I’m studying Bob Enyart’s the Plot, the premiss being that God not only responds to what humans do, but also that God may, over time and in response to what we do, change His mind. That is, He may promise that if we do something, He will then do something, but if we don’t hold up our end of the bargain, then He is not obligated to do what He promised in return.
The Book of Acts documents a significant plot shift, as Bob terms it, wherein God opened His gates for Gentiles. And not only that, but God did not require the Gentiles to perform according to Mosaic Law. They could, instead, get into God’s good graces “by faith alone”.
This got me to thinking about that phrase, “by faith alone.” Is that actually what God meant? Are we understanding this correctly?
Here’s my understanding of what I’m reading in the Book of Acts.
First, Jews can get to Heaven (or “everlasting life” if you’d prefer that term) according to three conditions. First, they have to believe in God. Second, when they sin, they have to sincerely repent, to be truly sorry for their actions and, presumably, [try to?] not do that again. And third, they have to live life according to certain rules — the Laws of Moses and the Scribes who later codified those Laws into huge tomes of rules and regulations.
Gentiles, on the other hand, only need satisfy the first two conditions, believing in God and sincerely repenting of their sins. Gentiles, however, don’t have to follow the Laws handed down by Moses and then amplified by the Scribes. Gentiles get a “pass” on adherence to the Laws. (Ham and swiss on rye, anyone?)
But this is where my thinking got snagged on something. It hinges on not repentance, but upon a person’s actions thereafter.
For example, let’s take some sinner — you or me, as you prefer — and let’s say that sinner realizes he/she has sinned, is sincerely sorry, repents from the bottom of his/her heart and basically says, “I was wrong, please forgive me” and perhaps most significantly adds, “I won’t do that again.”
That last part, the “I won’t do that again,” that’s an action. That’s doing, or in this case *not* doing something.
Now, back to the main thought.
When someone says, “By faith alone,” how does that bear on the idea, “I won’t do that again”?
If it is, literally, “by faith alone” then the presumption must be that if that person goes out and sins again, well of course they’ll need to “sincerely repent” again — but at what point does repetition of a sin cast doubt on the adverb “sincerely”. I mean, if you keep doing something bad over and over, at some point *I* begin to doubt that person’s sincerity of saying, “I’m sorry.” (Of course, I can’t speak for God and whether or not God questions their sincerity. But it does start to strain what I think of them. So maybe God does too.)
My conclusion from this is that while the Gentiles were excused from Mosaic Law, they are not given a pass to Heaven “by faith alone.” They aren’t given “carte blanche” to behave as they please. If they mess up, they still need to sincerely repent.
As comedians will tell you, timing is everything. What if someone sins but then dies before they can repent? Maybe they do something horrible — run over a relative who has really made them mad but, in the process, wreck the car and become unconscious, lay in a hospital room for six months — not brain dead, let’s say, but still unconscious — and then their damaged heart gives out and they die.
Will they enter Heaven “by faith alone” because they (once?) believed but stumbled?
Or are they toast, and probably rather well-done toast at that?
My guess (!) is that “by faith alone” is an over-statement. I think it goes too far.
My admittedly meager understanding of what I am studying in the Book of Acts is that God wants us to 1) believe in Him, 2) try not to sin but when we do, to sincerely ask His forgiveness and then try not to do that again, and for the Jews only, to 3) live according to the Mosaic Law.
“By faith alone” doesn’t mean our actions are irrelevant. On the contrary, what we *do* is very important.
“Faith alone” is not sufficient. Actions matter, too.
The Gentiles don’t have to conform to Mosaic Law, but nonetheless, there are still some things they are not supposed to do.
Murder is a bad act. Don’t do that.
But that’s not doing something and, OK, I can agree to not do certain things.
But what about actively doing things?
Am I expected to do things, too?
This is where “by faith alone” really comes into question in my mind.
There are good acts as well as bad and — I think — God is looking for us to do those good acts.
I think He expects it.
He even went so far as saying so!
Specifically, Jesus said we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
If I love myself, I take care of myself. I wash, brush my teeth, eat (reasonably) healthy, conform to local laws when driving the car, see my doctor for annual checkups, and so forth.
Love is not passive. Loving means we do things.
And if I love someone, I will take steps to help them. I will ask, “How are you feeling?” If it looks needed, I will take them to the hospital. Even the act of just listening while they unload their troubles to compassionate ears is an act of doing. (Look up “active listening” if you don’t agree. Listening, really listening, is not a passive act. It takes energy. It is very much a “doing” action.)
On the other hand, doing nothing when a so-called loved one is in danger when we have the potential of protecting, of saving, them from harm … not doing something is unthinkable.
Of course, you will try (doing something) to save them.
You love them!
To “Love your neighbor” means you are willing to act, to do, for their well-being.
Love is not passive.
It means “we do” for others as we would “do” for ourselves.
So do we get a pass to Heaven, “By faith alone”?
Nope, I don’t think that’s what the Book of Acts is telling us.
That phrase is an incorrect simplification. It over-simplifies God’s expectations.
What you do matters.
If you’re a Gentile — that is, you’re not Jewish — then you don’t have to follow the laws of Moses or the huge tract of “if this, then that” rules created by the Scribes.
But you do have to “do”.
Doing is important. It matters.