Followers of Jesus have often wrestled over what it is that allows humans to maintain our relationship with God – having faith in Him, or doing good works inspired by that faith. As Christians, how should faith and good deeds relate to each other?
A study on Romans 3:27-4:12 for young adults from the Society of Salt and Light, in Christchurch.
A quick introduction to the week’s bible passages and theme, which aims to engage people in the big picture of God’s story, and the challenge of living faith in light of that.
Imagine for one moment that it’s your wedding day. You’re tying the knot to your charming and attractive fiancé. On your wedding day you recite your vows of love and words of dedication in front of the minister. “We’re soul mates – and we just feel so blessed to have found each other” you say earnestly to the guests in your speech at the reception dinner. Everyone lets out the obligatory “awwww”. Your auntie cries. It’s the best day of your life.
But when you arrive at your honeymoon suite, ready for a week of lovin’ & buffets, your new spouse acts differently than you’d expected. Each morning they burn your toast on purpose – thinking it’s a great gag. They spit down the back of your neck when you’re sleeping. And one morning you discover they’ve cut your cars brake cables just to see how you react under pressure.
It sounds ludicrous right? And it’s probably the exact same way God feels when Christians endlessly debate if our relationship with God is based on faith, or on good works. Because as our rather strange example of a marriage goes to prove, vows of love without actions of love aren’t just meaningless – oh no, they’re much worse than that. To promise one thing and then live in the opposite way is actually offensive.
In our passage today Paul wrestles with that same kind of question. What is it exactly that assures someone that their relationship with God is all good? Is it circumcision as a sign of God’s covenant? Is it by following the law and the ten commandments? Is it faith? Is it good works?
While the faith vs deeds answer can seem straightforward enough on paper – in practice it can still be pretty damn confusing. Especially for those of us who are prone to having a faith crisis a few times a month, or regularly screwing up in the works department.
So how do we understand the interplay between faith and good works? How dependent is our relationship with God on our ability to actually get it together and live the way of Jesus? And what attitude should we have towards other people, when on one hand we can rest assured that the Creator of the universe has made us righteous, but on the other it’s by no effort of our own?
For the Scholars
Discussion questions focusing on exploring the bible passage.
1. Paul opens this section by contrasting boasting with faith. Some people say things like “I’m a good person, so I should be ok with God right?” How does our being ‘justified by faith’ (v28) challenge such ‘boasting’?
2. How do Paul’s previous thoughts on God’s righteousness (in The Answer) help make sense of this contrast?
3. Does Paul set faith over and against the law? What does it mean to uphold the law but be justified by faith in what God has done through Jesus? (see v31).
4. Romans 4:9-10 says that Abraham’s faith was credited as righteousness before he was circumcised. What does this tell us about the nature of faith?
5. Paul wrote this to a church with a mix of Gentiles (non-Jews) and Jews trying to get along. He says that there is only one God who justifies us all by faith. What does this reality have to say to us when we let dividing lines come into our communities?
6. What does it really mean to trust God, as Abraham did? Is faith more than just mental acceptance? (For more ideas, read all of Psalm 32 which is quoted in 4:7-8).
7. What are some of the results of faith being ‘credited/reckoned/counted as righteousness’, according to 4:7-8? What are the ways this could change your life, if you really took it on board?
FOR THE DREAMERS
Discussion questions focusing on mulling over the theme.
1. Who do you think God is impressed with more – a Christian who lives a selfish life, or a non-believer who lives a life of good works? Or is He impressed by neither?
2. Christians have long been confused and confuzzled whether humans are ultimately saved by having faith in God and Jesus’ saving work on the cross, or if it’s our good works and response to God’s grace in our lives that confirms our salvation (ie James 2:14-26 “Faith without works is dead.”). Most of us get that it’s both – but living that balance proves very tricky. Why do you think this tension has confused people for so long?
Does it confuse you now?
3. If Christians are ultimately saved by their faith in God, what do you think the evidence of a vibrant faith might be in someone’s life? Why do you think so often people profess to have a Christian faith and yet display such little action of this in the way they live their lives?
4. What does it really mean to trust God as Abraham did, as talked about in our passage? Do you think genuine faith is more than just mental acceptance? What’s the difference between a genuine faith, and a blind faith?
5. In our passage Paul spends a lot of time talking about that sore topic of circumcision (all the men wince). For Jews circumcision was the sign of God’s covenant with them as a people – but in Romans 4:9-10 Paul explains to the Gentiles that even Abraham, the father of the Jews, was credited with God’s righteousness before he had the snip himself. What do you think Paul is trying to tell us here about the nature of faith?
6. Paul wrote this letter to a church with a mix of Gentiles (non-Jews) and Jews trying to get along. He says that there is only one God who justifies us all by faith. What does this reality have to say to us when we let dividing lines come between us in our communities?
FOR THE REALISTS
Possibilities for on topic testimonials, sharing and story telling.
Ask someone from your church to talk for 5 minutes on their own experience of trying to live out their faith in the good works they do. How do they see these two aspects interacting in their own life and the decisions they make?
FOR THE ACTIVISTS
Activities and adventures beyond the couch.
We were thinking a circumcision activity might have been fun…
But instead, do a quick audit of your groups good-deeds-to-faith ratio as a community. How often do you get together to focus on faith and
study, and how often do you get together to do good works together? Have a frank and honest discussion about why so many groups struggle to
express their faith with good works as a community. Apathy? Embarrassment? Business?
Then discuss what an off the cuff surprise “good work” inspired by your groups faith could be that you could enact together without too much
planning. Do it.