September 23, 2020

How To Earn Your Salvation in 14 E-Z Steps!

We are going to do something we don’t normally do here today. We’re going to feature a three-part essay. Martha of Ireland has written another brilliant piece, but it needs to be chewed slowly. Part two will run around noon Eastern today, while part three will show up around four this afternoon. Dig in!

Salvation-based, Biblically-derived methodology compiled by sinners for sinners!  Special plenary indulgence included if your order is received during a Jubilee Year!  100% Satisfaction (for sin due to the saving work of Christ on the Cross) guaranteed!    No money down (because that would be simony)!  If not completely satisfied with the condition of your soul after application, simply return to us in the original wrapping before the Second Coming and General Judgement (offer void in Lake of Fire).

Earn your salvation today!

Well, we’re not quite that bad – not yet.  Yes, it’s that old Roman Catholic stand-by, well-known to you, our separated brethren, as “works righteousness” and known to us (if we know them at all) as something completely different.  I am referring to what old-timers will recognise as the Works of Mercy.  Traditionally, they are divided into two lists of seven: the Corporal (or bodily) works and the Spiritual works.  The lists as enumerated below are from the online version of the 1913 “Catholic Encylopedia” (because there’s no school like the old school).

The corporal works of mercy are as follows:
•To feed the hungry

•To give drink to the thirsty

•To clothe the naked

•To harbour the harbourless

•To visit the sick

•To ransom the captive

•To bury the dead

The spiritual works of mercy are:

•To instruct the ignorant

•To counsel the doubtful

•To admonish sinners

•To bear wrongs patiently

•To forgive offences willingly

•To comfort the afflicted

•To pray for the living and the dead

Or, as a list taken from a 15th century English catechism puts it, the spiritual works are:

  • To teach the ignorant
  • To counsel the needy
  • To chastise the sinful
  • To comfort the sorrowful
  • To forgive enemies
  • To suffer tribulation
  • To pray for all fervently

“To harbour the harbourless” is usually rendered, in modern versions, as “to shelter the homeless” or “offering hospitality to the homeless” but the older style covers more than just lack of a permanent living space; the migrant, the refugee, the displaced, the lost.  “To ransom the captive” is given as “visiting the imprisoned” but once again, the older version charges us to do more than just give of our time (valuable as that is).  It also echoes what Christ has done for us – the ransom of those captive to sin and the Devil.

The first major theory of the Atonement, the ransom theory, proposed that the death of Christ was in the nature of a ransom paid in satisfaction for the claim on the souls of humanity resulting from sin.  Origen was the theologian of the early Church who worked most on it, but it lasted up until the 11th century when St. Anselm proposed another of the major theories, the Satisfaction theory. Opposition to the ransom theory came from those who found it objectionable on the grounds that the Devil was owed anything, or had a legitimate claim, or that God would pay such to Satan.  Others modified the theory by stating that our First Parents’ sin sold humanity not to the Devil but to death, and it was by the death of Jesus that death was overcome and humanity ransomed from it.  Something comparable to this can be seen in the Eastern Orthodox Church’s icons of the Harrowing of Hell, where Christ descends into the underworld, destroying death by undergoing death, and drawing the souls of the righteous, the Patriarchs, and our First Parents, out with Him.

The ransom theory of atonement was influenced by the common practice in the early eras of  ransoming war captives from slavery.  Biblical texts used to support it included:

  • Mark 10:45: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”
  • 1 Timothy 2:5-6: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men — the testimony given in its proper time”
  • 1 Corinthians 6:20 “For you are bought with a great price”
  • Revelation 5:9 “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to take the book, and to open the seals thereof; because thou wast slain, and hast redeemed to God, in thy blood”.

Time to play our favourite game – “Where is that in the Bible?”  Bear with me, as I rely on a combination of the memory of a homily preached on the works of mercy from many years back, Wikipedia, and outright stealing – thanks to Google – from websites in general and St. Thomas Aquinas in particular.  The corporal works are the easy ones; the list is lifted bodily from Matthew 25:34-36:

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’”

That gives us six, and the seventh – to bury the dead – comes from the Old Testament, the Book of Tobit (this I remember from that long-ago sermon), Tobit 1:16-20:

“In the days of Shalmaneser I had often given alms to the people of my race; I gave my bread to the hungry and clothes to those who lacked them; and I buried, when I saw them, the bodies of my country-folk thrown over the walls of Nineveh. I also buried those who were killed by Sennacherib.  When Sennacherib was beating a disorderly retreat from Judaea after the King of heaven had punished his blasphemies, he killed a great number of Israelites in his rage.  So I stole their bodies to bury them; Sennacherib looked for them and could not find them. A Ninevite went and told the king it was I who had buried them secretly.  When I knew that the king had been told about me and saw myself being hunted by men who would put me to death, I was afraid and fled. All my goods were seized; they were all confiscated by the treasury; nothing was left me but my wife Anna and my son Tobias.”

In general, the texts quoted as warrant for the works of mercy include:

Isaiah 58:6-7

Tobit 4:5-11

Matthew 6:2-4

Luke 3:11, 11:41

Hebrews 13:3

1 John 3:17

James 2:15-16

The spiritual works are referred back to verses such as fraternal correction (Matthew 18:15) and the forgiveness of injuries (Matthew 6:14).  Other verses include:

Leviticus 19:17

Luke 17:3

James 5:20

Romans 12: 9-21

And of course, you all have on the tip of your tongues St. Paul’s prescripts about instructing the ignorant and correcting the erring such as

  • 1 Timothy 5: 20 “As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.”
  • 2 Timothy 4: 2 “Preach the word: be instant in season, out of season: reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine.”
  • Galatians 6:1 “Brethren, and if a man be overtaken in any fault, you, who are spiritual, instruct such a one in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.”

Mercy in general is considered a Christian virtue and even a commandment, from the Beatitude “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7) and, again from the Gospel of Matthew, Matthew 22:35-40:

“And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Okay, let’s drill down into these a little, to examine how these can be said to be our duty as Christians.  But first, some definitions!  Here I will be leaning heavily on St. Thomas Aquinas (where, by “leaning heavily”, I mean “lifting chunks of his thought on Charity Justice, Mercy and Alms-giving word-for-word from the Summa Theologica, questions on Charity, Justice, Mercy, Almsgiving).

So why talk about corporal and spiritual works of mercy, not charity?  We tend to think of charity in terms of giving donations to collections and/or bodies set up for the purposes of relieving want.  Maybe we think of soup kitchens, or the annual Christmas collections, or the special disaster relief funds.  Those activities, however, are strictly works of mercy rather than charity.  Mercy springs from charity and justice.  However, charity is more than mercy and justice is more than law.  Charity and justice are cardinal virtues, mercy is a secondary virtue.  We nowadays tend to translate “faith, hope and charity” as “faith, hope and love”, and love is a better way to think of charity, especially in relation to God.

For some definitions of charity, justice, and the relation of mercy to both, take it away, Tommy A!  (All following citations swiped wholesale from the online version of the Summa Theologica, emphases mine):

Charity, as stated above, is a kind of friendship of man for God.

This argument would hold, if God and our neighbor were equally objects of charity.  But this is not true: for God is the principal object of charity, while our neighbor is loved out of charity for God’s sake.

God is loved by charity for His own sake: wherefore charity regards principally but one aspect of lovableness, namely God’s goodness, which is His substance, according to Psalm 105:1: “Give glory to the Lord for He is good.”

Now mercy, also, results from charity; for it is out of charity that we weep with them that weep, as we rejoice with them that rejoice.

Mercy signifies grief for another’s distress.

We worship God by external sacrifices and gifts, not for His own profit, but for that of ourselves and our neighbor.  For He needs not our sacrifices, but wishes them to be offered to Him, in order to arouse our devotion and to profit our neighbor.  Hence mercy, whereby we supply others’ defects is a sacrifice more acceptable to Him, as conducing more directly to our neighbor’s well-being, according to Hebrews 13:16: “Do not forget to do good and to impart, for by such sacrifices God’s favor is obtained.”

The sum total of the Christian religion consists in mercy, as regards external works: but the inward love of charity, whereby we are united to God, preponderates over both love and mercy for our neighbor.

Charity likens us to God by uniting us to Him in the bond of love: wherefore it surpasses mercy, which likens us to God as regards similarity of works.

(Regarding justice)

Now law is the object not of justice but of prudence…

Augustine says (De Serm. Dom. in Monte i, 20) on the words, “Give to him that asketh of thee” (Matthew 5:42): “You should give so as to injure neither yourself nor another, and when you refuse what another asks you must not lose sight of the claims of justice, and send him away empty; at times indeed you will give what is better than what is asked for, if you reprove him that asks unjustly.”

Accordingly since justice is of one man to another as stated above (Question 58, Article 2), all the virtues that are directed to another person may by reason of this common aspect be annexed to justice.  Now the essential character of justice consists in rendering to another his due according to equality, as stated above (Question 58, Article 11).

Further, justice, before all, subjects man to God: for Augustine says (De Moribus Eccl. xv) that “justice is love serving God alone, and consequently governing aright all things subject to man.”

It is proper to justice, as compared with the other virtues, to direct man in his relations with others: because it denotes a kind of equality, as its very name implies; indeed we are wont to say that things are adjusted when they are made equal, for equality is in reference of one thing to some other

Just as love of God includes love of our neighbor, as stated above (Question 25, Article 1), so too the service of God includes rendering to each one his due.

Justice, as stated above (Article 2) directs man in his relations with other men.  Now this may happen in two ways: first as regards his relation with individuals, secondly as regards his relations with others in general, in so far as a man who serves a community, serves all those who are included in that community.

The common good is the end of each individual member of a community, just as the good of the whole is the end of each part.  On the other hand the good of one individual is not the end of another individual: wherefore legal justice which is directed to the common good, is more capable of extending to the internal passions whereby man is disposed in some way or other in himself, than particular justice which is directed to the good of another individual.

On the contrary, Ambrose says (De Offic. i, 24): “It is justice that renders to each one what is his, and claims not another’s property; it disregards its own profit in order to preserve the common equity.”

Confused yet?  To boil it down to the idiot’s guide (as written by yours truly, idiot supreme), charity is love of God which conduces to love of our neighbor, justice is equality and equity between people as individuals and as members of society, and mercy is the actions or active principle which derives from both, spurred to love our neighbor as ourselves by charity and to repair deficiencies by justice.

To be continued today at noon Eastern…


  1. “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’”

    And they said, “When did we do these things?”

    So I think if we are going to be taclikng ‘the lists’, it may serve to not think about them (as we do them) and how we may be somehow benefitting from these works, ourselves.

    Remember those that said, “We did such and such a work in your Name!” And He said, “Get lost…I never knew you.”


    Anyone who thinks a good Lutheran boy can keep his mouth shut at the sight of ‘lists of works to do’… has another thing comin’. 😀

    • I admit, my eyes glazed over before I got a third of the way through.

      I like the Lutheran approach: Good Works Happen. The End.

      [link removed]

      • Indeed, they do. (works happen)

        It’s probably better that we don’t have our focus on them to screw them up. Just see a need and fill it…no lists.

        Thanks for the link. Interesting stuff.

      • And I thought you folks were the ones with the thirty-minute sermons? 😉

        As for the necessity for lists: to take the example of the disciplinary approach of Mark Driscoll’s church in the case of Andrew, and Eagle’s pertinent query – where are the Bereans? – we can say that although “to chastise the sinful” is one of the spiritual works of mercy, in that case – what we’ve seen of it – their approach is not a work of mercy.

        Too much justice, not enough charity. Mercy is rooted in both. Justice without charity can become legalism and rigour; charity without justice can degenerate into sentiment and self-will.

        That’s why in the first part of this essay I’m banging on about definitions. What is mercy? What is justice? What is charity? What’s the difference between charity and philanthropy?

      • By magic? Or by humans doing them……hmmmmmm.

  2. as a former practicing Catholic (20 years), as well as a generic saint of no particular faith tradition/denomination, i will say my sense of living a life of freedom & genuine spiritual transformation, only truly appreciated the past, say, 7-8 years of my 37-year faith journey…

    i was the poster child Catholic boy devoutly participating in the religious tradition of my Portuguese maternal family. i was definitely a God seeker, although my personal experience within my Catholic experience did not result in the sense of forgiveness, acceptance, love, mercy & particpation in the Holy Spirit’s work of transformation…

    i did all the required steps (rituals) & many of them faithfully numerous times. after all was said & done, there was no real sense of God’s ‘presence’ or approval or connection.

    i think there was a very definite awareness of either working toward such a connection, or working from such a divine closeness…

    October 1974: all the religious background/training/exposure/tradition i had sincerely pursued actually came to fruition after an amazing automobile accident. i had the life-changing encounter with the living Christ. and He came to me without any religious (traditional) setting/trapping. He revealed Himself in a very personal & unmistakable way…

    even though Jesus never put any divine expectation on me to ‘manifest’ fruit of my amazing encounter, i automatically did. i simply reverted back to a sense of obligation that i must ‘do’ something equally amazing in response to the divine revelation i received…

    i became my own worst enemy, putting upon myself a yoke of performance that was never required of me in the original exchange i had with my Lord & Savior…

    in fact, i had a very intense dream where my entire spiritual journey was represented in a short vignette that has been the way my life has unfolded…

    am i more inclined to ‘do’ the works prepared in advance for to do now than ever before? yes. i have entered into a place/phase of rest that began with the conclusion i simply was a Christian, not something i had to behave like. i was truly the child of the King…

    gone was the guilt factor of never measuring up. i did not suddenly view myself as sinless/perfect, but i simply understood that i was, in fact, a member of the Royal household & in process of transformation into a better version of myself (becoming more like Jesus)…

    my unique spiritual journey has some interesting elements to it that do not make for a divine precedent or prove/disprove any one faith tradition’s approach to living life & that to the full. i simply know my own experiences where the manner which the very Lord & Savior Jesus, invaded my rather limited spiritual perspective with something truly ‘out-of-this-world’…

    from that point on i have followed as He invited me to do that October morning. it has been a wild ride to put it mildly, but one which i never wavered from even though it seemed i had lost my way on several occasions or could not read the trail signs accurately…

    wow…what an amazing spiritual journey i have been on…

    • The Lord speaks to us differently. Many others have FOUND Christ in the Eucharist. Looks like you had a fair amount of cultural Catholicism mixed up with real faith, thanks to your family.

      • well, i would say i had no other religious reference point on my spiritual formation as a young Catholic. was a very devout altar boy & later recruited for the priesthood. i spent 8-years in parochial school & up until either the 7th or 8th grade, morning Mass was de rigueur…

        although my maternal family devout Catholics, my dad curiously, converted to Catholicism during or right after WWII, as he saw the Catholic chaplains as the most active on the front & ministering to the wounded. my dad was a Marine Field Corpsman…

        my religious background is not to be misunderstood as somehow being a 2nd class Catholic upbringing+experience. it was not deficient in its presentation to me as a dedicated participant. there is nothing in the way it was modeled or taught or expressed that violated any Vatican requirements…

        it was the Holy Spirit that called me out of the Catholic worship tradition one Sunday at Mass. it could be my experience is not all that common, but it was not Catholic deficiency that was the reason–divine directive was…

        i refer to my own experience as a way to show how God Himself seemingly not all that convinced of any one faith expression/tradition/denomination that has His Golden Imprimatur…

        i would suspect there are many crossing the Tiber in both directions, as has been the case ever since there was that option. i know it chafes against those that feel their specific worship expression/tradition thee most original, pure, holy, correct in both interpretation & practice, etc. but really, God was not all that interested in directing me to such a place. He did call me out of the one i was raised in, but it is an intriguing part of my faith journey that i was not told to ‘discover’ a deeper encounter with the Living Christ within any other orthodox Christian faith expression…

  3. Aidan Clevinger says

    Question for Martha: do you personally see the works of mercy as part of earning salvation? I know that the title was tongue-in-cheek, as was the reference to works righteousness, but it’s difficult to tell with many of my Catholic friends. Some of them hold to the whole Tridentine idea of infused grace and co-operating with the work of God, and others (St. Paul of the Cross springs to mind) have held an almost word-for-word idea of vicarious atonement. Where do you stand, Martha?

    • There is more to come, which I hope will cover the points raised so far. However, what I did have difficulty with (in former times) and what I am slowly coming to understand, is another part: faith is necessary for salvation, and good works without faith are not alone lacking in merit, they may be evil. To paraphrase Aquinas (since I can’t find the exact citation):

      Good works can be neutral, where they are done as part of natural virtue (e.g. Matthew 5:54-56 “46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”) or they can even be evil (that is, their effect on the person doing them is evil, or their ultimate end is evil even when the immediate effect is good), when they are done for particular ends. I’m thinking of philanthropy which might be performed by, say, an atheist for the sole reason of “I want to show that you don’t have to believe in gods to be good”. The impulse there is not mercy, it’s to discredit or do down religious faith.

      It seems very hard, to human eyes – and even for the Righteous Pagans in Limbo, in “The Divine Comedy” who did no wrong but only lacked a faith they could not possibly have – that “being a good person” is not enough; all those of us who say “I’m a good person” will not be saved by that. So it is faith that saves.

      On the other hand, the reason there are two lists (and I would emphasise that there are two, one for the bodily benefit, one for the spiritual benefit) of works of mercy is that our deeds have consequences and if we do claim to have a living faith, that has to change us, and that has to show in our actions.

      It’s the difference between philanthropy and charity: the former is done as a secular, naturally virtuous act. The latter arises out of love of God, stemming from belief in God. I’m sorry to have bored everyone with long chunks of text, but the definitions are important because we’ve blurred language to make “charity” mean “giving money and/or goods to the poor”, and where language is fuzzy, thought is fuzzy.

      You can give money to charities such as this, one of a list of atheist charities, or you can give money to denominational ones. The money may go to do the exact same deeds: education, disaster relief, toys for poor children at Christmas. The originating impulse, however, is different. One is based on philanthropy, one is based on charity. One is morally neutral, one is meritorious.

      Now, this is not to say “Never give money to a secular charity”. And it is not to say “Giving money to the church food drive will rack up merit points for you in Heaven”. If you don’t have faith, it matters nothing. But good works – either feeding the poor or teaching the ignorant – are spiritually meritorious.

      So where do I stand? Both/and, Aidan 🙂

      • I’m going to argue that the atheist’s motive, even if it is to show that without religion he can be good, is not usually to down religion. It’s usually not done for that motive at all first of all, usually it’s empathy, but even if it were, I would call that motive simply evening up for the religious people that like to look down on atheists and argue that they’re selfish. While yes it’s not salvific (and since most atheists don’t believe in an afterlife, I’m not sure they’d care), I would not call it evil.

        • Aidan Clevinger says

          I think that people who hold to total depravity tend to misunderstand or misrepresent it. I don’t, for instance, think that an atheist is motivated by conscious greed, hatred, pride, etc. all the time. He may very well have good motivations – so far as other people are concerned. But a good work *before God* is one that is done out of faith. So it’s not that the atheist has more evil motivations than a Christian – he doesn’t. It’s that he lacks faith, which is the thing that makes any work good.

          I’ll also point out that the effects of original sin still cling to a Christian’s soul even after Baptism. Simul iustus et peccator.

        • I don’t mean this to turn into “Bash An Atheist Day”, since there are reasonable and intelligent atheists out there (I have evidence! Here’s one!)

          But for some atheists, the motive is more about proving “You don’t need God to be good” (as the bus adverts and billboards had it) than about doing good works; it’s to show “See? We don’t believe in God and we do nice things, too!” Now, any activity that is more about glorification of one’s self or for an ulterior motive is mistaken or worse, and this applies to the religious as well.

          The obvious example – from an Irish historical viewpoint – is the infamous “souperism” during the Famine. This didn’t happen exactly or as widely as folkloric memory has it, but there were examples that really did happen. Souperism, or “taking the soup”, is the practice of converting for food. People at the time (and afterwards) would remark of a neighbour who converted to Protestantism that “he took the soup” and folklore (not history) is full of stories about “So-and-so was starving, so to get food for his family, he went to the minister and became a Protestant in exchange for food, but as he was carrying the basin of soup home, he spilled it” – the moral of the story being “He sold his soul and he got no good of it”.

          It wasn’t that clear-cut, but the Reverend Edwin Nagle, for one (and some other Bible societies) set up schools for poor children where they would be fed and instructed in (sorry to use the term, but it fits for the Victorian religious revival) Evangelical principles, and be fed and clothed, as well as similar activities for adults. It wasn’t as crude as “Convert for food” but there was undoubtedly heavy pressure to leave behind the errors of Rome and embrace pure Gospel truth, and there were deliberate actions such as serving meat soup on Fridays (the prohibition on Catholics eating meat on Friday being in effect, you had a choice of perhaps your only meal in a couple of days, or violating your conscience).

          The Bible Societies had the best intentions – saving souls, and using this (what was widely-considered) God-given opportunity to win over the lost Irish. They would have been horrified to be thought of as buying converts with food during a famine, but that was how they were perceived, particularly in comparison with the Quakers, who set up similar soup kitchens and aid projects but with no strings attached. Which means that to this day, the Quakers have a good reputation in Ireland – “they fed us during the Famine” being the attitude.

          So doing X for Y, even where X is good in itself and Y is admirable, is not charity. It’s philanthropy, or it’s proselytization. And it can do harm to you, or the objects of your aid.

    • Aidan…question back to you. Can you love your spouse, or child, or friend, and do nothing for their body, spirit, or heart? Can love be “all in our head” and never manifest itself in loving deeds and words?

      • Aidan Clevinger says

        Of course not, Pattie – I would certainly agree that faith does and must produce good works. I just hold that those works are entirely beside the question of salvation; they’re a result rather than a cause. To paraphrase a famous quote: we are saved by faith alone, but that faith is never alone. If I had to put it positively, I’d say that there are two fundamentally different kinds of righteousness: righteousness before God (vertically) and before people (horizontally). Righteousness before God is entirely a matter of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, without taking into account my works at all. Righteousness before man, however, is entirely a matter of works, without taking into account my faith. Nothing new, of course – this is the classic doctrine of justification by grace through faith alone.

        • Glenn A Bolas says

          Good as far as it goes, but maintaining such a distinction secularises love, separating it from faith and placing it outside the realm of grace. It puts love in the realm of Law, not Gospel. That, to me, has unsettling theological implications.

  4. Great essay, Martha. And in your first response, I particularly like, “Justice without charity can become legalism and rigour; charity without justice can degenerate into sentiment and self-will.”

    • I’m just piggybacking on the smart people who have done all the work beforehand, like Aquinas and Dante and Chesterton and Lewis 🙂

    • I like Micah 6:8 for this: “And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness [charity?], And to walk humbly with your God?”

      That’s the New American Standard version, nice strong command verbs. The third part, “Walk humbly with your God”, reinforces the first two and makes the first two possible.

  5. And here’s the shortcut: Enter into a deeply intimate relationship with the Divine through prayer, meditation and contemplation and you will find that you naturally want to do all those things that are “required” for salvation. Not only that, but you will find salvation here on earth through the fruits of contemplation which are: peace, compassion, joy, wisdom, understanding, generosity, mercy, enthusiasm (zeal), temperance.

  6. I Lauri Lumby approve this messge.

  7. I sorta can hear somebody saying that “you” are talking about “earning our salvation” via “works”.

    It seems to me the better title for your series might be, “How to attempt to live as a Christian”, don’t you agree?

  8. Galatians 5:1 ( I believe) states why Christ died for us.


    We have been set free from lists and people who will complile them for us and grade them for us and check them off for us.

    When they asked Jesus, “What is it to be doing the works of the Father?” Jesus answered, “believe in the one whom the Father has sent.” (Gospel of John, I believe)

    The Holy Spirit (remember Him?) is more than capable of inspiring us to whatever works He wants done. He does this in many ways. Often in ways we are unaware of.

    “We walk by faith, and not by sight.”

    There is nothing wrong with Christian encouragement. Reminding people of their freedom…and that now that means they are free FOR something. Free to live and love and help those who need it. But lists have a way of turning into law, and that just lets the fox back in the hen house.

    • Glenn A Bolas says

      Absolutely agree that oftentimes lists can do more harm than good and can lead to legalism. But let me add a nuance or perhaps an exception. Sometimes I find that lists like this can also act on me in a beneficial way a little like the lectionary. I mean that in the same way the lectionary confronts me with passages of Scripture which I hadn’t really noticed before or which I would otherwise not read for one reason or another, a list like this can make me conscious of opportunities for practicing my Christian freedom in ways or in areas of my life that don’t naturally occur to me. They can get me beyond my own charitable inclinations to see other needs around me, other places where Christ is present and where I can serve Him but to which my own disposition or vices or habits had rendered me hitherto blind.

      Legalism is an unequivocal bad, but lists don’t have to lead there, even if they often do.

  9. As a Protestant, no quibble with the face of the article, but the implication of Matthew 25 seems off. Most people misunderstand this passage because they fail to recognize that Jesus is judging the sheep and the goats differently….to one he condemns for whatever they didn’t do, for the other he praises them for what they did do. So the question arises…what’s the fundamental difference? It’s faith. Not a checklist of works.

    • But what is “faith” if it doesn’t transform our priorities and undergird our every choice and action?

      It isn’t “work”, it is being so overflowing with Christ’s Love that it has MUST be shared….

    • James 2:24 — You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone.

      The judgment between the sheep and goats was based on their works. That is the plain meaning of the passage. It doesn’t exactly fit Protestant theology, and while I am a Protestant and believe Protestant theology to be true, this passage is a tough one to “fit” and always will be.

      I think it serves us better to acknowledge that rather than engage in gymnastics.

      Besides, Protestant theology can stand even if the Catholics have a point about works–the real reason the Reformation occurred was that Luther and the other Reformers believed that the Church was capable of erring. It was this issue that finally led to the rupture, not an abstract debate about the place of faith and works.

      It is far more conservative and reasonable to believe that the Church can err, but the Scripture alone will always be trustworthy. It is for this reason that I am a happy Protestant.

      • You like Bible? Here’s one:

        Romans 4:4

        “Now to one who works, his wages are not reckoned as a gift but as his due. And to one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly. his faith is reckoned as righteousness.”

        For sinful humans who place ‘the self’ first (before God and the neighbor), which one (works, or non-works?) would be considered “Good News” ?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      It’s faith. Not a checklist of works.

      So does this mean we sit on our butts in our Thomas Kincade-decorated church and have FAITH FAITH FAITH?

      Do we tell the pastor’s widow eating out of a dumpster “Be Warm and Well Fed; Have FAITH(TM)”?

      • Is that what you would want to do?

        You could. But I have found that when the Holy Spirit gets a hold of someone they are not content to ‘do nothing’…not all the time, anyway.

        Most of us are mixed bags, anyhow. On fire for the Lord one week…not so much, the next.

  10. @Eagle and maybe JeffD: off topic; you might want to check out today’s Rachel held Evans blogpost: EXCELLENT, IMO, on how NOT to get discouraged by Driscoll’s huge numbers. Well worth the read, the kingdom is like yeast and a mustard seed: it’s not about popularity and ginormousnousness.


  11. No wonder the Reformation became so popular. A lot of those things don’t sound tax deductible. Fortunately in America we have the United Way which you only have to deal with once a year and it lets all those time-consuming decisions be made by the professionals who know what they are doing. Plus if your supervisor has a quota it can help you keep your job. And if other people ask you for money you can tell them you gave at the office.

    • While yes I can see that having employers pressure employees into giving is wrong, I would say that the United Way and other secular charities like the Greater Chicago Food Depository have a real virtue in being rated by charity watchers and having their book gone over from time to time. The United Way these days even ensures the charities it gives to are high quality and there is not a lot of overhead in the charity. Religious charities are seldom audited, and typically don’t keep open books which is why I don’t give to them.