Audio length: 15:19 minutes
Fr. Gregory helps us understand the harmony of faith and works.
From the Epistle today; St. Paul teaches …
“ … if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Hearing this you could be forgiven for thinking:- “There must be more to salvation than this! Believing in the resurrection and telling others about Jesus are both vitally important, but not the whole story … surely?!”
The Apostle St. James, the Lord’s step brother might be thought to agree with you. In his epistle, St. James says:-
“But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.” (James 2:18-24)
Clearly belief is not enough for salvation. We must do the works of God as a testimony to our faith if we are to be saved. But, we should not pit St. Paul against St. James as some have done in the past; most notably the Protestant Reformer of the 16th century, Martin Luther, who being an ardent but misguided advocate of St. Paul, referred to the Letter of St. James as an “epistle of straw.” This is fundamentally to misunderstand both St. Paul and St. James … but we must now go back to St. Paul’s teaching from the Apostle today and see if we cannot discover the full depth of his own teaching. Then we shall see that St. Paul and St. James do in fact agree and that between them they have much to teach us today as we confess Christ to others and proclaim Him as the Risen Lord.
St. John Chrysostom in his commentary on this text in Romans employs another verse from Romans, Chapter 4, verses 18-21 to show that saving faith in the Risen Christ requires both strength and vigour in its acquisition and proclamation. Speaking of Abraham who held firm to God’s promise of a son despite Sara’s barrenness he says:-
“(Who) … against hope (he) believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations. And being not weak in faith, he considered his own body now dead, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that what He had promised He was able also to perform.”
Here is the insight often expressed in both the Apostle and Fathers that although grace is the free gift of God in Christ, its effectiveness depends on a strong active faith, a faith that might even move mountains. Faith then is how we live our lives, utterly dependent on God and trusting His promises in the light of both His Love and Power.
If saving faith is active and strong, notice also that its context is the Lordship of Christ who is victorious over even death itself. St. Paul is fond in his letters of referring to Jesus as “Lord.” This of course has a Jewish background. In the Old Testament the Name of God was so utterly holy that it could only be uttered in the Jerusalem Temple and to this day when the more common “God” is used for “Yahweh”, the Hebrew word, the middle “o” is replaced with a hyphen in religious texts. Invariably the word “Adonai” or “Lord” was used instead as God’s Name on the basis that this was the Lord of lords and King of kings. No earthly power of any temporal lord could even approximate in the slightest to the infinite majesty and power of the Holy One of Israel. Nonetheless “Lord” was deemed to be the most appropriate substitute word for God (or in common speech – “Hashem” – the Name) and it is this word, “Lord”, that St. Paul uses for Christ himself. So the Apostle does not simply teach that we should confess Jesus but the Lord Jesus. He is “Lord” because He is victorious over death and being “Lord” we must have a faith that accepts Him as the Lord of our lives. We may be God’s children but we are also his servants. Christ is our Friend and Brother but He is also our Lord and Master. We cannot say that we believe in Him unless we also are prepared to submit to His Will and trust in His providential care. A faith then that is not manifested in works of righteousness is a flat denial of Christ and His Lordship according to St. Paul. So you see, St. Paul and St. James do in fact agree. Have a strong faith then that is expressed in deeds.
Deeds, however, are not the only requirement when it comes to saving faith, but confession of Christ as well. We must confess Him before men with our lips and not shrink back timidly as if we were embarrassed or afraid. Which matters more to us – Christ – or not disturbing and upsetting people? Are we pleasers of God or pleasers of men? Personal witnessing for Christ is incumbent on all Christians – not all the time of course – but at the right time with the right person and with the right words. Discerning the appropriate time and manner of such witness requires both prayer and wisdom, both of which are readily available from the Holy Spirit - if we simply ask … and of course persist in the asking.
St. Paul’s teaching therefore in this Epistle verse could readily be taken as a mandate and a mission statement for all believers. The outcome of its implementation is the coming of the Kingdom and the building of the Church both in respect of our own salvation and the salvation of countless others. The ripples of evangelisation spread through space and time, well beyond the limits of our own earthly lives. Let us then remind ourselves from St. Paul:-
“ … if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)