mercredi 31 mai 2017

Is Good Works Against Heaven and Eternal Life?

"Do we inherit Eternal life and heaven because of our works or because of having faith in Jesus."

This question was asked in one of the WhatsApp group I happen to be in. This question has the singular weakness to present a false choice to those who are asked to answer them. As I remarked in the WhatsApp group, the question although interesting to provoke a discussion, it is nevertheless based on a false dichotomy. Before I answer the question directly, some clarification is needed given the faulty assumption that oppose deeds and faith.

Clarifying the Concept

The attitude of the New Testament is not to make an unintelligible separation between our action and our faith, as if we were asked to choose and show our loyalty between our actions or our faith. Rather, the New Testament always strive to keep a balance by reminding us about contexts and the necessity of a collaboration between our faith and our actions. 

This is clearly seen in the writings of St. James who took pains to point out that faith and deeds are not in a perpetual war as some would like us to believe. There three verses found in the second chapter of the epistle of James says it all:
"But someone will say, 'You have faith; I have deeds.' Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds." James 2.18 NIV
"What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?" James 2.14 NIV
 "As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead."James 2.26 NIV
It is clear that from the perspective of St. James, there is no good that can come from making an arbitrary distinction between faith and action. Such as endeavor is theologically futile just as it is practically fruitless.

The Kingdom of God

Now back to the question related with the inheritance of the kingdom or as some presume by calling it Heaven. To reflect on it from a sound biblical foundation, I'd like to share a text which is suggestive of how the early Christian community thought of it, which is still how the majority of the Christian today think of it. The text is found in epistle of St. Peter which give the direction for proper reasoning in light of what we read above in James 2:14,18,26.
"Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For IF you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." - 2 Peter1:10-11 
In this passage of St. Peter, we are informed that the believers should do something in order to receive a rich welcome into the Eternal Kingdom of our Lord. Just like St. James, St. Peter doesn't see the necessity to separate a life of faith with a life of actions (deeds) as these the verses above demonstrates through sentences such as these: a) make every effort, b) if you do these things. These are statement of actions. St. Peter not only link but also condition the plain entrance into the Kingdom of the Lord to these series of actions as the word "IF" in the verses suggest.

We also see that St. John do not make an arbitrary separation between actions and the experience of receiving the kingdom in his book of Revelation in chapter 3 verse 21,
"To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne." NIV
St. John expressly says that the inheritance into the reign of Christ is meritorious, which means based on the believer's life of victory. This explicit reasoning from St. John is repeated over and over in the book of revelation. It is clear that St. John saw no problem that a life of faith should be expressed through actions and deeds of an overcomers - "The person who conquers will inherit these things. I will be his God, and he will be my son" - Rev 21:7 (also see Revelation 2:7; 2:26-27). 

Eternal Life

As for Eternal life, the New Testament use that word in different way with regard to the life of the believer. However, I will start by restricting its possible diverse meaning by singling it to one mean. I will restrict it to Jesus definition of the word, "Eternal life" as the knowing relationship with the Father in John 17:3,
"Eternal life is to know you, the only true God, and to know Jesus Christ, the one you sent." - John17:3  CEV
"And this is eternal life: to know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent—Jesus the Messiah." - John17:3  ISV
The Lord Jesus therefore define Eternal Life as the knowledge of God (the Father and the Son). If we use this definition with relative consistency we discover some interesting biblical revelation. For one, we can find out that St. John reminded his audience that they already have that knowledge form of relationship with the Father and the Son called "Eternal life" in 1John5.13,
"I have written these things 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 ISV
Hence for St. John, the believers who were recipient of his letters had the 'Eternal life' or had 'that knowledge/relationship with the Father and the Son'. In order word, they were in a relationship with God, for knowing someone indicate having a relationship with that person.

Another New Testament writer, St. Jude told believers that the relationship with the Father "Eternal life" is something we can be led into just like any other relationships. 
"keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life." - Jude 1:21 ESV 
So as believers keep their eyes focused on Jesus' mercy (or grace), the believers are lead into Eternal Life. Here St. Jude seem to suggest that this relationship with the Father is something that we are continuously led into. Which makes sense, since all relationship are not static and continuous. We are always invited to know the person more and more or this relationship will be disrupted and we become estranged to each other (no more relationship).

All these were just to show in an indirect way how active participation is required for anyone who is in a relationship and want to keep this relationship alive and enduring. It is true for our human relationship, it is equally true with our divine relationship. Allow me now to respond to the question of Eternal Life and its relationship with deeds in a more direct way now. 

St. Paul told his audience that this relationship with the Father called "Eternal life" is unmistakably linked with a believers good actions in Roman 2:6-7,
"God 'will repay each person according to what they have done.' To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life." Romans 2:6-7 NIV
St. Paul unmistakably said that God do avail the provision of the knowledge (relationship) of God aka 'Eternal Life' to those who search for Him by doing good. Here we see St. Paul who understand the primacy of faith over the works of the Mosaic Law with regard to divine justification, nevertheless recognizing that actions are not per se in opposition to faith but that action such as doing good are an inescapable in our experience of true faith that lead is to the reception of 'Eternal Life' just as St. Jude and St. James recognized.

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