What comes first Faith or Works?

In the bible James states in the 2nd chapter of his letter: “As the Body without the spirit is dead so faith without works is dead”. This I find interesting because my instinctive usage of this analogy would be quite the opposite of James statement here. I would have said: “As the body without the spirit is dead so works without faith is dead”. Can you see what I’ve done? I’ve switched works and faith round. Faith would be equal to the spirit and works would be the result. This runs true in other parts of this letter – (If a man has faith let him show it by his works etc). Jesus hinted in a similar fashion in John Chapter 7:17 “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” It is in the doing that we discover a knowing. Action precedes revelation and not as one may think the other way round.

There is the story of a Dr Crane – it goes like this:

Newspaper columnist and minister George Crane tells of a wife who came into his office full of hatred toward her husband. “I do not only want to get rid of him, I want to get even. Before I divorce him, I want to hurt him as much as he has me. Dr. Crane suggested an ingenious plan “Go home and act as if you really love your husband. Tell him how much he means to you. Praise him for every decent trait. Go out of your way to be as kind, considerate, and generous as possible. Spare no efforts to please him, to enjoy him. Make him believe you love him. After you’ve convinced him of your undying love and that you cannot live without him, then drop the bomb. Tell him that you’re getting a divorce. That will really hurt him.” With revenge in her eyes, she smiled and exclaimed, “Beautiful, beautiful. Will he ever be surprised!” And she did it with enthusiasm. Acting “as if.” For two months she showed love, kindness, listening, giving, reinforcing, sharing. When she didn’t return, Crane called. “Are you ready now to go through with the divorce?” “Divorce?” she exclaimed. “Never! I discovered I really do love him.” Her actions had changed her feelings. Motion resulted in emotion. The ability to love is established not so much by fervent promise as often repeated deeds.

CS Lewis said it this way: “Do not waste your time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbour; act as if you did. As soon as we do this, we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less.”

So in all this the works precede the revelation of love and its power. In this way: “As the body without the spirit is dead so faith without works is dead.”

 

However more generally in the Bible we find the other way of seeing things. If a person believes he has eternal life. The Kingdom of God is at hand – it is time to repent and believe that we may be partakers of Kingdom life. He that believes should not perish but have eternal life.

What comes first Faith or Works? Both and Neither! Having both these ideas perhaps we could conclude that neither are wholly right or wholly wrong but both must work interchangeably. My faith is the result of my actions and my actions are the result of my faith. Let’s squeeze things a little more tightly and say “my faith is my work and my work is my faith”. They are no longer separated - faith is no longer an adherence to a belief system dictating some future response but rather a dynamic, existential, interactive relationship with a l(i/o)ving God moment by moment unfolding collaboratively his loving purposes.

3W2Db4UD is not something you do

Perhaps  3 Ways to die before you die is in itself a bit misleading. We cannot actually do this. There is the story of a couple of Africans who in the midst of religious awakening in Rwanda many years ago climbed a mountain and were going to fast and pray to the end that they may ‘crucify the old nature’. After a ‘very spiritual time’ they came back down the mountain horrified that half way down they had entered into a blazing arguement. A wise Christian said ‘Do you not know that you have already died with Christ?’ (A reference from the Bible). It seems that all the effort, stress and strain to achieve something paradoxically had produced the opposite. So lets get this straight – this is not something that we can gain any credit for. If it were so we would be defeating the object. Far from having ‘died before we die’ we and all our egoic structures would be very much alive!

I remember a time when a friend told me I was so humble. I felt very proud about that. There are times I have struggled so hard to be humble knowing, if I ever achieved it, i would be so proud. So equally however hard we struggle to achieve some super spiritual condition it will only result in a spiritual pride which is by far the worst sort of pride there is.

So lets rephrase this to 3 ways a dying can take place / happen before you die.

Celebration of death

Yes this is my first WordPress blog thanks to Mr Rossmeister. What a morbid title I hear you say … but wait …. there is more to this than meets the eye. All the great religions, metaphysics, philosophies and seekers for truth and reality have in one way another agreed with G K Chesterton who was once asked by a London newspaper to join other authors and thinkers to address the weighty and important question of “what’s wrong with the world.” His response:

Dear Sirs,
I am.
Sincerely yours,
G.K. Chesterton

Yes – if we are honest we all come to the same conclusion. If we choose rather to point the finger at others we ultimately discover that there are 3 fingers pointing right back at us. (that is unless whem you point at others you use all 4 fingers). Perhaps if we did not want to take responsibility for the whole world as did  Chesterton we can at least (there is no escape from it) conclude that … my main problem is myself.

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But isn’t death a bit … terminal? Couldn’t we soften the edges ease it a bit … make this a wee bit more palatable? I dont think so for at least 2 reasons … the very question betrays the quest for self(ish) preservation. It is as if the proposition of ‘dying before I die’ carries within itself its own reason for being. ‘Why should I die?’ … ‘Why do you ask?’ We need the statement with all its radical/ness to provoke the response which confirms its veracity. Jesus was full of provocative statements. He often followed questions with questions. The purpose being to create in the other an awareness of the truth he was proposing.

Secondly death deliniates a clear dividing line which other words fail to do. This dividing line separates us sufficiently from that which at best is merely a perpetuation of the old in new garb to a new spacious reality clothed in the pristine. It is this terminality which enables us to make clear the lines … the axe at the root of the tree … the ending which presupposes a new beginning.

Furthermore the whole idea of something new, lightbearing, novel has a certain wellbeing implied that can quite unintentially only serve the very self whose thraldom we sought to escape from – a point of return. Death therefore, dramatic as it sounds, is the only term that suitably carries us beyond the point of no return.