Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Salvation - By Works or Faith?

Salvation - By Works or Faith

Many people, both theist and non-theist, know that the Bible contradicts itself but most would assume that the majority of these contradictions are present in the Old Testament. Few are as familiar with the contradictions of the New Testament. One in particular is very pressing as it could decide the after-life of a believer. That is the issue of whether Salvation is by following the Jewish law or good deeds or by the simple act of believing in Jesus. Forgiveness, according to most Christians is a freely offered gift and all one must do is believe on the name of Jesus to be saved from Hell forevermore. But this idea raises a problem... if Salvation is by faith alone what point is there to following things like the Golden Rule? Why turn the other cheek if that has no bearing on one's eternal destination?

The key verse of scripture to look at is one that is considered a cornerstone of modern Christianity. I am speaking, of course, of John 3:16. Paraphrased it says that God sent his son and whoever believes in him shall never die, but will have eternal life. The scripture makes no mention of good deeds and promises immortality. One must wonder if the immortality offered is actually a spiritual one, the verse makes no clarification on whether Jesus was offering physical immortality or just a seat in the after-life. The verse suggests that faith alone is all that is needed but other verses contradict this.

Many verses, however, support this idea. Most of them come from the Apostle Paul. For those that don't know his story the Apostle Paul, formerly Saul, was a religious Jew known for his persecution of the new Christian sects that were cropping up in the aftermath of Jesus’ death. (as a quick note, if Jesus actually had been resurrected one would assume that Christianity would go forward UNITED, since he supposedly appeared before them after his death and gave the great commission - perhaps they were just unsure of taking the advice of a zombie). The Apostle Paul started out with a hatred of Christian. While on the way to the ancient city of Damascus Paul has a blinding vision in which a being he cannot see assumes Jesus’ identity and converts him. Paul never sees Jesus, so for all we know this being was Satan (or some other fictional character), the desert heat, or a complete fabrication.

Paul was known to write pro-faith and against the idea that a Christian NEEDED to behave a certain way in order to be saved. In Romans 3:20 Paul writes:

"Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin."

So Paul doesn't find the old law entirely useless but he apparently doesn't think it will do much good in the Salvation or righteousness departments. A few verses later he repeats the same sentiment in verse 28 of the same chapter claiming that a man is justified by faith without following the Law. Of all the verses in Paul's writing Romans 10:9 is probably the most often one brought up by those Christians who are on his side of this argument.

"That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."

That settles it apparently, all it takes is the confession that Jesus is Lord. Accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior is a one way ticket to Heaven, a veritable Get out of Hell Free Card (why there needs to be a hell to begin with and why that is the default after-life for all humans is beyond me). Some other verses you can look at for similar sentiments: Galatians 2:16 and Ephesians 2:8-9

But the thing is those verses don't settle anything. Other scriptures that litter the New Testament paint a vastly different picture of Salvation, one that requires both faith and deeds. In fact the idea that God judges by deeds began in the Old Testament. Many believed that God smote the wicked and upheld the righteous. When a man was obedient to God he would see his life blessed but if a man turned his back on the law of God and sinned he would be punished. This didn't hold true in all cases, after all there was that whole Job debacle, but for the most part this was the sentiment held in the time of Jesus.

One such verse comes straight from the Savior's mouth in the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 16 verse 27:

"For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done."

So it seems that Jesus’ words should trump Paul's (despite the fact that Paul's work is dated to before the Gospels, but that's another story entirely) seeing as he is the Savior. So what is the deal here? Why is the Bible once again fighting it out with itself? This is exactly what should be expected when you have a book that is actually a composite text of numerous authors and sources. If the Bible is indeed the Word of God one would expect those under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to come to similar ideas and to express those ideas in simple non-contradictory language. So what do we have here? Well if you believe the fundamentalists and accept this as the Word of God what we have is a massive failure to communicate coherently by Yahweh, Jesus or the Holy Ghost. But if you're open minded enough to see the Bible for what it is you'll understand that the Bible was written by men about another man who, though being a brilliant philosopher, was every bit as human as they were and died leaving a legacy of myth and teachings that would grow into a story of the supernatural. The embellishments are clear and the fact that his followers are left arguing in his absence is a hint that nothing supernatural is afoot.

Later on, in Matthew 19, Jesus says that in order to enter into life we should keep the commandments.

In Matthew 25 Jesus again tells a story that points to the author's emphasis on deeds over simple faith. In the story Jesus judges the dead by asking them if they were kind to the hungry, to the lonely, etc. If they were not friends to their "neighbors" than they would be sent away from Jesus for eternity.

James says that faith without works is dead, once again in opposition to Paul's notion of faith trumping works every time. Likewise he even espouses a different version of Abraham's story.

Both he and Paul use Abraham as an allegory to prove their point. James claims that Abraham's actions and deeds prove his loyalty to God and is therefore righteousness (James 2:21-25). Paul, however, claims that it was Abraham's unwavering faith in God's promise that was his righteousness. (Romans 4:13).

And then, last but not least, there is Revelation 21:8 in which, according to deed AND belief, people are sentenced to burn in the Lake of Fire. Those that believe in the wrong God or have no belief at all are sent to Hell but so are MANY who commit deeds such as lying, murdering, and being a magician.

So the New Testament is home to a battle royale of sorts. Two ideologies are battling it out and God is strangely silent on the topic regardless of how much faith they put in him to show them the way... Odd how that works isn't it? So I guess today we learned that the Bible disagrees with itself in the New Testament easily as often as it did in the Old and is not the coherent inerrant narrative fundamentalists would like you to believe it is. Thanks to this error literally BILLIONS of souls are on the line, if Christianity were true.

I have a few topics currently in the running for the next post:

- Clearing up misconceptions about atheism

- The Rapture


- Bear Attack in the Bible (the story of Elisha and the bears)

I probably won't be posting a new post for at least a week so that gives you (and by you I mean my one follower lol) time to decide which topic to do next.

1 comment:

  1. Great post - and Peace be upon you! You are of course right in your assumption of deeds and faith. The problem in Christainity is Paul's teachings. However if we REMOVE Paul's teachings from the Bible and I do must admit little is left over then since up to 53% of the NT is Paul's letters and Luke's (a follower of Paul) and then add Mark (a friend to Paul and is suspected of being an affilate of Paul's as well) as well as Timothy. But a clear picture starts to emerge - Jesus never claimed to be the Son of God, but the Son of Man, it's only Paul's teachings that claims the opposite. Jesus always said - Worship GOD and GOD Alone. With all your heart, strength and soul. Hence the First commandment. Then he added of course the deed factor in it and that you should do righteous works and you should do them with joy! Not with reluctance! Referring very often to the Pharises and their non-example to follow! I could quote verses but I reckon you know them already? If not you are welcomed to write to me and I'll give them to you - God willing! Jesus isn't a saviour as the Christian fundamentalist claim, that is accutally idolworship and contradicts the first commandment. However by following the example Jesus set and following his words in both deed and faith - yes then by GOD's mercy we might get salvation - in the end GOD knows what is in our hearts and our innermost thoughts and only GOD knows who deserve and don't deserve heaven (paradise).

    I would recommend a great site - www.masjidtucson.org and the book Jesus, Myth and Message by Lisa Spray. To find out more about the true message of the Messiah.

    Best of luck! Peace