There are times when I read K.W. Leslie’s Fuller Understanding blog and applaud it. There are also times when I grumble against it. And then there are times when he hits me with such a new way of looking at things, that I’m not sure exactly how to respond!
A few days ago, I was reading his post on James 2:19 (“the demons believe and tremble”), Faith without works produces uncomfortable faith. He states the following:
And God should likewise scare us when we’re unrepentant. When Christians ignore works because they think faith, and faith alone (or sola fide as the Reformers put it) will save them, notice how they tend to focus on how angry Jesus is—how wrathful and vengeful God is at sinners, and how the whole world is going to hell, and when Jesus returns the wicked will explode in great geysers of blood. You don’t see a whole lot of love coming out of such folks. God makes them nervous, and they want to share this nervousness with the world—sort of a warped, scary gospel that’s all about “turn or burn.”
Faith without works isn’t just dead; it’s warped. We have to unwarp it by showing love, by our good works, to those whom Jesus loves. When we love others—when it isn’t just talk—we can really understand how grace works. When we don’t, we’re not too far different from the demons.
K.W. presents Christians who emphasize “faith alone” at the expense of works as people who worship a blood-thirsty deity.
At first sight, this appears counter-intuitive. I’ve often heard it said that a belief in free grace should make us more loving because we’re receiving God’s unconditional love, which we don’t deserve. I once heard a Christian girl say, “When we receive God’s love, it automatically flows out to others.” And I’ve read Christian authors who state, “Judgmental Christians are like the God they worship: critical, perfectionist. They have no conception of God’s free grace!” Surely it’s people who believe in works salvation who have a warped view of God, right?
And yet, I can see K.W.’s point. What kind of God is the “faith without works” crowd worshiping? A God who incinerates people for not saying the sinner’s prayer, who disregards the good deeds of non-Christians as “filthy rags.” And the “faith without works” crowd may pat themselves on the back because they themselves won’t be incinerated, or they’ll feel compelled to save the world from their God’s wrath by making people say the magic words (the sinner’s prayer).
I’m sure K.W. believes that only Christians will be saved, but I’m doing some “reader response” here, reading what he says in light of my own experiences. When I believed in a God who wanted me to be “good enough” by doing good works, and when I embraced a God who accepted me just because I said the sinner’s prayer, my view of God wasn’t all that positive, to tell you the truth.
But I will say this: when a person does good works, he or she is getting practice loving other people as God does. And that can influence the person to see God as loving.
Moreover, I think it’s important not just to see Christianity as a “get out of hell free” card, but to remember that God is a God of righteousness and justice, both of which are based on God’s love. When God saw his people abusing and hurting the most vulnerable members of society or giving him shoddy treatment after all he did for them, that made him mad. That’s the source of his wrath. But there are many Christians who act like God doesn’t get angry at Christians’ sin because Jesus has been punished in their place. Their focus is on the penalty for sin rather than God’s hatred of sin, and I think that’s misplaced.
Personally, I’m not comfortable with a God who’s perfectionist in his expectations of me, nor with one who throws out his love of righteousness in the name of “grace.”