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Faith and Works

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Posted by Lee Gatiss, 2 Mar 2021

Lee Gatiss preaches from Part 2 of “A Short Declaration of True and Living Christian Faith.”

You have heard in the first part of this sermon, that there are two kinds of faith, a dead and an unfruitful faith, and a lively faith that expresses itself through love (Galatians 5:6). The first is unprofitable, whereas the second is necessary for the obtaining of our salvation. This true faith has charity always joined unto it, and is fruitful, and brings forth all good works. Now, let us hear further on this same subject.

The wise man says, “The one who believes in God will listen to his commandments.” For if we do not show ourselves faithful in our lives, the faith which we pretend to have is but a false faith: because the true Christian faith is manifestly shown by good living, and not by words only, as St. Augustine says, “Good living cannot be separated from true faith, which works by love.” And St. Chrysostom says, “Faith of itself is full of good works: as soon as someone believes, they shall be garnished with them.”

Faith against the world
How plentiful this faith is of good works, and how it makes the work of one person more acceptable to God than those of another, St. Paul teaches at large in Hebrews 11, that faith made the offering of Abel better than the offering of Cain (Hebrews 11:4/Genesis 4:3-5). It made Noah build the Ark (Hebrews 11:7/Genesis 6:22). It made Abraham forsake his country, and all his friends, and to go into a far country, there to dwell among strangers (Hebrews 11:8-10/Genesis 11:31, 12:1-5). So also did Isaac and Jacob, solely depending only on the help and trust that they had in God. And when they came to the country which God promised them, they built no cities, towns, or houses, but lived like strangers in tents, that might every day be moved (Hebrews 11:9/Genesis 13, 18). Their trust was so much in God, that they did not trust in any worldly thing, because God had prepared for them better dwelling places in heaven of his own foundation and building.

This faith made Abraham ready at God’s commandment, to offer his own son and heir Isaac, whom he loved so much, and by whom he was promised to have innumerable offspring, among whom one would be born in whom all nations would be blessed. He trusted so much in God, that even if he was slain, he knew that God was able by his omnipotent power to raise him from death, and perform his promise (Hebrews 11:17-19/Genesis 22). He did not distrust the promise of God, although everything seemed contrary to his reason. He truly believed that God would not forsake him in death and in the famine that was in the land. And in all other dangers that he was brought to, he always trusted that God should be his God, and his protector, whatever he saw to the contrary.

This faith worked in the heart of Moses, so that he refused to be known as the son of Pharoah’s daughter, and to have great inheritance in Egypt, thinking it better to have affliction and sorrow with the people of God, than to live pleasantly in sin for a time with evil people (Hebrews 11:25/Exodus 2). By faith he cared not for the threatening of King Pharaoh: for his trust was so in God, that he did
not live for happiness in this world, but looked for the reward to come in heaven, setting his heart on the invisible God, as if he had seen him ever present before his eyes (Hebrews 11:27).

By faith, the children of Israel passed through the Red Sea (Hebrews 11:29/Exodus 14). By faith, the walls of Jericho fell down without stroke (Hebrews 11:30/Joshua 6:20), and many other wonderful miracles have been done. In all good people who have lived before us, faith has brought forth their good works, and obtained the promises of God. Faith has stopped the lions’ mouths (Hebrews 11:33/Daniel 6:16-23). Faith has quenched the force of fire (Hebrews 11:34/Daniel 3:13-28). Faith has escaped the edge of the sword. Faith has given strength to the weak, victory in battle, overthrown the armies of infidels, raised the dead to life. Faith has made good people endure adversity well, as some have been mocked and whipped, bound, and cast in prison; some have lost all their goods and lived in great poverty; some have wandered in mountains, hills, and wilderness; some have been racked, some slain, some stoned, some sawn, some cut in pieces, some beheaded,
some burnt without mercy, and asked not to be delivered, because they looked to rise again to a better state.

One Christ, One Spirit
All these Fathers, Martyrs, and other holy people whom Saint Paul spoke of had their faith surely fixed on God, when all the world was against them. They did not only know God to be the Lord, maker, and governor of all people in the world, but they also had a special confidence and trust that he was and would be their God, their comforter, aid, helper, maintainer, and defender. This is the
Christian faith which these holy people had, and we also ought to have. And although they were not named Christians, yet was it a Christian faith that they had, for they looked for all benefits of God the Father, through the merits of his Son Jesus Christ, as we now do. The difference between them and us is that they looked forward to when Christ would come, and we are in the time when he has
come. Therefore, says St. Augustine, “The time is altered and changed, but not the faith. For we both have one faith in one Christ.” The same Holy Spirit that we have, they also had, says St. Paul (2 Corinthians 4:13). For as the Holy Spirit teaches us to trust in God, and to call upon him as our Father, he also taught them to say, as it is written, “You, LORD, are our Father and Redeemer, and your name is without beginning and everlasting” (Isaiah 63:16). God gave them grace to be his children, as he does to us now. But now by the coming of our Saviour Christ, we have received the Spirit of God in our hearts more abundantly, by whom we may conceive a greater faith, and a surer trust than many of them had. But, in effect, they and we are all one: we have the same faith that they had in God, and they the same that we have. And Saint Paul so much extols their faith, because we should give ourselves wholly to Christ, both in profession and living, now that Christ has come, no less than the old fathers did before his coming, but rather more. And from all that St. Paul says, it is evident that the true, living, Christian faith, is no dead, vain, or unfruitful thing, but a thing of perfect virtue, of wonderful operation or working, and strength, bringing forth all good motions, and good works.

True faith works
All holy Scripture agrees and bears witness that a true, lively faith in Christ brings forth good works. And therefore everyone must examine and test themselves diligently, to know whether they have the same true, lively faith in their heart sincerely, or not — which they shall know by the fruits of it. Many who have professed the faith of Christ have made this error: that they thought they knew God, and believed in him, when in their life they declared the contrary:. St. John confutes this error in his first epistle, writing that “We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands.  whoever says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person” (1 John 2:3-4 NIV). And again he says, “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him. Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray” (1 John 3:6-7 NIV). Moreover, he also says, “This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him.” ( 1 John 3:19-22 NIV).

And yet further he says “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God” and “We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them” (1 John 5:1, 18 NIV). And finally, he concludes and reveals why he wrote this epistle, saying, “For this reason I have written to you, who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life” ( 1 John 5:13). And in his third epistle, John confirms the whole matter of faith and works in few words, saying “Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God.” (3 John 11 NIV). St. John says that the lively knowledge and faith of God brings forth good works and, in the same way, he says that hope and charity cannot stand with evil living. Of hope he writes thus: “we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3 NIV). And of charity he says these words, “if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them” (1 John 2:5 NIV). And again he says, “this is love for God: to keep his commands” (1 John 5:3 NIV).

St. John wrote this, not as a subtle saying, a fantasy of his own devising, but as a most certain and necessary truth, taught to him by Christ himself, the eternal and infallible Truth, who in many places most clearly affirms that faith, hope, and charity cannot consist or stand without good and godly works. Of faith, he says “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them” (John 3:36). And the same he confirms with a double oath, saying, “Truly truly I say to you, the one who believes has eternal life.” (John 6:47). Now, since the one who believes in Christ has everlasting life, it must consequently follow that the one who has this faith must also have good works, and be studious to observe God’s commandments obediently. For to those who have evil works, and lead their life in disobedience, and transgression or breaking of God’s commandments, without repentance, belongs not everlasting life but everlasting death, as Christ himself says “those who do well shall go into eternal life but those who do evil shall go into the everlasting fire” (Matthew 25:46, John 5:29). And again he says, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be
their God and they will be my children. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulphur. This is the second death.” (Revelation 21:6-8 NIV)

Christ undoubtedly affirms that true faith brings forth good works. And in the same way, he says of love that “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me” (John 14:21), adding “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching… Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching” (John 14:23-24). And as the love of God is proven by good works, so also is the fear of God, as the wise man says, “The fear of God puts away sin”, and “The one who fears God will do good works”.

Lee Gatiss is Director of Church Society

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