Take the 2-minute tour ×
Christianity Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for committed Christians, experts in Christianity and those interested in learning more. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I recently had a debate with one of my friends in which he asked "Why would a good and just God not make salvation dependent on ethics, but rather on gullibility, as the Christian God has?" and I couldn't provide him with an honestly good answer, and in fact it's a question that I need an answer to as well.

In Christian teaching we are taught that 'man is saved through faith and grace' and while there are scriptures that put emphasis on morality and service, that aspect seems to downplayed, and in fact there are some denominations in which you can be saved wholly by faith. What I'm getting at is that Morality seems to play a Robin to Faiths Batman.

Is morality really important in Christianity?

share|improve this question
1  
The assumption that there are "good" people that deserve heaven is completely opposed to biblical teaching. In reality, the Bible teaches that there is no one who is righteous or good or deserving of heaven. We are all sinners. It is true that every person has not committed the exact amount or depravity of sins as every other person. However, a person who committed treason only once is certainly not as bad as someone who did that multiple times, but that doesn't mean he receives no punishment. The standard is holiness--not the average amount of sinfulness. –  Narnian Jun 13 '13 at 13:23
    
Are you asking about faith or morality? It seems the title of your question differs significantly from the last question in the content. –  Narnian Jun 13 '13 at 14:32
    
"A good and just God", your answer is in part of your friends question; God is good but He is also JUSTICE, which means He cannot ignore our sin otherwise He would not be good. –  Monkieboy Jun 26 '13 at 21:18
    
Gullibility <> faith! Any question based on a false premise is inherently unfair and should be challenged. Don't try to answer questions like "When did you start beating your wife?" on their own terms unless you do indeed have to confess such behaviour. The Message version of James 2:26 - "The very moment you separate body and spirit, you end up with a corpse. Separate faith and works and you get the same thing: a corpse." –  bruised reed Aug 16 at 11:16

16 Answers 16

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Who says that faith plays a more important role? As James 2:26 reminds us, "faith without works is dead."

Faith plays a greater role than works in salvation (at the point of "getting saved") simply because none of our works were good enough before God to earn us righteousness. So by faith alone we are saved when we trust Jesus for righteousness.

Then works start to play a significant role as they line up with one's profession of faith. Without works, our faith will be a mere intellectual practice; but God is a God of love and wants to express Himself through those who profess faith in Him, "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is on God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God" (1 John 4:7). And so the epistles (and Jesus) encourage good works.

In the end, at the judgment seat, we will be rewarded according to our works (Matthew 25:14-30, the Parable of the Talents). Those works will be an expression of our heart and faith life.

share|improve this answer
    
This is not true; according to Galatians 2:16, Ephesians 2:8-10, Romans 4:4-5, Romans 10:9, the works are not important, only faith is. I will try to expand in a separate answer. –  Tomas Jun 26 '13 at 20:32
    
Well, I didn't want to say it is not true; I wanted to say that the references suggest it is more complex. –  Tomas Jun 26 '13 at 20:57
    
@Tomas, 'works' refers to works of the Law, not works that are the side effect of a true and life changing faith. The latter works are part of the 'fruit' that demonstrate a true Christian. –  Monkieboy Jun 26 '13 at 21:21

Faith without Good Deeds Is Dead (James 2:14-26 NLT)

First, What is salvation?

Many times, people tend to misunderstand the meaning of the salvation that Christ brings. One of the primary purposes of the salvation of Christ is the forgiveness of sins - the ultimate sacrifice in which you need to believe in order to be saved.

This does not mean that faith is more important than morality in any way.

When asked, Christ said the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, and to love your neighbors as yourself.

What does Christ say about the Judgment?

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 (Matthew 25:31-46 ESV)

So we find Christ placing emphasis on charity (good deeds) and not faith. Faith is important to be saved, but not more important than being good.


EDIT - I found this read which supports that salvation is not by faith alone interesting. It clearly shows the Bible passages that claim one or the other.

http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/contra/faithalone.html

share|improve this answer
    
Welcome to C.SE. I like how your really get to the root of what salvation is! –  Yuletide Geek Jun 13 '13 at 15:14
1  
"So we find Christ placing emphasis on charity (good deeds) and not faith. Faith is important to be saved, but not more important than being good." You say faith is secondary to being a good person. But is it not true that one could live a life of sin only to repent on their death bed and still be saved? Does this not imply faith is paramount, and indeed all that is ultimately required? –  Calvin Jun 17 '13 at 2:05
    
@Calvin: You could say so! But ultimately required is not the same thing as more important. It is not Christ's faith but His good works that places Him at the right hand of God... If you understand what I'm getting at. The fruit of faith is good works, and we can definitely not be good enough, but then our good works are like treasures in heaven. Would you then say having faith is more important? –  Chibueze Opata Jun 17 '13 at 2:31
1  
@Chibueze Opata. I still can't overcome this contradiction. Let me elaborate. What I am understanding is that you are saying faith is required, but morality is strongly encouraged and deemed to be more important. However in terms of the practicality of getting into heaven this superior importance is arbitrary. It's more, we are encouraged to be good for it's own sake.. because being good is.. good. But surely, this is independant of faith? I know a lot of atheists and non-believers who will tell me they are also moral and do good because it's the right thing to do. –  Calvin Jun 17 '13 at 15:37
1  
(..continued) My point is, if you're not choosing to be a good person through fear of consequence (we've already established it doesn't really matter as in terms of being saved faith is the be all and end all), then this is an autonomous, self-initiated decision. While it may have been encouraged by God, he does not seem to enforce it in any way and so ultimately it is each of us who chooses to be a good person because we want to. It seems to me from writing this, that faith and morality are actually completely independant from each other. –  Calvin Jun 17 '13 at 15:41

Faith is more prominent within Christianity than good works, though it does not mean that being good and faith are different, rather they relate to each other.

Perhaps, we can start with good works

Matthew 22:36-40 (ESV)

36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Essentially, all good works are manifestation of love.

Now, how does love relate to faith?

Galatians 5:6 (ESV)

6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

We see here that faith isn't something hidden, but it manifest through love.

It's a common misconception (1) in Book of James that faith and works are separate, actually James sees works as manifestation of faith, an active faith, the real thing.

James 2:14-26 (ESV, emphasis mine)

14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good[b] is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

Essentially, a professing Christian will manifest good works because of his faith.

Using analogy, how would you know that some one is a good programmer? you don't just accept what he says, you check the code he produces, the past projects he has created, etc. His output will prove what's inside.


1 Well, base on my personal experience and on reading other resource

share|improve this answer

I would say that, ultimately, the reason God set up salvation the way He did is for Himself to get greater glory. The prophet Jonah writes that "Salvation is of the Lord." So God gets the glory for saving sinners, not the sinners themselves. Now, God doesn't just want to save us from the guilt of sin (justification), but also the power of sin (sanctification). The former is what Paul is talking about when he says justification is by grace through faith, and not by works. That is, justification in God's eyes is by grace through faith. The latter is what James is talking about when he says that you are justified by your works. That is, justification in men's eyes is by works. You show your faith to other people by what you do.

As the catechism question puts it, "Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever." That is, the greatest good in the universe is for God to get glory. And God gets great glory by saving sinners, because so many of His attributes are shown in greater relief this way: justice and law, wrath, mercy, grace, and love.

share|improve this answer

The Old Testament Law sets up a "works based" way to salvation. If you keep all of the laws, you would be right with God. The problem is that we can't keep the law. It's not good enough to be "more ethical" than someone else. God's standard is perfection.

The bible is quite clear on our sinfulness. Just to take a quick sample: (All passages from NIV)

Psalm 14:1 "there is no one who does good"

Psalm 143:2 "Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no one living is righteous before you."

Romans 3:10-11 "There is no one righteous, not even one; There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God."

1 John 1:8 "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us"

We cannot make ourselves right with God simply by being good people. No matter how good you are, you aren't good enough. Christianity doesn't teach some sort of Karma, where your "good deeds" need to outweigh your "bad deeds". Christianity teaches that what you think is good, is still sinful.

The great news of Christianity is the certainty that it provides. We do not need to do anything for our salvation. God is a loving God because he knows we cannot justify ourselves so he does it for us.

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. Romans 3:21-22 NIV

God is Just, therefore we deserve to die because of our sin. But God is Good, therefore he provides us a way to salvation that we can achieve.

share|improve this answer

"Only one is good," Jesus said, when the disciple called Him "good Master." If Jesus would not call Himself good, then how can anyone say they are doing "good?" In the middle ages the word "good" referred to "God". That is: "good works = Godly works." So, if we are to do good works we must be doing Godly works, that is work that God has asked us to do through his prophets. Not because it is beneficial in any way to God, but that it contributes to good living for everyone. We do the works from the heart, purely because of love for one another, not out of duty. And this love comes from God - we only pass it on to others. Love spurs us on to do good for the world, starting with our "brethren" and extending to all who cross our path. Of course to have love this powerful, requires a close relationship with God, which means first that we must trust God in everything. The Faith we have, was given by God - and we absorb this faith through the training by Jesus (and his disciples.) It is a temporary help until we understand Jesus, and can behave like Jesus, and feel the love of God like Him, and love God like Him. Or as Paul said until we "have The Christ within us."

Faith is then, not more important than good works, but faith is how Christians learn to do good works - Faith is a synonym for "life of Christ." That is everything that Jesus taught the disciples to "observe," is "Faith" - in the sense that Paul used the word, and the way the 4th century Church understood it.

share|improve this answer

The fall of mankind was as a result of faith transgressed, not disobedience, as many believe. Faith was placed in the words of the serpent, rather than the Word of God. So it is reasonable that mankind would have to regain access to God through the same portal of faith that he fell out of a relationship with God.

share|improve this answer
    
Just read a comment: "faith is important to be saved, but not more important than being good", wow, it is faith in God's grace that enable Christ to be born out in the Christian life. One can be good and miss the mark. –  Rick Jun 14 '13 at 12:53
    
wow never heard it that way before, great answer –  eliyah Aug 18 at 7:03

"Why would a good and just God not make salvation dependent on ethics, but rather on gullibility, as the Christian God has?"

Your friend's question is completely reasonable from man's point of view and is how men would set the criteria for salvation. That line of thinking leads to religion where rules/following the rules are worshiped since they are the way to salvation. In contrast, the word "Jesus" actually means "God is Salvation" and many of the prophets' names are derivatives of same meaning.

I think of faith and works as two sides of a coin required for salvation. Faith in God and His works are primary because one can't receive salvation from a God one believes doesn't exist. And since salvation was 'achieved' or secured by God's works, it makes sense to me that acknowledging His work would be critical to receiving salvation and starting a loving relationship.

Jhn 3:16 "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. Jhn 3:17 "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. Jhn 3:18 "He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. Jhn 3:19 "And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

Works or behaviors are slightly secondary because they are result of one's belief system or faith. If the belief system changes, the behaviors can/will change and scripture urges us to align our behavior/works to a faith based on truth and love one another.

1Jo 4:16 And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.

"By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." Jhn 13:35

share|improve this answer

There are actually verses in the Bible that suggest that faith is much more important than works:

Galatians 2:16:

know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in[a] Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

Ephesians 2:8-9

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.

Romans 4:4-5:

Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. 5 However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.

Romans 10:9

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

share|improve this answer

It can be hard for good people look at their lives and ask why there could be any kind of punishment. The problem is in a misunderstanding of sin. It's important to look at the propensities of all people, as shown in Romans 3:

What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. Romans 3:9-19

One who understands that they themselves are swift to shed blood and their very own tongues practice deceit won't have too much of a problem of understanding why their own righteousness won't get themselves into heaven. One needs an imputed righteousness from a Savior.

share|improve this answer

Perhaps in your wanderings you've never come across the Spiritual Works of Mercy they are as follows:

I'm not at all confident this will resonate with you, but I tried to make this argument with my wife's grandfather a few weeks ago (who raised the same question) and didn't have any resources to back it up. I've got a feeling that for the most part, Protestants don't consider the above list to be "works". But our language doesn't have a word that means "acts of faith" to correspond to the word "works". So we've got "acts of faith" or "spiritual works" but what are you really doing unless you're acting. I brought it up because of something I heard a priest say on the radio to a wheelchair bound man who was distressed that he couldn't do much in the service of his fellow man. The priest advised him that the spiritual works were what he might be called to perform instead. But to Protestants these spiritual works all seem to be what they describe as "faith" so maybe that can bridge our traditions? (well that argument fell flat there, I'd like to know what you make of it here)

What else is there to say? It's sanctifying grace (the Life of Christ within us) that saves us. It's actual grace that works through us (which is what we get through prayer, fasting and good works [which build on each other {like a recursive loop}]). It's our little sins and faults which make it easier to sin and it's our big sins that take us out of a state of grace altogether.

Finally, if you've ever been to a wedding you know that in the final analysis you've got faith hope and love, but the greatest of these is love. And whether or not greater things are more important things or if first things are more important things isn't that important to know. What you do need to know is that once you've got faith, don't lose it and once you start doing acts of love that emanate from that faith, you'd better not stop doing those either.

share|improve this answer

I find one of the cleverest things ( arguably :) ) God ever did was to save people sole-ly by faith and belief in Jesus. Its not degrading morality, but by believing we are changed to become more moral. Its a gradual process you can see it happen in people who believe and read the Bible, they are affected by it. It warms you to other people and helps you connect with and help people maybe you never would have done otherwise. Belief in God and in Jesus is only so powerful because by believing it gives the Bible its power so when you read it, it actually effects you and changes you.

So I would say morals are just as important as belief, but we're saved by belief because, through the process God's set up (ie. reading the masterwork of God in the Bible), believing makes you better.

share|improve this answer
1  
Welcome to the site! When you get a chance, be sure to check out the help page, as well as this post, clarifying the purpose of the site. It's not what most people assume when first visiting. –  David Stratton Jun 21 '13 at 22:25

People constantly err in equating belief in Christ with having faith in Him. Belief is Not the same as having faith. Even the demons "believe" in Christ. It is clear that faith is composed of two essential elements: belief and works. Hence, one can believe and not have fath. One can have works and not have faith. Faith requires both belief and good works. If you lack either, you are faithless. Hence, faith without works is dead. Faith without works is mere belief. Christians who believe in God but flagrantly and constantly disobey his commandments do not have faith. They are faithless believers. Revelations tells us that the book of life will be opened and we will be judged according to our deeds in this life. The reason God wants us to believe in him is not because he craves our praise but because he wants us to adopt his culture, to began a path towards holiness. We will never save ourselves with our works but belief will not save us either. Both are absolutely critical. I would guess that God is more pleased by non-believers who do good works than with bettlievers who do evil works, but his standard is for us to both believe and to do good. That is faith. Of course, being just, Jesus spent the three days that his body lay in the tomb preaching to the souls in prison so that they could have a chance to attain belief. People who have lived and have never heard of Christ (millions if not billions in human history) will still have an equal playing field with regards to belief. But, don't kid yourselves that you can live a life of dark sin and think that your belief will save you. If anything, you will be even more damned than someone who did not have the light you had. DL

share|improve this answer
2  
Hi and welcome! This is no reflection on the substantive quality of your answer (I happen to absolutely agree with you personally), but we're looking for answers that are well-supported (i.e. citations provided). Please take the tour and browse the help centre for more info on how this site operates. –  bruised reed Aug 16 at 11:29
    
I would like to second what bruised reed said. Additionally, you should see What Christianity.StackExchange is (and more importantly, what it isn't) and How we are different than other sites? I hope you post again soon. –  fredsbend the Grinch Aug 16 at 16:26
    
hi welcome to the site great answer regardless that you did not support your answer but unsupported answers are frowned upon in this community but I really loved your answer and its almost as if you didnt need to support your answer because everyone else already did it for you in the previous answers :-) you have great insight loved the angle you approached it from please keep at it. –  eliyah Aug 18 at 7:13
    
I gave you a +1 on thee answer loved it –  eliyah Aug 18 at 7:16

Why? Because faith is the better option.

Do you really want to be judged on your merits? Really? Where all of your worst deeds are dragged forward, and any one of the least of your mistakes utterly disqualifies you from salvation, and condemns you to eternal torment? Good deeds cannot make up for bad deeds, because good deeds are what you are expected to do anyway (see James 4:17).

You could say that we are already saved by works... in a way. In practice, none of us meets that standard, and so we need something else. You could say that we are already saved by works... not our own works, but the works of another. What an amazing God we have, that there is any hope at all for salvation, considering the standard set for us. How great a savior we have, that He was willing and able to give His own life to redeem our weakness.

share|improve this answer
    
Well in my most honest opinion to your first question, yes. I do want to be judged by the life that I have lived and the deeds i have done, the morals I have kept, and I do want a just and loving God to do it, one that doesn't care how much praise I gave him, but the life that I lived, a judgement where good acts do make up for the bad and judgement is fair. this has become an increasing problem with Christianity and me, the concept that you could be the most morally upright righteous person since Christ walked the earth, but if you're not a christian then God will give you damnation. –  elder south Jun 13 '13 at 14:49
    
@eldersouth "Damnation for all outside of the Church" isn't exactly the majority opinion of Christians. –  Ignatius Theophorus Jun 13 '13 at 15:08
    
well what is then, because that's what I've always heard. –  elder south Jun 13 '13 at 16:53
1  
@elder south Who cares what the majority of Christians say? Instead, what does the Bible say? "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me" (Jesus, in John 14:6). –  Steve Jun 14 '13 at 13:16

To be very concise: Because you have to be perfect to go to heaven. it is impossible for a human being to be "good" enough to satisfy God because we are never perfect.

Christ, however, promised to cleanse us from all our sins if we would have faith in Him.

share|improve this answer
1  
Welcome to the site. This is good, but it would be WAY better if you could provide some support for the answer. See What makes a good supported answer?. I agree completely with your statement, but the site has some guidelines about supported answers to avoid things turning into an opinion-fest. While you're at it, i recommend all newcomers to visit the help page –  David Stratton Jun 18 '13 at 0:51

simply put, we are saved by faith not by works but remember that "faith without works is dead" so they go hand in hand but we are saved by grace through faith.

take this example for instance, there is a man on his death bed (an unbeliever) but he confesses, repents and converts to faith in the saviour jesus christ (is he now saved by grace)? many would say yes, so where did works come in there? many say its not...what we did but its about what Jesus did for us at calvary.....thats the power of amazing grace....through faith in our lord jesus christ.

share|improve this answer

protected by Caleb Aug 18 at 7:38

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.