Saturday, January 26, 2013

Preference, Action, and Living Out the Christian Faith

A correspondent recently asked me a question about parallels between faith and the Austrian conception of human action. He asked that when in my book I say that people use means to achieve ends according to ideas do I include faith as part of the ideas? He suggested that the Christian doctrine relating faith to works seems to parallel the Austrian doctrine relating subjective value to actual exchange. He suggested that a person can show others his subjective valuation of something only by what he actually exchanges for it. We also show others our faith only by what we actually do.

I would say that there are some parallels as my correspondent described, because human action is motivated in part by everything we truly believe. In the context of our action, I would suggest, however, that our faith is more something that affects both the ends we choose and the means we use to achieve those ends.

Those who believe in, trust, and follow Christ will be motivated to act in certain ways. Indeed we must. It is impossible to both follow Christ and live a life as a persistent thief, for example. His question reminds me of James 2:18: 
But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 
This is similar to a concept used by economists called “demonstrated preference.” We cannot know what people truly prefer by reading their minds or by even asking them. We only can observe this by watching what they actually do. Someone might say that he prefers apples to bananas, but if he always buys bananas and never buys apples (even though the price is the same for both), that indicates that, at the time of his purchases,  he really prefers bananas. We demonstrate what we truly believe and how much we truly trust and love Christ through our actual actions.

This is also verified by Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats:

  “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
    “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
   
(Matthew 25:31-46 ESV)
Note that Jesus judges the people's love for him based on how they acted.

As the Westminster Confession of Faith explains in section 2 of Chapter 16 "Of Good Works:

These good works, done in obedience to God's commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith: and by them believers manifest their thankfulness, strengthen their assurance, edify their brethren, adorn the profession of the gospel, stop the mouths of the adversaries, and glorify God, whose workmanship they are, created in Christ Jesus thereunto, that, having their fruit unto holiness, they may have the end, eternal life.
So works we do, while not the root, cause, or source or our faith, are "the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith."

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