What does the Bible teach about the relative importance of actions and beliefs? Which should we settle first?
J.Warner Wallace explains:
I just came home from a week in the great state of Utah. Our missions team of high school students had the opportunity to talk with many LDS and Christian believers about the nature of salvation. Many of our conversations centered on the relationship between faith and works. Christianity is unique in its characterization of salvation as the free gift of God:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.
This concept of grace is missing in Mormonism (as it has been classically described by LDS prophets and Mormon scripture). In fact, many of the Mormon believers we talked with described Christians as people who consistently take advantage of “cheap grace”. One member of the LDS church told us, “Christians say a prayer, get ‘saved’ and then run out and live like hell. They don’t think it’s important to obey the commandments.” At times, in an effort to emphasis the free nature of salvation, many Christians minimize the importance of good works in the Christian life. We sometimes neglect to tell our LDS friends that a grateful life, surrendered in response to what Christ has done for us, does actually result in a life of good works. The passage in Ephesians provides us with an important equation that can help us make this distinction. If you divide this verse in the middle, you’ll find faith and salvation on one side of the verse and works on the other:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith | not by works, so that no one can boast.
This verse in Ephesians provides us with a simple equation that can help us remember a life transformed by the saving grace of God produces good works, even though good works are not what save us:
The Christian equation:
Salvation + Faith = Works
The Non-Christian equation:
Faith + Works = Salvation
The question is not whether someone performs good works, but why someone performs good works. Both Christian and non-Christian believers have a place for good works in their respective equations. Works are not missing from the Christian calculation. But for us, good works are the result of our gratitude for (and recognition of) what God has done. When we realize that our own efforts are utterly impotent, we begin to understand the gift that God has given us. When we understand what God has done for us, we can’t help but be humbled and grateful. A grateful life, ever reflective of the depth of God’s kindness, results in a surrendered response. We can’t help but want to live differently.
I think it’s pretty important to get it clear that in Biblical Christianity, the focus is on getting the beliefs correct first. I actually think that the heavy burden of a works-based faith is a big reason why people are turned off about religion in general. It would really be much better for us all if we figured out who God is first and then made adjustments to live in light of that, instead of leaving the theology aside and just trying to join an organization and do what people tell us to do. Let’s meet God in truth first, then act accordingly once that relationship is settled.