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NEW ARTICLE: Faith or Works, or Both

 

Faith-or-Work-or-Both.jpgWhen a person follows a religion, any religion,
it is probably safe to say that they believe in an afterlife.  They believe
that there is something beyond this vale of tears we call earth.  A reward or a
punishment awaits.  Nobody wants to be punished; everybody wants to be saved
from whatever punishments they believe exist.  Thus religion introduces us to
the concept of salvation, the deliverance or the preservation from harm.   How
then does a person attain salvation? Is it achieved by faith, or good works, or
by a combination of both?

Most branches of Buddhism tend to claim that salvation can
be achieved by the use of human inner resources such as meditation, wisdom,
asceticism, and good deeds.  For the most part they stress self-help.  There is
no concept of heaven and hell rather salvation is achieved through knowledge
and its ability to help one escape from the cycle of death and rebirth.  Faith
here refers to a sincere commitment to the practice of the doctrines of the
religion in order to achieve a state of enlightenment. 

In Hinduism too, salvation is achieved by escaping from the
cycle of death and rebirth.  It is a system of works; what a person must do in order
to reach Moksha.  Varying beliefs and practices can be found amongst Hindus,
but faith is not really important, it is the work you do that matters.  Do good
things and achieve a good life, do bad things and experience the results.  Eastern
religions, as a whole, tend to focus on works rather than faith.

Judaism teaches that the only way to achieve heavenly
reward is through good works and tells us that anyone who lives a moral life, regardless
of his faith, or lack of it, has “a portion in the world to come.”  In
Christianity however faith is a requirement if one hopes to achieve salvation. 
Faith for Christians is the strong and unwavering belief that Jesus was
sacrificed in order to atone, or pay the price, for sin.  Because of Jesus’
sacrifice Christians are forgiven, achieve salvation, and are saved from the
consequences of sin.  It cannot be achieved through works or good deeds, or
through extra praying and reading the Bible.[1]
Paul said in his letter to the Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved
through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a
result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).   

Islam teaches us that salvation is achieved by a
combination of correct belief and works.  Unlike Christians Muslims have no
need to atone for sins committed by Adam and Eve, rather Muslims are born with
a clean slate and those who convert to Islam also begin with a clean slate.  The
Islamic concept of Paradise and Hell offers us a choice.  Submit to God and
obey His commands, and achieve a joyful afterlife.  Choose not to, and languish
in Hell.  Submitting to God means that Muslims follow a middle path in all things;
we do not go to extremes, and our salvation depends on having the correct
belief and doing good works.  Our faith is founded on strong belief with
constant practice and discernible actions.  Inside thinking combined with
outside actions.

“…Those who believe and do good works, theirs will be
forgiveness and a great reward.”  (Quran 35:7)

Islam teaches us that good works are nothing on their own;
rather they are a part of faith.  One is not complete without the other.  Thus
there is no debate about which is better or which is correct.  Islam says that
strong faith consists of three parts, belief in the heart and the intellect,
affirmation by our words, and our good and righteous deeds.  On this subject there
is no disagreement among Muslim scholars and they tell us that faith increases
with acts of obedience and decreases with acts disobedience or sin.

In the Quran righteous deeds are often mentioned immediately
after belief. 

“And those who believed and did good works, they are the
inhabitants of Paradise, abiding therein eternally.” (Quran 2:82)

“Those who believed and did good works, We shall blot out
their transgressions and shall reward them according to the best of that which
they used to do.” (Quran 29:7)

However, it is important to understand that there is no
reward for good deeds that are not accompanied by correct belief.   For example,
if actions are done for someone or something other than God they are rejected. 
If good works are done solely to receive some earthly reward they too will be
rejected.  A believer’s actions must be inherently good and not just give the
appearance of being good.  For instance giving charity to show off may appear to
be good but the intention is to show off.  In a very famous saying Prophet
Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, told us that
“Actions are by intentions and everyone will be rewarded according to
their intention.”[2]

In conclusion, the scholars of Islam have said that the
soundness of a person’s faith depends on what is in the heart, the testimony of
faith, and refraining from uttering words of disbelief.  It also depends upon a
person’s deeds, such as putting the pillars of Islam[3]  into
action.  However, having established the basics of how belief and good deeds
are interconnected it is important to note that nobody will enter Paradise on
the basis of faith alone.  Paradise is attainable by the grace of God.  Prophet
Muhammad told his companions that “…none among you will attain salvation by
virtue of his own deeds.” The people asked, “O God’s Messenger, not even you?”
To which, the Prophet replied, “Not even me, unless God encompasses me with His
mercy and grace.”

Right belief combined with the right actions will assure
a person of God’s grace.

“And He (God) answers those who believe and do good works, and
gives them more out of His grace.” (Quran 42:26)


Footnotes:

[1]
How does the Bible Define Faith? By Mary Fairchild.

[2]
Saheeh Al-Bukhari.

[3]
The pillars of Islam: The testimony of faith, daily prayers, fasting in
Ramadan, obligatory charity, and pilgrimage.   

 

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