It seems that every time someone brings up anything about the Church’s role in social justice or human rights there is discomfort. People automatically begin to feel anxious and wonder if they’re being told that their salvation is “works based.” I remember a few weeks ago in one of my classes we were having a conversation about a certain liberation theologian. We were reading through some of his works and discussing them. Shortly into the conversation, several people began to express their frustration, saying that the author’s theology was too works based. To be honest I didn’t react very well. I saw them as uncompassionate, selfish, bigoted people who cared nothing for the weak or the poor and only cared for their own wellbeing, their salvation. Then I began to think about where this worry comes from and I began to relate.
We, Protestants have been raised to believe something that is very true but at the same time very dangerous. We’ve been raised to believe that our salvation cannot be earned and that good works do not buy your way into heaven. This is true but we can end up being trapped by this belief. In light of this we have also been raised to think that we have to be sure of our salvation above all else. Getting into heaven has become the top priority to Christians which suggests a belief that God shares this concern. We have come to believe that above all else the most important thing for someone to know and be sure of is the answer to the famous question; “where are you going when you die?” The trap is that, with these priorities, we can easily emancipate ourselves from the obligation to work, to serve. If anything begins to suggest that you have to do anything besides believe or have faith in order to be a Christian we stress. If I say that a Christian should care about the poor I should be sure to throw in the disclaimer that they don’t need to but God would like it. But is that what it’s all about?
See, everything has become about pleasing God. What must we do to please God? Well, you’d answer, have faith. Yes, this is true, God wants us to have faith but are we afraid to travel beyond faith? I don’t think that God has the same priorities we do. I don’t think God is nearly as concerned with our salvation as we are. Just because someone only needs faith doesn’t mean they are not called to be doers of the word and not just hearers. God might be far more concerned with the poor and the oppressed than we are. We should be less concerned with what side of the heaven/hell line we stand on and more concerned with joining with God in the work of new creation. We should be more concerned with finishing the race that starting it. No we do not earn our salvation, God gives it freely. But He does invite us to share His mission. We are now free, free to serve. We are not bound by the law; rather, we are free in it. As we work for the good of all mankind, as we follow God’s instruction, follow His example of redeemed life, follow his laws, we begin to live more and more in tune with our already established salvation. I do not work that I may be saved. I work so that my life, my surroundings, the people around me will reflect what has already been given to me. So, don’t worry so much about how to be saved. Don’t work for your salvation because it will profit you nothing. Work because you share the same passion God does, the same priorities. Work because you have compassion for the people for whom Christ gave His life.