Friday, July 14, 2006

Does eternal life come from doing good?

Good evangelicals "know" that the answer to that question is "No." We are saved by grace alone by faith alone through Christ alone, right? Of course right!

But somebody had better tell the Apostle Paul about it, because he writes:
To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism.
Romans 2.7-11
So what's the deal? Both the Old Testament and the New Testament have words like that. How can we reconcile that with other passages, even other passages by Paul -- yes, even other passages in this same letter to the Romans, that talk about faith alone?

Well, as the great theologian Topol (playing Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof) said, "I'll tell you. I don't know."

The time-honored answer to this conundrum is, well, it's them as have faith, them's the ones as do good with perseverance. Yeah, that's a nice theory, but think Gandhi to see why I still say, "I don't know."

Some friends of a different faith asked me if there's a bigger reward for those who do good on this earth -- particularly for those who tell others about Jesus. I think they were trying to decide if I was telling them about Jesus in order to get a better reward in the bye and bye.

Was I using them, in other words.

Well, I hope not! I was talking to them about these issues because of my affection and concern for them. But since they asked, I had to tell them about this passage.

Here's something else, though. When I think about people who have never heard a credible testimony about Jesus, this passage gives me hope.

Because a few weeks ago, an international friend asked me about the eternal destiny of his countrymen, 98% of whom do not believe in Jesus. I gave him, not only the quote from Fiddler on the Roof, but also the last verse I quoted above: For God does not show favoritism. In another version, that verse is translated, For there is no partiality with God.

Because what we're asking when we ask about all those who haven't heard, or at least what I'm asking, is this: "Is God fair, really?" And although Paul's explanations of exactly what happens to whom don't seem
completely clear to me, Paul is crystal clear on the point that God is absolutely fair. The entire Bible is crystal clear on this point, now that I think of it.

And that's good news.

posted 7/15

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