It is evident that the only appropriate conduct of men before God is the doing of His will. … The error of the Pharisees, therefore, did not lie in their extremely strict insistence on the necessity for action, but rather in their failure to act. ‘They say, and do not do it.’ — Ethics, p. 43
One of the fundamental problems in the study of faith and works is the inseparableness of the two. One cannot speak of faith without at the same time contemplating works, for faith in Christ does not draw one to inaction. Another of the problems is the idea that faith and works are antithetical, or at least incompatible. Dietrich Bonhoeffer puts forth this perspective in his seminal work, Ethics: “The irreconcilable opposite of action is judgement. ‘He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge.’ (Jas. 4.11). There are two possible attitudes to the law: judgement and action” (p. 43-44). Bonhoeffer proposes in Ethics that the pursuit of knowledge — the knowledge of good and evil — is antithetical to the knowledge of God, or, more succinctly, knowing God. He writes that Adam and Eve exchanged knowing God for not-knowing, choosing instead to become judges. The Christian man or woman has turned away from not-knowing, to knowing only God. As such, the Christian cannot again become a judge, but rather becomes a doer by the grace and virtue of the Cross.
I highly recommend Bonhoeffer’s Ethics to everyone, but particularly the section entitled “Doing,” pp. 43-48.
- Knowing God only
- On not becoming entangled in non-essentials
- Bringing Bonhoeffer “down to earth”?
- Contemplating love and good works
- Increasing in the knowledge of God