Faith and Some Criteria for a Righteous Deed, By, M.Ali Mertcan
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. (Matt 5:16)
Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. (Matt 6:1)
These two verses seem to be contradictory to each other in terms of the criteria of righteousness. However, they are not, as they are of two different contexts. If one takes ‘you’ in Matt 5:16 in a plural form, it will be easier to reconcile the two verses. In the first verse, Jesus stresses on communal work, and not on individual work. But, in the second verse, there is a warning against self-glorification through individual work since pride is usually seen in individual work, and not in communal works.
John 6:28-29 gives another criterion for a human deed which is acceptable in the sight of God: ‘Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” The ‘work’ of which Jesus speaks is of a spiritual kind that can receive the spiritual bread. Jesus lets them know that the ‘work’ God wants is faith in the one whom God has sent.i Hence, the key criteria for a work to be termed righteous in the sight of God is to believe in the one sent by God.
Urban C. Von Wahlde, writer of an exegetical study on John 6:28-29, believes that John has a solution regarding the concept of ‘faith and works.’ Wahlde gives a quote from writings of R. E Brown, author of The Gospel according to John: “Obtaining eternal life is not a question of faith without works. Rather having faith is a work; indeed it is the all-important work of God.” Wahlde also offers a quote from R. Bultmann, author of The Gospel of John: “God’s commands are not fulfilled by what man works, but in obedience to what God works.”ii Towards end of his article, Wahlde asserts that ‘working (doing) the works of God’ is used idiomatically in 6:28 and is equivalent to the phrase ‘doing the will of God’.iii
A very similar criterion can be seen in John 8:39-40. Jesus condemns Jewish leaders who claim that Abraham is their father. Jesus’s criticism is very logical and legitimate in the religious sense. Jesus says, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing what Abraham did.” In this verse Jesus stresses on the religious connection rather than the blood connection. Jesus demanded that the Jewish leaders do what Abraham did—be obedient to the will of God. When God commanded him to sacrifice his son, he did not hesitate in carrying out God’s command. So, the key point here is to obey what God has commanded right away. Thus, Jewish leaders had to obey what Jesus asked them. He asked them to believe in him. They had to believe Jesus because he was sent by God, and God wanted them to follow him. Like Abraham, they should have obeyed willingly what God asks of them.
Faith and Practice
Luke 6:46 is an important verse that portrays the significance of practicing what Jesus said: ‘Why do you call me “Lord, Lord,” and do not do what I tell you?’ (See also Matt 7:21-23) Here Jesus did not charge his hearers with lack of faith, but with lack of action. Because of this verse, Christians should ask if it is enough to hear the sayings of Christ, without practicing them. Accordingly, it is not true that a Christian thinks that a bare profession of faith will save him or her; and that hearing the sayings of Christ will bring him or her to heaven, without practicing these things. People criticized by Jesus here were not only believers; they were confessors of his name, calling him ‘Lord, Lord’. They truly acknowledged him as a Teacher of God. In confessing Christ, Jesus expected obedience from those people who became privileged, thanks to their faith. Jesus stresses practice more clearly when he says, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!” (Luke 11:28)
In fact, practice is one of the three aspects of faith. There are three stages of faith in God. There is, first a conviction of the truth of that to which it is directed. Next, there is a quickening of love by which the conviction is made into a personal confidence. And finally there is a readiness for action corresponding to the conviction.iv
Trusting in God
Returning to Mason’s discussion of faith, words, and works, one can understand that he does not mean that ‘we are justified by heart.’ However, heart is a vital element in one’s piety. One’s words, works, and faith, in the sense of confession, need to originate from one’s heart. In the Islamic tradition, there is a concept of ‘Amal-al Qalb’ which means ‘works of heart’. If this concept is applied to the problem of ‘faith and works,’ it works quite well. Similarly, Zodhiates invented a significant phrase in ‘the work of faith’. Indeed, Jesus sometimes rebukes his followers because of their failure to trust God. Hence, in these cases, trusting God appears to be one of the genuine works of faith. There is no problem when we see ‘trusting in God’ as a ‘work of heart’ in which faith plays a major role. But, this kind of ‘work of heart’ is an important aspect of one’s faith. In this regard, consider the following verses:
“And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:28-34; See also Matt: 6:19)
i Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 36 (Texas: Word Books, 1995), 91
ii Urban C. Von Wahlde. “Faith and Works in Jn 6:28-29: exegesis or eisegesis?,” Novum Testamentum (1980): 314, http://newfirstsearch.oclc.org.
iii Ibd., 314.
iv James Hastings. The Great Christian Doctrines: Faith (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1919), 127
Written by wiseinstitute