BROTHERS and SISTERS, glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no prejudice. All who have sinned apart from the Law will also perish apart from the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law. For it is not the hearers of the Law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the Law who will be justified. When Gentiles, who do not possess the Law, do instinctively what the Law requires, these, though not having the Law, are a Law to themselves. They show that what the Law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the hidden secrets of all people.
Ever since the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century Europe, one particular argument - about "faith vs works" - has been going on in the Christian world. In essence the Protestant point is that our good works do not save us, it is God, through His mercy and our faith, Who saves us. Orthodox response has always been that yes, without God's grace and our faith, we can't be saved, but our good works are part of this process.
In the above passage taken from the letter of Saint Paul to the Christian community in Rome, the Apostle demonstrates just that, "it is not the hearers of the Law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the Law who will be justified." In fact, even the Gentiles, the non-Jews, or in time the non-Christians, will be saved because they instinctively do what the Law of God requires. That is, even without having an explicit faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior, people who never got the chance to hear His Gospel will be saved, as long as they act according to their conscience, which is given to each of us by God.
In case you are a Christian, what is the relationship between your faith and works? Our works, or our actions, be they according to the conscience or the to Law (the teachings of Christ), reveal what it is we are seeking after. If I claim to be a Christian, but having nothing to show for it, am I really a Christian? If all I have to show for being a Christian is my supposed ethnic background that might have some Christian roots, then I am an impostor. If I do not know what the Lord requires of His followers, then I am, kindly speaking, lost.
What does a Christian do? First and foremost, a Christian is someone who repents. Repentance is at the heart of our faith. Repentance is acknowledging our shortcomings, our sinful behaviors, and putting in time and effort into correcting them. Repentance is realizing that I am a sinner, and that Christ came to save sinners, and that I am in need of salvation.
Doing good works also means seeking God's glory, not our own. Seeking God's honor, not our own. Seeking eternal reward of immortality, not the reward here and now. Good works are not the same as good intentions. While we hope and believe that the Lord will count our good intentions, but even the evilest of people began with "good intentions." Claiming to believe, or hear the Law, and not doing anything with it is nothing but religion without reality.
It is God's grace that saves, it is God's love that guides us, but we are not passive recipients of these gifts. Our response to what God has given us is the "doing" of good works. We are saved (God's part) by faith (our part). And we are saved specifically for good works. That's the only correct response to God's grace.
For last year's reflection, click here.
Yours in the Lord,
Father Aleksey - your friendly Singac priest