Okay. Here is a post which deals with a truely spiritual topic. Since returning to Christianity, I have read materials, including the Bible itself, which pretty much debunk the picture of God I had before coming to Christ--namely that He is selfish, petty, narcisitic, and above all supremely discriminatory.
This is the picture of the Christian God promoted by the New Atheists. Previously, I had read and re-read Sam Harris's The End of Faith until my copy was pretty worn out. I've also read Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion and David Mills' Atheist Universe. Christopher Hitchens' God Is Not Great I couldn't really get into. It wasn't Hitchens' worldview that bothered me, it was just I didn't his writing style very engrossing. I don't much care for the the fact he's anti-Christmas, though. But here's the most important thing about my previous lack of faith, though I was nominally a Christian some years back. The New Atheists accuse God and Christianity of being the source of terrible human evils, and they often quote scripture selectively, while ignoring the great swaths of the NT which demonstrate Christ's compassion. I can point out the great errors in their arguments very easily now. But when the New Atheists attempt to protray God as a cruel tyrant, they very often are merely make more "blunt" statements that are basically the same as thsoe made by Christians.
What I am trying to say here is that my previous picture of God as a cruel tyrant came mostly from thsoe attempting to sell Christ to me. I could talk more here about the reasons, but I've come to the conclusion that much of what I've been led to beleive about God and salvation has been false or distorted.
Consider: when someone attemptig to bring you to the Christian faith, what is it they try to do? Typically, the emphasize hellfire, and your need to escape it. How are you to do this? By admitting you are a sinner and accepting Christ. And that's it. Believe the required facts about the Lord, say the magic words, and voila! you're saved for all eternity. There's nothing more you really need to do. Of course some may also mention James 2:20...that faith without works is dead." But not often. They're far more likely to mention Romans 3:28, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.” Both passages are of great importance of course, and I don't intend to diminish the importance of each. Why, then, is the James passage regarding works so often never mentioned or downplayed? I have heard said that "we are saved by faith, not works" more times than I care to remember. In fact, those seeking to gain new converts continually emphasize the seeming unimportance of good works, while exhalting faith by grace as the one and only path to heaven.
Now this, I might add, is a far cry from the God I believed in as a child. I thought back then that Jesus was sent to earth to teach us how to live and to treat one another with kindness. And Christianity HAS, I beleive paved the way for altruism, compassion, and a democratic society, in spite of some evils done in Christ's name that were entriely antithetical to his teaching. Weren't most of us, as children, taught the importance of compassion and virtue, especially around Christmas time, when we were taught to celebrate the birth of the Savior. So why this denogration of good works?
I have since read the actual books of Mathew and John in their entirety, and there are a vast many references to the importance of good works. To give an example, John 3:18: He that beleiveth on him is not condemned: but he that bleiveth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed, because he hath not believed in the name of only begotten Son of God."
But let's read a little further down, shall we? John 3 19-21: And this is the condemnation that light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness more htan the light, becuase their deeds were evil. For everyone that doeth evil hatethn the light, neither comethto the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God."
All these following passages pertain to works! How is this possible, for a God whom we are often told holds human works of such insignificance?
The plain truth is that we have been lied to about God. I've even heard that Dickens' A Christmas Carol taught a "works-based" salvation. In fact it does not. The character of Scrooge becomes capable of doing good works ONLY after he genuinely repents and experiences an actual change of heart. Only then he filled with the desire to do good. I remember seeing years ago a "looney Tunes" version of Carol, staring Yosemite Sam as Scrooge--a very poor choice, since Yosemite Sam is only good for portraying a "heavy". In this drastically abreviated verision, Scrooge is merely scared into repentence. When Sam/Scrooge DOES repent, we don't buy it for one second. When Sam tells the audience afterward that he was "only acting", it is only too obvious. A more recent version of Carol stars Daffy Duck--a far better choice for the lead, since Daffy is well-known for his veritality as a character. I know--it's just a silly cartoon version. But it demonstrates clearly why a salvation based merely on works IS wrong.
A works salvation basically amounts to a "credit-based" salvation. No salvation based on a credit system could truely be moral. To understand why, simply consider that one could attempt to work one's way into heaven for one'e one benefit without any change of heart or repentece at all. In other words, one might do a world of good for purely self-serving motives.
The problem is that most attempts to gain converts seem to promate what might be called "club membership" salvation, that is one based entreily on faith. It should be eas to see why belonging to membership within a specific club (in this case Christianity)should be a requirment to get into heaven. The reason being: there is simply nothing moral about knowing basic facts conncerning Christ by themselves--other than the fact that those facts should lead to a lasting relationship with Christ.
It is not even precisely true that faith + works= salvation, as I once beleived as a Nominal Christian. One might have faith, and still do good works in a purely self-serving manner.
The truth is that faith and works cannot ever be separated. A saving faith must of necessity involve a change of heart. Only then will one accomplish good works out of desire to serve the Lord.
I'll talk next time about how some evangelists do try to separate faith from works in order to sell Christianity, and why they take this immoral approach.