Faith and Repentance vs. Works of Faith and Repentance

Jun 26

Faith and Repentance vs. Works of Faith and Repentance

As many people may be well aware, there has always been a tension between faith and works. Is one saved simply by believing in Jesus and repenting of their sins? Or are good works necessary for salvation? Should one be emphasized more than the other?

My view can be summed up in a few sentences: True faith and repentance will naturally produce works. Therefore, anyone who claims to have put their faith in Jesus and repented of their sins ought to demonstrate such fruit. If they don’t, their claim of conversion/repentance is suspect at best. Yet, it is possible to do such “good works” without putting one’s faith in Jesus or repenting. Therefore, in the end, the emphasis for salvation should NOT be on works, but on faith and repentance.

A few further thoughts/implications in regards to this theory:

  1. While it is true that true faith/repentance should produce fruit (and LOTS of it), and if fruit isn’t being produced, one’s conversion/repentance is suspect, we must also be careful not to become picky “fruit inspectors.” Jesus did say that we will know a tree by its fruit, but it’s not our job to determine someone’s salvation based on how much fruit he/she is or isn’t producing. If we have reason for concern over someone’s salvation because we don’t see what we think is adequate fruit to demonstrate such conversion, the best thing we can do is pray. In addition, we must also act based on our convictions. If someone’s life isn’t adding up to what we would expect in a converted life, we must be careful to entrust responsibility or leadership to such a person. It is very likely that the person hasn’t been converted. At best, they are very inconsistent, and not trustworthy. If they are confronted by church leadership on issues where they need to repent, and they refuse to do so, they should be treated as one who has yet to be converted (regardless of whether they have been truly converted or not), according to Scripture.
  2. It also seems to me that we can too easily become fixated on fruit. Becoming picky fruit inspectors is one example of such preoccupation. Another example is the emphasis on fruit that is taught in some sectors of Christianity in regards to salvation. To me, this is ludicrous for a couple of reasons. First, people can do plenty of good works without being converted by Christ or repenting of their sins. As a result, emphasizing good works in regards to salvation leads to a false sense of security for people. It causes them to think that if they are good, moral, upright people, they will go to heaven. This is probably the BIGGEST lie I have seen in our culture today. It is everywhere. People who know very little of the Bible (and yet claim to be Christians) routinely hold this view. (“I give a lot of money to orphanages. I provide for my family. I do whatever I can to help others in need. I attend church faithfully every Sunday. A person like me should go to heaven, not hell.”) I think it is COMPLETELY irresponsible for anyone to feed this belief by emphasizing good works in regards to salvation.
  3. If salvation is the result of faith and repentance (which are matters of the heart), and not any particular visible sign (such as speaking in tongues, becoming baptized, becoming an usher at church, giving all of one’s money away, etc.), then we must keep preaching this message over and over and reminding one another of this truth. Since we are so easily preoccupied with fruit (and since only God sees people’s hearts with 100% clarity), it is easy to see why we default to focusing on fruit instead of putting the emphasis on the only hope for humanity–a new, changed heart. If someone’s heart hasn’t been changed and been made anew by Christ, it doesn’t matter how many good works are ascribed to anyone. Without our spirits being made alive once again, we are lost forever, regardless of our good deeds.

One of the most frustrating things about being a pastor is noticing how difficult it is for people to give themselves over to Jesus, and let Him have control over their lives. It is difficult to continue preaching that message when it seems no one is budging. It’s much easier to tell people to be nicer people, to help others, etc. People are willing to do that every once in awhile and feel better about themselves. Yet, I am convinced that the message of turning one’s life over to Jesus must be the central message. What is even more frustrating is looking at my own life and seeing how stubborn I am as well. But rather than be bummed out about how I’m not doing this or that like I ought to be doing, I must choose to focus on faith and repentance. From faith in Christ ONLY flows every good deed that is pleasing to the Father, because that is the ONLY way Christ actually works in me–and there is NO OTHER in whom God is well-pleased than those in whom Christ (His one and only Son in whom He is well-pleased) is working–no matter how many “good deeds” a person might have.

In this post, I have shown how emphasizing good deeds is dangerous and doesn’t lead to true salvation. Instead, we must focus on faith in Jesus and repentance. Yet, many churches who don’t emphasize good deeds for salvation can also miss the mark by emphasizing something entirely different in place of faith/repentance: namely, adherence to propositional truths about God, Jesus, and salvation. In my next post, I wish to address this fallacy.

2 comments

  1. I love this post! I have a few thoughts as well.

    First, I could not agree with you more about point #2. I think moral lifestyles are sending a lot (and I mean A LOT) of people to Hell because those people convince themselves that God simply wants them to be good enough. Even a brief read through the New Testament should prove that God doesn’t want us to be moral in and of ourselves, but He rather wants us to be transformed by Him into holy beings. What morality we have is just a side product of the change that He is performing in us.

    Second, someone asked me recently what I think about people who appear to exhibit fruit of the Spirit more than proclaiming Christians. His point wasn’t an indictment on those Christians, but rather as a bit of a challenge regarding what counts as the fruit of the Spirit. I think that probably most of what we see as fruit isn’t really fruit. If our “fruit” is due to personality, life circumstance, or ulterior motives, that isn’t real fruit. Anyone with the right personality or motives can act kind 99% of the time without truly being a kind person. Anyone with the right personality and situations in their lives can appear full of joy and peace 99% of the time. Someone who is being transformed by Christ, though, should start exhibiting those fruits in scenarios where Christ is the only explanation for it.

    So, if I was born with and raised to have a pleasant disposition, that isn’t evidence of transformation in my life, and it is not fruit. If I was born with and raised to have a rotten disposition, but Christ starts a work in me, I may exhibit some apparent fruits less than those without Christ. It isn’t proof of a lack of fruit.

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    • That makes a lot of sense, Drew. Never thought of it that way before.

      I bet you and I have the same view on spiritual gift surveys as well, if I’m drawing your conclusions correctly. It bothers me that such surveys ask questions about people’s general dispositions as indicators of what gifts they have. Where’s the Holy Spirit in that? Weren’t they that way before they became Christians? How is that an indication of what spiritual gifts the Holy Spirit has given them now that they’ve repented and believed?

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