I expect most conservatives would want me to, one can only get the conclusion that “follow me” requires acts coupled with faith.
Moreover, what does it mean to “repent”? It can only mean that you live life as though you were in acknowledgment of your sins. We all know that true repentance can only be shown by how we live our lives. The “why” of how we live our lives is not something we can ever answer sufficiently. When life is over, we will only find out why we lived our lives the way we did. As we are later told, there will be plenty of folks knocking on the door, claiming His Name, and the door is simply not going to be answered.
Nevertheless, Matthew leads us to the first big sermon in Chapters 5 through 7. Interestingly enough, these Chapters are not a big sermon on altar calls and faith standing alone. They focus almost exclusively on the omissions and commissions to/of acts which lead to our place in Heaven, or, where in disregard of His Word, we end up with weeping, gnashing of teeth, or the fires of Hell. It is also interesting that these words are being directed at people who obviously came to listen to Jesus, already believed in what he was doing, and he had to have already known that he was going to Calvary. If he knew that he was going to Calvary to wash the entire slate for anyone who believed in him, he certainly spent a whole lot of arguably unnecessary time talking about what needed to be done by the believers and what they needed to avoid. If the words were only suggestions, I sincerely doubt that he would have followed up commands or prohibitions with words stating that either Heaven or Hell would follow, not purely by the decision to believe in Him, but by how these things were done.
This said, the followers were told that the “blessed” are those who are poor in spirit, meek, who mourn, who hunger and thirst after righteousness, who are pure in heart, who are merciful, who are peacemakers, who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, and when one is reviled for His sake. (5:3-11). The result of which is made very clear. It is said , “Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in heaven […]” (5:12). What could this possibly mean? If I do the things commanded, I will find great reward in Heaven. Each and every single one of the things mentioned requires that I do something. There is no way to be any of these things without a work of the conscience, often coupled with an overt act toward another human being. By way of our contemporary reference point, there are cogent arguments to be made that neither Tiller, nor his killer, demonstrated any of these characteristics as they completed their final works in life. Whether or not their lives were an Opus Dei is not for us to decide per se. We can only use their examples as a way to define or redefine our own daily existence.
After giving a description of those who will be blessed and given comfort, Christ goes on to tell the multitudes that they need to be a “light of the world” and that we are to “[l]et your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works. [emphasis added].” (5:16). Now, obviously, given His prior words, our works cannot be done or committed in such a way that we are prideful, vain, or arrogant. Our works need to flow forth from a heartfelt desire to allow our lives to become the ultimate act of service unto our Maker and those that he created to live with and amongst us.
Well, maybe you still have John 3:16 in mind (i.e., the penultimate “altar call” verse cited so often by contemporary Christians), and just don’t think that following the commands set forth in Chapter 5 are mandatory for entrance to heaven. I must ask you then, why does Matthew 5:19 go onto say that the failure to abide in “these” commandments will result in being called “the least in the kingdom of heaven”? Maybe that’s not enough for you. It goes on to say, “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. [emphasis added]. ” (5:20). I’m not the brightest guy in the world, but this does certainly seem unequivocal. Moreover, the “righteousness” being referred to follows directly from the beatitudes given to the crowd as instructions on what it means to follow Him. Nary a word is said about simply doing an altar-call and being relieved of further duty to actually do works that one is capable of within one’s own calling in life or given environment.
Now, how these acts are carried out by each of us can only depend on where we are in life. For example, a lawyer may be able to share his/her light in the courthouses. An invalid may only be able to share his/her light in a convalescent home. A mother may only be in a position to share her light with her husband and family. I don’t think that He said that our works must occur in any certain place. These works just must simply occur with the precedence of a pure, humble and willing heart. Again, the failure to abide by the commandments to fulfill his Law and Word, results in being called the least in heaven. The good news, at this early juncture in Matthew, is that one can conceivably still end up in heaven. However, as will be seen later in the Book, there are several things one can do to make sure that you have no chance at the proverbial entrance ticket.
After given the admonition that the failure to abide in specific commandments will lead us to becoming the least in heaven, Jesus goes on to give some specific instructions about what will actually get us near or into the fires of Hell. (5:22). The first one of these instructions being that simply calling a brother a fool is good enough to put us “in danger of hell fire.” This is followed by the command that we not come before God to place our gifts before His altar until and unless we have forgiven others of whatever perceived transgressions they may have committed against us. To the extent that we are called to lay our entire lives before the altar as a testimony unto Him and our fellow man, it does not seem to matter if we have not forgiven others. I think it is all too easy to say that one has done an altar-call, placed their lives at the altar, but yet completely forget to forgive others in that process. All too many of us do the altar-call, but don’t engage in the conscious act/work of forgiveness.
All too many of us forget that forgiveness is an act or work. Any “act” or “work” by a human requires that we direct our conscious will toward a given outcome and take the steps necessary to fulfill the intended outcome. If, for example, I want to forgive someone, then I must first will it so and then commit myself to the act of completing the forgiveness by consciously letting go any desire to seek revenge, to carry the baggage of the other’s sin, or to otherwise ‘hold it against the person’ until they have somehow repented in my view. In fact, if there is any one consistent theme in the New Testament, it is that we are to engage in the work of forgiving others and in the work of accepting His Grace so that our works might be sanctified and our negligent omissions overlooked. (22:37-40). By the way, it is so often said that “it isn’t easy to forgive.” Actually, it is supposed to be easier than anything Christ did. (9:3-6).
Along these same lines, with regard to what it means to commit an “act,” Christ further admonishes His listeners to make sure that they not only avoid murder, adultery and other offenses, but that we avoid even the very intentional thoughts of these things. With respect to those thoughts that occur to us without apparent reason, we are instructed to remove them immediately and take an immediate view toward the end goal. In fact, we are specifically warned that if we do not commit the act of removing sinful thoughts and doings from our existence, that the whole “body should be cast into hell.” (5:27-32).
As though we didn’t have enough to do after actually listening to His words in Chapter 5: 3-32, Christ goes on to speak about what our words shall be unto others. We are told that we are to keep our words simple and that we are not to swear by anyone, anything, or even by our own veracity. (5:33-37).
Now as for Tiller’s murderer, Verses 38-44 are particularly compelling. This is where we are specifically told that the “eye for an eye” system of morality is done. We are now to “turn the other cheek.” In fact, we are even told to “love your enemies.” We are “bless them that curse you.” We are to “do good to them that hate you.” We are to “pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” (5:39-47). In fact Verse 46 clearly suggests that there may be no “reward” for the failure to do these things that are commanded. Where in Verses 38-44 does it say anything to the effect that we are just to have faith and that we not fully commit to doing these things as Christians? Is prayer something other than an act of faith (i.e., a work)?
Chapter 5 ends by saying, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. [emphasis added].” (5:48). How would one be “perfect” unless one acted in a way which presented itself as a standard by which God will judge whether or not we have achieved what his Son commands? Obviously, what we do matters just as much as what we claim we believe. The strength or existence of any belief in Christ can only be ascertained by our conduct since it is the conduct that defines the concept of what it means to have “faith.” If one is not doing the acts which suggest the existence of actual faith, one cannot claim to have the faith.
Naturally, one would expect that this is all fine and dandy in theory. However, one is left to wonder about how it is that one is supposed to commit all of these acts unto our Maker, without violating the requirement that we not do them for our own glory, but unto the Glory of our Maker alone. This is answered in Chapter 6. We are told not to do our alms before Man, we are not to pray openly only for the purpose of being seen by others, we are not to make a big show out of our faith and sacrifices, and we are not to engage in vain repetition of prayers. (6:1-8, 16-17). None of this suggests that we cannot rejoice with each other in our salvation, our reasons for acting the way we do, or in the consolation that we have a good reason for doing good unto others. We can be a light unto the world without being blinding to others.
We are commanded, however, to pray in a way in a way that is in acknowledgment of the power of God, which respect His will for all of us (here and in heaven), that we receive the basic provisions of life, that we be forgiven as we forgive others, that we be given the help to avoid the sinful thoughts and actions that come, and that all glory be properly placed with Him and not us. (6:9-14). This is immediately followed up with the statement that, “But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (6:15). Again, this sounds very unequivocal to me. If you don’t do this (i.e., forgive others), you will not be saved of your sins.
It is not enough that you simply have faith that so long as you believe in forgiveness, you will be forgiven. You must actually do it in order to receive your reward !!! As we engage in a life of forgiveness and service, we earn our due treasures. (12:35-37). Our eyes must constantly be focused on this purpose and be focused in such a way as to where others have no doubt as to what we are looking at. (6:20-23). Along these same lines, you probably should not spend to much time thinking about what those who are already acting a in a Christian way are doing. (9:13). Our Master will see to it that the requisite number of workers are put into the field of life without us doing anything other than what is required of us whilst we act through and by a Christian heart and soul. (9:37-38). If you attempt to have an influence on someone through your humble service, or words of preaching, and they want no part of it, don’t worry about it. (10:5-15). It is expected that you will be persecuted for doing what is right and you better be prepared to face your prosecutors with a glad and humble heart !!! (10:16-28).
While we are busy doing all of the things required of us, so that we might avoid the fires of hell, we are also commanded not to worry. (10:25-31). Well, how am I not going to worry? Obviously, we must, again, take a conscious direction toward ignoring worry, and act in a way that testifies to our full faith in Him alone. That is, we must actively pursue the conscious act of destroying all worry. This is no easy task. We must trust that He will take care of all of our needs and that he will pave the way for His glorification and that He will take care of evil on His own. (6:24-34; 10:32-33).
Our ultimate trust in Him is, and must be, founded upon our spiritual and mental acts of conscience, purpose, and servitude. How easily we forget that we have control over our attitudes, philosophies, theology, and mindset. Freewill is not a matter of controlling external circumstances, which we cannot. Freewill is premised only in the notion that we can only change our attitude toward our circumstances, and, generally speaking, our circumstances will naturally change as our spiritual attitude does. (6:33-34).
Well, now the difficult part comes. Chapter 7 speaks to us on the topics of judgment of others, judgment of ourselves, hypocrisy, evilness, false prophecy, corruption, and the intent of our works. (7:1-23). In no way is it suggested that our works alone will save us. (7:16-23). Our works must be, as stated before, with a view toward glorification unto our Maker. They must be committed with a view toward spiritual, mental, and physical servitude unto something higher than ourselves. The works we commit may be good unto themselves and, in fact, may be very pleasing or admirable to others. However, this is completely irrelevant to the Christian. The Christian can have but one purpose in fulfilling his or her Divine Destiny. We must know why we do what we do before it can be given any credit worthy of Him. (7:22-23). Commit yourself to the act of building your house on a rock !!! (7:24-27).
It should also be noted that so many of us think in linear terms. We often think that our purpose is to serve God, family, friends, and business (in respective order). This is simply not true. You cannot put your family before your faith. That’s a serious work. (10:37).
We’ve got a lot of hard, but gladful, work before us. (10:34-42). “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Where is the “rest” coming from then? It comes from the peace of acting through and in him. Nowhere is it suggested that our works don’t matter or aren’t necessary. They will be made easy by our faith in Him, through Him and with Him. What makes life burdensome is when we falsely define what work is required and how it ought to be performed. It really isn’t that hard to feed the poor, to be merciful, to forgive, to make peace, or to preach the truth, when all is done from a humble heart directed at a Divine Purpose. Our purpose ought to emanate a natural and warm light unto the world. Our lives cannot be defined by our material possessions, even if we worked hard to get them. (19:29).
So aside from acting or failing to act, what can get us in real spiritual trouble? The answers are given in a fairly straightforward manner. Even a “believer” can get himself or herself to Hell. Remember, even Satan believes in the power of God – that’s why he fears God so much. It is said, “Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And, whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come. [bold emphasis added].” (12:25-37). This is, again, an unequivocal statement that there are acts of speech which will be completely unforgiven, regardless of Calvary nor the reasons for Calvary. Not only do your physical acts need to be conducted in conformity with your faith, your speech must also be as well. These are matters of works/acts, and not simply matters of perceived “faith.” (12:35-37).
At this point, it is also probably worth noting that the common denominator amongst all of the parables in Matthew is that they all involve forms of hard work (i.e., building, sowing seeds, buying and selling, toiling in a field, repayment of debts, working the vineyard, preparing for a wedding, grinding at the mill, serving the man of the house, spending our money/goods wisely). Moreover, the parables seem to end with the result that someone is rewarded for doing the right thing, or, in the alternative, ends up burning, weeping, gnashing their teeth, and/or being cast out into the darkness. (13:3-9, 18-23, 25-43, 44-50; 18:23-35; 20:1-16; 21:27-40; 22:2-14; 24:40-41; 24:43-51; 25:1-30).
In Matthew 15 we are again reminded that it is our words that can defile us. (15:8-11, 18-20). The problem with words is that they are most often outright intentional or certainly a byproduct of the will of the heart. When we engage in unholy speech-acts, we defile ourselves, regardless of whatever we may somehow believe. It is not the beliefs that we hold which most see or hear, it is the words and actions that accompany our day-to-day interactions with others. Our words are works of faith.
Following the above sayings, instructions, and admonitions, Jesus then, after being asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”, responds with a rather lengthy discourse in Chapter 18 on what it means to be a believer. (18:1-2). The analysis is deep and again speaks to the conduct which will separate the sheep from the goats. (18:3-35). Indeed, we are reminded that our faith should be as that of a child – innocent, pure, and unaffected. Again, we are also given a dire description of what happens to those who mislead his “little ones.”
In fact, misleading a child results in the notion that one would be better off being drowned in the sea than to have interfered with the faith of a child. (18:3-7). Well, how does one mislead a child? Obviously, one can only mislead another through setting a bad example through conduct or speech or by directly doing wrong unto the “little one” (i.e., through our works). It is even stated that his “little ones” have direct representatives before the “face of my Father.” (18:10). For me, anyway, there is plenty to think about with respect to our contemporary culture of consistently misleading children by direct interference with their innocence and pure faith. Indeed, many an organization is fully dedicated to destroying the faith of children and supplanting it with secular values or no values at all.
With respect to disputes between Christians, Matthew 18:15-17 gives us a form of conduct by which they are to be resolved. We are to work it out amongst ourselves. If that does not work, then we are to work it out as a private situation within the Church. In the event this does not work, we are simply to separate ourselves from the problem. Each one of these steps takes work and has very little to do with inactive faith. In fact, with respect to forgiveness, we are immediately told that our forgiveness must not be once, or seven times, but seventy times seven. (18:21-23). That’s some serious work for anyone.
As to the conduct of our sexual lives, the call to certain conduct continues again in Matthew 19, where we are reminded that man and woman are made for each other and it was so from the beginning. We are reminded that we have the responsibility to cleave to our wives and to become one with them. The Scripture, in this area, is very clear and unequivocal. A direct command not to interfere with the relationship is also made and divorce is viewed as a form of direct judgment. Remarrying is adultery, save the cause of fornication by the wife. The new husband of the cheater is, by his conduct, deemed an adulterer as well in this instance. How does he become an adulterer, you ask? By his works. (19:4-9).
Interestingly, it is accepted by Jesus that not all will marry and, since being in the womb, were not meant to be married. (19:12). To some extent, Christ was aware of the arguments that might be made against those who don’t marry (i.e., accusations, gossip, questions as to their sexuality). He did not condemn these people, but reminded us of the purpose given to them by Him and not us. (Id.).
Next, comes the Greatest Commandments, which are:
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. [emphasis added].” (22:37-40).
This is the summa theologica. Who amongst us thinks that love is simply a matter of faith? I don’t know about any of you, but I know that love requires hard work, intentional and humble sacrifice of self, and an undying need to acknowledge that we cannot control the object of our love nor the source of the Greatest Love. While my faith has helped me love when I thought I had none left, I have always had to meet God halfway with my private dedication, servitude, and willingness to will my mind, soul and body to do the right things to strengthen my love of others and even of self.
After setting forth the Great Commandments, Christ then goes on to point out that we should not merely expect others to do the works required of us. Rather, we must do honor to the value of works of servitude by serving others ourselves. Moreover, we are again our works cannot be for show or for the purpose of building more impressive churches. (23:2-39). As though one could be surprised, we again find a very negative result for those who do not pay heed to these admonishments. Indeed, should we abide in our institutionalized and personal religious hypocrisy, our house shall be left unto us “desolate.” (23:38).
Even in the face of persecution, deliverance of our bodies for earthly punishment, hatred, deception, and iniquity, we “shall endure unto the end.” (24:4-13). Well, what does “endure” mean? It can only mean that, along with faith, we do what is required to get to the end of what life means for us in even a hostile culture. We are to act toward the end of being a faithful “servant.” (24:43-51).
After reminding us of the end game, the pragmatic lessons of Matthew essentially wraps up with the following summation:
And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
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 an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. (25:31-46).
And so it is that the Great Story told in Matthew ends with a clear how-to guide as to what acts will show our faith and those omissions which place ourselves in jeopardy of eternal damnation. Where in this final admonition does it say that our mere faith, our mere knocking on the door, our mere religious affiliation, or our mere belief in God, gets us into Heaven? It simply doesn’t. What we are left with is a clear command that we must do certain things and the failure to do them will result in something eternally bad.
Unless someone is going to claim that these Words cannot be taken at face value, they are unequivocal. Our works matter and they are essential to the goal of reaching the end as a good and faithful servant. Do not be so blind as to lead another to complacency by asking them to buy off on the idea of ‘salvation by faith alone’ with nary a living proof that the faith has a foundation in daily life. To do so would be to mislead one of His “little ones.”
For those of us who already know these truths, we are further instructed to teach all others to likewise abide, by our conduct, in observing His commandments. (28:20). As for me and my house, permissum meus fides exsisto a Opus Dei. That is, may my faith be an acceptable work of God unto Him.