One of the highlights of my year is attending the CCDA conference, what I consider the greatest gathering of compassion and justice practitioners in the United States. Since I am in that mode, this morning I reflected on some recent conversations I’ve had on the topic of faith and good works.
Recently I had a great conversation with our (EFCA) ReachStudents leaders about this as a struggle with the generation they are shepherding. They expressed how the kids in their youth group are all about good works. This is a natural by-product of the cultural times we are in, as good works is the “in” thing to do.
For instance, rare is the high school nowadays that doesn’t require community service hours to graduate. One of my kids got caught up in the KONY 2012 phenomena. I’ve heard of parties thrown where kids charge a cover and donate it to the Red Cross. Short term mission trips are a cottage industry. Everybody it seems is into doing good works.
Moving up the age scale if you’ve noticed the Christian conference landscape there has been an explosion in the last decade of justice conferences. If you’ve attended one of these all you see is 20- somethings and SCUPPIES (Socially-Conscious Yuppies).
Furthermore a few weeks ago I had great dialogue with a group of my peers, and what struck me was the fact that some in this group did not see the need to tie proclamation and demonstration of the gospel together. It was enough, some argued, just to do the good works for the community. By doing this the gospel is somehow proclaimed. I find that stance troubling.
The shadow side of living in the “do-gooder” era is oftentimes Christians don’t know why they do what they do. They just do it! When we do good works, it’s not just for the sake of doing them. If we are to take Ephesians 2:10 seriously we were created to do them. Think about that for a minute.
Theologically we often create this false dichotomy between faith and works which doesn’t exist in the Bible. We are not saved to just sit around and have Bible studies celebrating how holy we are. James 2:14-26 makes this perfectly clear. There is no dichotomy between faith and works. You can’t truly have one without the other.
It is not an either/or situation but a both/and. Faith is concerned with the proclamation of the gospel. It has to do with such things as rightly making sure our theology is sound and getting the message out there. Good works is self-explanatory, i.e. doing good things for others. I call that the demonstration of the gospel.
So as Christians it is not enough to say we do good works for selfish reasons like to grow our church numbers, or that it’s good if all we do is feed people. If that is the case we are no different from any other do-gooder non-profit out there. We are supposed to be different.
Our good works should be for the purpose of building good will towards the community, in order to demonstrate the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is what makes what we do different.
It is demonstration of the gospel (good works) in order to build a platform (good will) for the purpose of leading to the proclamation of the gospel (sharing our faith). The continuum is good works, good will, good news. We must make this connection to be a powerful witness to our world.
If you want to examine this concept more in depth I highly recommend you read the book The Externally Focused Quest.