Works vs. Faith

I was confirmed in the catholic church.  Now, let me start by saying I don't know a lot of Catholic theology.  I'll just be writing from my point of view that I developed through my confirmation classes which, let's face it, was many many years ago.

It seemed to me in the Catholic faith that you were suppose to follow certain rules and guidelines in order to please God.  (If you're Catholic, and I'm way off base, please let me know!)  It seemed to me that what you do in this life determined your place in the afterlife.

I'm a Lutheran now and they have a different approach.  They believe that there is nothing you can do to earn a place in Heaven.  It is by the grace of God and the sacrifice of Jesus that we are able to spend eternity with God.  In other words, it's our faith.

So when I was embarking on my religious journey ten years ago, I greatly struggled between these two concepts.  Which is it?  What gets you into heaven?  Is it your works on this Earth or is it your faith?

Here is what I believe.  I know that anyone who believes in Jesus with their whole hearts is forgiven for their sins and you can not enter heaven with sins.  God is perfect.  He hates sin.  Therefore, if you don't accept Jesus then you haven't accepted that your sins are forgiven therefore you must pay the price for all your wrong doings rather than accepting that they have already been paid.

I don't know about you, but that concept took me a decade to understand.  It didn't really seem fair that I wouldn't be punished for the things I did wrong, plus does that mean that all the people in the world who do great things are doomed simply because they don't believe in Jesus?  That also didn't seem fair.

I'm getting slightly off track.  Let me quote from the source:

James 2:14-17

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works?  Can faith save you?  If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill," and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?  So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

James is making it clear that if you truly love Jesus, you won't just pray.  You'll go out and live the word.  Faith and works go together, but not because doing good things get you into heaven.  It's because our love for Jesus makes us want to help others.

Think of someone in your own life you love.  Maybe it's a spouse, or parent, or friend.  What do you do to show that person your love?  What do you do that shows other people you love that spouse, parent or friend?

It's the same sort of idea.  I love Jesus and I want to do things for him and show others my love for him.

So what about the people in the world who don't believe in Jesus but do great works?  If someone finds the cure for all cancer, but isn't a Christian, will they go to hell?  I really don't know.  But I do believe that sin needs to be erased before going to heaven and I know that Jesus' sacrifice erases sin.  It's a gift that needs to be accepted.  I also know that God is merciful.

I will say this...without giving God glory, we tend to take the glory ourselves.  So let's say I give a donation to a charity and they reward me and give me praise.  Without the understanding and love of God, I will take that praise for myself which will feed my ego.  However, if I know that all things come through God, then I know that the praise belongs to God and not to me.  That creates humility.

I don't have all the answers.  I'm still working through a lot of things, but I wanted to share my beliefs on this topic.  Please feel free to leave your respectful comments on the issue!