Some friends and brothers suffer from an allergy. They’re allergic to works. They’re Calvinists. Not Puritanical Calvinists because, well, those people “were so square, man.” (Apologies, I think I just confused hippie and hipster…)
I read your posts online, hipster brothers and sisters. I watch your videos and read your memes about short-term missions being “glorified vacations.” They’re cute. They’re lies, but they’re cute.
I read your 140-character-or-less sermonettes about how grace-trumps-works (with an apology for using a verb that reminds you of your hatred and/or shame for the current President of the United States [I’m writing this on Independence Day, after all]) and how works will not garner favor with God nor gain anyone entrance into Heaven. And I agree with you. Sort of. Mostly I fear sermonettes are only useful for attracting Christianettes, but I digress…
Let’s examine a passage of Scripture – a quote from Jesus Himself – that’s way longer than 140 characters and would definitely not be legible if printed in a social media meme:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 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.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
This is the English Standard Version rendering of Matthew 25:31-46. I consider this passage one of the scariest in Scripture for a number of reasons, but I will focus on but one reason today. And that reason is:
When I imagine this scary passage playing out at some future date, I imagine some people overjoyed and other people astonished and terrified. I try to imagine the lives these people lived on earth. I wonder if those who spent time feeding the hungry or giving water to the thirsty or welcoming the stranger or clothing the naked or visiting the sick or imprisoned (aside: do you think this is an exhaustive checklist? Is this THE literal list or is our Lord merely suggesting ways to serve the least of these among us?) were accused of trying to work their way into Heaven? I wonder if they were accused of misunderstanding God’s Grace? I wonder if they were, basically, judged.
I also wonder, are those who didn’t spend any time feeding the hungry or giving water to the thirsty or welcoming the stranger or clothing the naked or visiting the sick or imprisoned wearing t-shirts with Ephesians 2:8-9 printed on them in Instagram Gospel font with “not a result of works” in big emphasized characters?
All throughout the New Testament Christians are urged to do good works.
All throughout the New Testament Christians are commanded to not rely on good works for salvation, but rather to rely of God’s Grace.
Are people who do good works trying to work their way into Heaven, then? I’m sure some are. Are people who do few or no works relying on God’s Grace? I’m sure some are. Are people who do good works responding to the gospel? I’m sure some are. Are people who do few or no works seeking an excuse to do nothing? I’m sure some are.
How are we to sort out the good from the bad? We aren’t – unless we want to be judged. This is why Jesus – again breaking the 140-character limit – tells us in Matthew 7:1-5:
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
Most aren’t equipped to judge for at least two reasons. First, we cannot see around our own faults clear-enough to judge the faults of others due to our own eye-logs. Second – unlike Jesus – we cannot see inside the hearts of others (another aside: Jesus cares way more about what’s in your heart than what’s on your shirt or where you vacation [glorified or not]) but must rely on an examination of the fruit of one’s life.
Jesus spent some time in Matthew 13 explaining that metaphorical weeds and metaphorical food-bearing crops are to metaphorically grow together until judgment, and that that judgment will be accomplished by those better qualified to judge. Go read the chapter. It’s a beaut (even though it’s too long to be printed legibly in a social media meme…).
On the Other Hand…
Let’s say you’re nailing it. You’re publicly calling out losers who are clearly and obviously doing-it-wrong. What fruit are you seeing from this work (yep, social media posting is a work)? Are you watering? Are you discerning? Is that your excuse reason justification?
Returning to Jesus’ list in Matthew 25, where do you believe your activities fall – in the “doing good” or “not doing good” to the least of these category?
What if your brother or sister is truly sinning?
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.
This is Paul’s letter to the Galatian Christians, chapter 6, verses 1 through 5. It’s an important teaching about the Body of Christ, the church. It contains another list – a list for us when we observe a brother or a sister sinning. So, another list of questions to ask ourselves:
- Is restoration my priority?
- Am I being gentle?
- Am I watching myself?
- Am I being tempted?
- Am I bearing my brother’s/sister’s burden?
- Do I think I am something?
- Do I think I am nothing?
- Am I deceiving myself?
- Have I tested my own work(s)?
- Am I boasting in myself?
- Am I boasting in my neighbor?
- Am I bearing my own load?
Believe it or not, I asked myself these questions as I proofread this intentionally-provocative blog post. I also asked myself “Who is this helping?” If you read this far, the hope in my heart is that you will hesitate before posting things that refer to works of all kinds as evil; that you will consider your potentially (probably) imperfect view into the hearts of those who may read what you post; that you will not be one who speaks evil of good.