There was an episode of “Seinfeld” called “The Bizarro Jerry.” Remember it? It’s the one where Elaine starts hanging out with a new group of friends who are the opposite of her old group. Instead of Jerry, George and Kramer, she’s got Kevin, Gene and Feldman. Where her old friends are selfish, rude, and silly, her new group is thoughtful, kind- and they read!
In the episode, Kramer accidentally starts working some kind of business firm. I say “accidentally” because he doesn’t get hired by the firm- he just starts working there. He goes to meetings, does some paperwork, eats a lot of crackers. He does all those things, but he’s not actually an employee. At the end of the episode, he gets “fired” because his work is terrible. The boss says, “It’s almost like you have no business training at all.”
I thought of this episode this morning while I was studying the book of Matthew. In Matt 7:21-23, Jesus says:
“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. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”
I think Jesus is saying that works are an important part of a Godly life, but they don’t matter if you don’t know Christ. Kramer was doing some work, but he hadn’t been hired by the firm, so it didn’t matter. The “workers” in Jesus’ story had been doing work, but they didn’t know Christ, so their work didn’t matter. When God saves you, by His grace, through the work of Jesus, it’s like getting hired into the firm. Only then do your works matter.
This is an important thing to understand when you’re trying to reconcile the roles of faith and works in the act of salvation. We can not be saved by what we do. Salvation is accomplished by grace, through faith in Jesus. However, even though we are not saved by works, we are saved for works. Once you are hired, you are expected to do the work.