The Gateway Throwdown – Faith vs. Works

The Gateway Throwdown – Faith vs. Works

First Quarter – John Burke

Welcome to the Gateway Throwdown here on Superbowl Sunday. For those new to Gateway, I’m John Burke, Sr. Pastor here, and we started doing this on Superbowl Sunday years ago, when this would be a low attendance Sunday–people would miss church because of the Superbowl. “PEOPLE…the game doesn’t start until 5pm.”  But we decided to have a little fun with it, and make it a Sunday you don’t want to miss, and you want to invite friends to–because we follow the Creator of fun and laughter and humor, so it’s okay to enjoy church today. But we’re also talking about a serious subject—a competition of sorts that you see in the Bible. In the bible there’s always been this rivalry, this tension, between faith and works.  And we’re gonna sort that out for you today.  And since I’m talking about faith, I need to tell you upfront that faith dominates—faith wins. Sorry Carlos.

         Why would I say that?  Well, let’s throw down some scripture, how about it!?  Romans 1 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. Romans 1:16 Some big words, let me unpack what the Apostle Paul is saying. Gospel just means “good news or good message”. The good news is that God is setting people in right relationship with Himself, that’s salvation—and he says “to everyone who believes.”  That’s faith—belief or trust is what it means to have faith in God. Then he goes on… 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”  Romans 1:16-17.  Righteousness—or right-standing with God is not dependent on what we do or don’t do.  It’s a righteousness that comes from God and we receive it “by faith”.  In fact, Paul here in the New Testament quotes the Old Testament Jewish prophet Habakkuk who said “The righteous will live by faith.”  So even before Jesus, the way God has always made people right, or right related to God, is when they put faith, or trust, in God. Why is faith, or trust, so important—so primary, so essential, so pre—eminent to everything else? Because without faith, or trust, there’s no relationship. 

Let me give 2 examples.  The Patriots and the Buccaneers. In March 2020, as the Covid shutdown began, 43 year old Tom Brady came to the Bucs from the Patriots, where the Patriots had won 6 Superbowls. The Bucs had not made the playoffs in 12 consecutive seasons.  Yet in one year, the same core team, 18 of the 22 starting players–that same core team went from 12 years not making the playoffs, to win the Superbowl. How?  Was it that they suddenly worked harder in the gym or in practice? No. Pro players work hard. So it wasn’t just the talent, and it wasn’t that they worked harder at strength or practice—it was, in the words of Ted Lasso, who coached Football where you actually use a Foot, some call it soccer.  In the words of Ted Lasso “Believe”.  That’s the game changer.  Belief, faith, trust in Tom Brady’s leadership seems to be what turned the Bucs from 12 years missing the playoffs to Superbowl champs.  Faith, Belief, Trust is what keeps people following a leader, motivated, communicating, cooperating, winning.

Second example—marriage.  It’s Faith, or trust, belief that holds a marriage together.  It’s not one or the other working to prove they’re worth loving, or never making mistakes, or never needing forgiveness, or always perfectly doing what the other wants—it’s faith or trust that is the foundation of a loving relationship.  And true loving faith makes both spouses want to do good for the other.

That’s why Faith or Belief is of first importance to God.  God wants relationship first and foremost—it’s why He created you and me. And relationship has always come by faith. Paul says in Romans 4  Abraham was, humanly speaking, the founder of our Jewish nation. What did he discover about being made right with God? 2 If his good deeds had made him acceptable to God, he would have had something to boast about. But that was not God’s way. 3 For the Scriptures tell us, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” 4 When people work, their wages are not a gift, but something they have earned. 5 But people are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners. Romans 4:1-5

Pretty clear “Not because of their work but because of their faith.” So relationship with God is a gift we receive by faith.  Just like two people get married by pledging their faith to one another in love. God doesn’t make us work to earn His love.  He just loves us and proved it when Jesus died for us—we receive His love by faith. We don’t have to do penance or do enough good deeds to be forgiven for our wrongs, Jesus died to pay the price of justice for us—God just forgives us by faith.  We don’t have to do good deeds to be acceptable to God, He just accepts us by faith.  Have you put your faith in God and what He did for you in Jesus?  It’s faith, faith, faith from first to last, beginning to end—Faith Wins!

Second Quarter – Carlos Ortiz

Nice job, John, or should I say, nice hail mary pass you threw out there.  Don’t get me wrong I’m all for faith, but like a few rappers from my childhood used to say, “Let Me See Your Fruit.”  

James 2:14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Let’s be honest, we live in a culture where people say they believe in something and do very little about it.  We have a favorite political candidate, we value education, we want to see the poor and disenfranchised get a leg up…but the truth is, most of us don’t do anything about it.  It’s the true definition of Lip Service.  So if we’re that way with things that are both significant and insignificant in our daily lives, how much more are we two faced with our spiritual life?  We hide behind the veil of “I believe” so I’m good, but that’s a lie, just like when a teacher tells the class, “there are no dumb questions.”  There are LOTS of dumb questions!

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, roughly 25% of our population actually puts time, talents and energy into making a difference.  That’s only 1 in 4 adults who actually do something about the problems they see, the change they want to see made, or simply want to help others. 

James 1: 22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 

For example, how many times have you seen your favorite team’s coach or management say they have no plans on making change, or leaving the team?  Then those same people a few days or weeks later do the exact thing they said they wouldn’t do!  

I may be cynical, or jaded, but the truth is that I don’t care what people say they believe or have faith in, I want to see the fruit of that belief.  I have multiple kids, and of course like any teenager they want to spend time alone in their room with the door closed.  But I have this one kid, Ava, she’s a big time introvert, and NEEDS alone time (lots of it).  But there’s fruit to that time.  She reads at least 1 book a week, plays multiple instruments, her room is ALWAYS clean and organized, she has a 4.9 gpa, is on top of her ortho care, makes her own meals…there’s fruit to what she believes is the right way to live her life.  I don’t necessarily agree with her methods, but I can’t deny the fruit. 

And as far as John quoting Paul’s New Testament writings to back up his point on Faith, I too can quote Paul on works. 

II Corinthians 5: 9 So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

Of course Paul believes in Faith, but then he supports his faith claim by reminding his readers that in the end we will all go before God to account for the things we have done.  There you have it folks, faith shmaith, in the end God will say “let me see your fruit” or in football terms at the end of the game, “check the scoreboard.” 

Third Quarter – John Burke 

Okay, so I agree with Carlos in part.  The bible does get confusing in this playoff between Faith and Works.  On the one hand Paul says “people are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God” Romans 4:5, but then James says  You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. James 2:24  So what is it—faith or works? It feels like a contradiction, like Paul and James are in competition against each other.  And yet, Paul says in Galatians he went to Peter, John and James the bother of Jesus (who wrote James) to make sure they were on the same page, and Paul says “they added nothing to my message.” Galatians 2:6 So Paul and James don’t have 2 different messages, but the same one—Faith and Works somehow fit together.

         You know it’s a shame because there’s been a history of infighting and factions among Christian and Catholic denominations for 1000 years about Faith and Works—some emphasize faith, others works, and often fight over who’s right or wrong.  But it’s not an “or”, it’s an “and.” Not Faith or Works, but Faith and Works. Faith that is real trust in God, does produce good works. So it’s not an “either-or”, but a “both-and” as James says: Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. James 2:18-19. In other words, true faith, real belief or trust in God, is not the same as just saying “Oh I believe God exists.”  The demons believe God exists, but they don’t trust in Him, they don’t follow him.  Authentic faith trusts. An authentic relationship with God, over time, will also show itself by evidence of good works.

         Jesus said it like this, A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Matthew 7:18-21. And then he says, some of you will say “Lord, didn’t we do this in your name, and do that in your name” and he said “I will say to them, depart from me, I never knew you.”  That’s the key—it’s knowing and trusting in God—its relationship, not just doing religious things, that matters.  It’s being someone who trusts in God and is seeking to let God’s will be done more and more.  And in time, that relationship of loving faith in God will bear fruit.

         So authentic faith—or trust in God and what Jesus did on the cross, is all it takes to be eternally right-related to God.  And over time, that relationship WILL produce fruit, good works. We can’t always tell how much true growth or fruit there is, because we don’t know where that person came from. Like a Pharisee religious person may do all the right things, be all pious, but they actually have no love or trust in God—they’re trusting their own righteousness (“I’m good, I do right things”–which is by their works).  While a person who works in the sex industry or an addict, you may judge as immoral and has bad fruit—yet that person has authentic faith and is actually growing fruit trusting God more and more, but you can’t see all that fruit yet.  You’d judge the religious person as good and the other person as bad, but you’d have it backwards. 

Sound wrong?  Listen to this: Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you [Pharisees]. Matthew 21:31. So real faith is about real relationship with God—and that’s a gift.  You don’t earn it or work for relationship, you put your faith, your trust in God to be your forgiver and leader of your life. That means real faith is letting God really be God, God gets to call the shots. And if that’s authentic, there will also be works or deeds that in time show that faith is real—like willingness to follow God out of immoral behavior, or unethical deeds, or judgmental attitudes—that will start to change over time.

Like on the Football field “Heart/trust/loyalty” is like faith, and if you don’t have it, you’re not gonna have a team that follows the leader and it will be each player to himself—those teams don’t win. Faith in the leader is essential for a winning team, but also that faith will show itself in “Hard work, effort, doing your part” because you really do want to follow the leader and do all you can to help your team win. So it is with faith and works—they work together—faithworks! Faith…works! Work with that why don’t you, Carlos!

Fourth Quarter – Carlos Ortiz

I actually agree with John on something, faith and works seen rightly go together.  James proclaims that if you cannot show your faith without works then there is no faith.  Faith is unseen, but faith that is genuine is willing to obey God in faith, and that in times produces good works.  Just like a winning team that has belief also has to work out that belief with discipline to win, so we live out our belief in God, our trust in our leader, by being willing out of love for God to get in the spiritual gym and grow, to do our part on the team of his church, to sometimes do hard things for the sake of others—make sacrifices, lay down our egos for our spouse or family, etc.  A player that brings both together—Faith/Belief, lived out with radical willingness to the hard work—those are the players whose contributions are priceless.  

Philippians 2:12b continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

When we put our faith and trust in God, he does work in us the desire to do good works.  A humble approach is required for this to work.  So if we’re challenged to approach our spiritual walk with a godly fear and trembling, God’s response is that he will expect us to act in accordance to his purpose.  So we can’t say we simply believe, and then do what we see fit. We say we believe, and our soul compels us to do something about it. 

Winning teams are made up of groups of people who are making a difference in life—that’s what church is, that’s what we’re trying to do together.  We all have a vantage point, history, theological ideas, personal philosophies and preferences.  But in Christ none of that holds up well, our justification for why we do things is trash.  Paul writes in Galatians 5:

Galatians 5:4 You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Faith…expressing itself–that’s what counts. Faith and works and the win is love. I think this is what we see when Jesus is in the final moments of his mortal life.  He’s been beaten, sentenced to death, the soldiers are gambling for his clothes, he’s being mocked, and he’s hanging on a cross with two other confirmed criminals.  Their interaction goes like this:

Luke 23:39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

What we see is so telling.  Two men who were criminals, condemned to die, and no reason to truly believe in this mocked savior of the world.  One says, save yourself and while you’re at it, save us.  The other defends Jesus, acknowledges his wrongs, is already being humiliated and still humbles himself, and sees Jesus fully for who he is.  He is obviously full of faith, he believes!  But that belief was so strong that he spoke up in the middle of dying, and asked Jesus to remember him.  He was so full of faith, it compelled him to act.  The power of his belief, coupled with the actions of defending and communicating his desire, could not be denied by Jesus. 

What if we all responded in this manner?  Walking in a humility that causes us to be filled with faith, and compelled to act!  I humbly acknowledge, John, that we are both right. (I may be a little more right than you though 🙂

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About John and Kathy Burke

After ministry in Santa Barbara, the former Soviet Union, and Chicago, in one of the […]


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