Faith AND Works

This morning I was at Christ Episcopal Church, where Mark Osler and I engaged in a dialogue on Faith and Works during the church’s Sunday Morning Adult Education Hour. These public dialogues with Mark, an outgrowth of our own conversations, are an enormous source of blessing for me, as are all of our conversations; I grow a lot from my engagement with him.

While Mark and I manifest our Christian discipleship in different ways in the world (despite the fact that we both are law professors at the same law school), some important shared underlying premises came out in our dialogue today.

First and foremost is that the Great Commandment that we love God and love one another means that faith and works are inextricably linked. Christianity is an incarnational faith that was always meant to be manifested in the world.

Second, it is God’s plan of salvation we are about, not our own. Mark shared the oft-used reminder, “God is God, and I am not God.” That invites us to a humility and a selflessness. It is not my project, my plans that I author, but God’s plan that I have a role in. That has a lot of implications, several of which we mentioned in our conversation, including that it frees us to rejoice in each other’s achievements, rather than have jealousy or envy over them.

As I said at the end of our time together, for me the bottom line is that the invitation to listen to God’s word and act on it is there for all of us and it is our choice whether to accept it. And our invitation is, to use James’ formulation is to be “doers of the word and not hearers only,” to manifest our faith in all we do. How we each do “works” in the world differs – Mark and I are great examples of that – but our invitation is to live our faith in the world in a meaningful way.

PS – I neglected to record our dialogue, as I often do. This is a conversation Mark and I have had before and, although today’s dialogue was very different from the last time we did it, if you are interested, you can listen to a podcast of the prior talk here.


A Dialogue on Faith and Works

On Wednesday, Mark Osler and I had the third of our Mid-Day Dialogues on Faith. The first two were on Assessing the Value of Creeds and Intercession.

Like the first two, this was a lively and wonderful discussion. And like the others, I’m not sure who benefitted more: the audience or me and Mark.

Neither Mark nor I view faith and works as an either/or proposition, both believing that both faith and works are important. We also share an appreciation that what constitutes “works” varies tremendously by individual; we all have different gifts and different ways of trying to be Christ in the world.

There are, however, some differences in the way we view faith and works. In thinking about my own talk and listening to Mark’s one of the things I observed is that, while we both worry about the extremes: a focus on faith without works or works over faith, the locus of our primary worry is different. I tend to worry more about the danger of emphasizing faith over works and Mark over the alternative. We also both are cognizant of where there is imbalance between those two in our own lives.

You can access a recording of the program here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast, which contains only Mark’s and my comments and not the Q&A/discussion that followed, runs for 28:36.)

We Are His Handiwork

Fittingly, given that Mark Osler and I will be engaging in a mid-day dialogue on the subject of Faith and Works at the law school in a couple of weeks, when I randomly opened the Bible, I found myself at Chapter 2 of the Letter to the Ephesians.

In that passage, St. Paul reminds us that “by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God.” In fact, to make sure we make no mistake about it, twice in that passage he repeats “by grace you have been saved.” And twice he says, in slightly different ways, it is not by our hand, not by our work that we are saved.

No confusion there. It is not by our own efforts that we have been brought to life in Christ, but by the grace of God.

But – lest that create a different confusion- lest it make us think that now that we have been saved we get to sit back in our armchairs with our feet up waiting around for Judgment Day – Paul goes on in the next sentence to tell us that “we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.”

To say that we are God’s handiwork…that we have been created in Christ Jesus to do God’s work says everything about who we are meant to be in the world. We don’t do good works, the work of God, so that we may be saved. We do it because we have been saved. Because we are God’s handiwork.

PS Mark and my mid-day dialogue will be on February 15; stay tuned for the podcast.