One of the chief causes of division in Christendom is what we believe about faith and works.
Does God require both for salvation? What works does He require? Is a system of salvation that requires works futile or is it necessary?
I believe the key to these questions lies in Matthew 5:3, the very first sentence of Jesus’ ‘sermon on the Mount’.
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
In order to understand God’s teaching about faith and works, let us first seek to define our relationship to God.
Jesus qualifies our state, every one of us, in Matthew 5:3. Blessed are the “poor” in spirit.
The image Jesus gives of man’s state before God could not be clearer than it is here.
‘poor’ here refers to “a beggar (as cringing), that is, pauper (strictly denoting absolute or public mendicancy”. – Strong
There was no one lower than the beggar. This was one who, being blind or lame, *had no choice* but to beg and throw himself on the mercy of those who would give.
Furthermore, in the preceding chapter, the writer says this of Jesus: that “He came preaching ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'”
If there is a kingdom, then there is a king.
We, then, are beggars. And He is the king.
What works, then, will we offer Him?
Perhaps it isn’t works, per se, that He wants from us.
What does He want?
Luke 17:11-18 may help us answer this.
11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosymet him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.
15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice.16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.
17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
9 lepers did exactly what Jesus commanded and followed the law. And fell short.