Three things that happened this week have collected in my mind. And they seem to coalesce around a post a Catholic friend put on FB that was based on a fictional conversation between a Catholic and a Protestant about faith and works. Now, let me say right out front that I am only going to tangentally graze the subject, because at a basic level I think we are both saying the same things from differing angles. The key to the difference is really something I hadn't remembered from my days at St Louis Besancon until one of the others brought it up- the "sin of presumption".
This is the presuming of going to heaven. Now there are three ways of looking at this topic. Protestants do not believe it is presumption that once you have taken Christ into your heart, you are assured of heaven. ( I know that personally, I always feared the verse "Not everyone that cries, 'Lord, Lord' will be saved"- until MY conversion experience. Then that concern was lifted from me, and it was nothing I did that caused that.) They do believe that your faith then should produce good works. The doing of these works have an effect on the reward you receive in heaven, as in 1 Corinthians 3:
10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.
See, Jesus Christ is the foundation, the entry into heaven. But we are expected to build on that foundation. Where Protestants hit presumption is when they believe, "I've been saved, the job's done." But what they fail sometimes to see is that it is Jesus' job that is done; ours is just beginning.
Our Catholic brothers, meanwhile, take examples such as Abraham's obedience that was "accounted to him as righteousness" or Paul's statement about "working out your faith with fear and trembling", and often stretch those to say that works is more than just the outward fruit of faith, but actually is required to get into heaven, and one should never presume they have done enough to merit that entrance. To me, if you have REAL faith, and it manifests in REAL works, the angle at which you look at it is a non-salvational issue. But to a Catholic, the constant need to "earn one's way" through works denies them of the comfort of salvation that we get from John 10:
27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all[c]; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”
The third way of looking at presumption is the most correct- you have people out there that presume that going through the motions of good works is enough without the conversion experience of accepting Christ as full payment for your sins. Just do your job in the Church, attend on Sundays, you'll get right in. Laurie saw a possible example of this at her job at Wal-Mart this week. A woman entered her line with a tote full of school supplies and a church tax exempt card. She told Laurie, "I have X of these and Y of these,", etc., but by rules and common sense in this day and age, Laurie had to count them out for herself. Instead of thinking of the checkout person just doing their job, or the fallen world that makes such things necessary, the woman got mad that she was delayed because Laurie wouldn't take her word as holy, and dumped the contents of the tote onto the lane and the surrounding floor. Laurie did a far better job controlling her temper than I would have; and when I expressed it was too bad she couldn't recall what church had issued the tax-exempt card that I might tell the pastor he needed to speak to his flock on the subject, she reminded me of how many times this happens. She reminded me of a discussion with KC when he was with a local sub joint constantly getting "Christians" like these who would be upset that "the order was wrong" or "we needed it today, not tomorrow like we told you", or "now instead of 6 PM like we told you", or whatever. It seems that Christian charity and doing good works from the heart kinda go out the window at times. How dare you get in the way of me doing my good work?
As I tried briefly to tell the commenter, works is about the attitude with which they are done. Atheists can do good works as well, but they don't go to heaven. And why? Because they say (and I can name you one that said this) that "any God who would look at the things that I do for people and still send me to hell, doesn't deserve my worship and I'd RATHER go to hell." Do tell. If the work is all about me, the reward I'm gonna get, then it is not a good work but a DISTRACTION. Just like, despite all the good (if not valid) points that Catholics bring up about praying to Mary or the saints are DISTRACTIONS if they take the focus away from JESUS. You see, you can point to the people who went through Mary at Cana all you want, but in the end, they got nothing from Jesus until she got out of the way and made them come to Him- and the only other time you see Mary in His ministry is when He says, "Who are my mother, and my brothers? Those who hear the word of God and keep it".
And the last thing, which I shall try to be brief on, comes from a friend discussing that there is no good church to attend where they live (a complaint I have heard before from Central Indiana residents). She tells me one nearby church teaches that "the Holy Spirit doesn't exist anymore." If that's true, guys, you are screwed. The Holy Spirit is what calls you, convicts you, leads you to a point where you CAN have that conversion experience. And then Seals you in your salvation. Without the Holy Spirit, no works can get you to heaven. I'd didn't ask, but let me take a guess: The Spirit "doesn't exist anymore" because there are no real MIRACLES any more. No one is brought back from the dead, no one preaches in 300 languages at once anymore. And I find this amusing because our Catholic brothers seemingly occupy the other extreme. In order to canonize someone as a saint, they often try to dig up "miracles" that occurred because someone prayed to that person (after they were dead) and were cured of an illness or somesuch. Which reminds me of nothing so much as watching robins in the woods, checking under dry leaves for nibbles of grubs. I hardly ever see them come up with anything, but I usually can count on seeing a big fat worm in the beak of a robin that's pecking in the light of the open field.
But believe me, there are miracles every day. They may come in small packages that are easily ignored, or in earth shattering events that are explained away as coincidence. But there are there, "evident in nature," as Paul said. We don't lack miracles, just eyes to see them and hearts to appreciate them.
So the real battle to me is a battle of faith not so much versus works, but whether the works have any connection to faith. I believe that if you go to work and do your job as if you are doing it for Christ, that constitutes a good work. If you blast your way through Wal-Mart like a rhino in heat collecting supplies for your church and woe betide the person that delays you.... that I'm not so sure of.