Faith And Works In The Christian Life (And My Diagrams To Explain Them)

My speaking slides and helpful diagrams I designed to understand the interplay of faith and works in the Christian life.

Faith and Works Message slide one from Riley Adam Voth

I normally post anything and everything about my speaking on RileyAdamVoth.com if I post about it at all, but this one seems a bit too obviously evangelical for what I’m doing with that blog right now. Ha!

So in fitting with the theme of this Elasson site, here, I’ll break down a bit of my thoughts and developments on this as well as simply share the slides and the ideology behind it.

A couple weeks ago I gave a talk on “Faith and Works” for a college ministry here in the state. Truth is, it was my first time using slides in a talk in about two years. I had moved away from using slides for a while because though I love as much imagery and analogies and visualizations as I can put into any message, slides can really trap you in a talk as well.

A few years ago I had repeatedly trapped myself in my talks by making my notes tied too closely to my slides. If I needed to “feel an audience” and go a different way, I couldn’t. If I jumped the tracks and got out of sync with my notes, I was all jacked up. If my tools weren’t working well or a venue didn’t support me using slides very well, the quality of my message was going to plummet.

What I decided I needed to do was refine and “perfect” (accomplished no speaker ever) the way I compose and deliver talks altogether until I knew I could function completely without slides so comfortably that they would then only enhance my talk rather than my talk depend on them.

What’s tricky about this is that, honestly, they always are going to end up depending on each other at least somewhat if your slides are any good because you don’t want just purely redundant information up there… But, let’s not talk forever about slides…

So, for the last two years, I refined that process and can say I’ve come up with a pretty reliable process and tools for myself. It has repeatedly worked well for me now on multiple speaking occasions.

So, with this talk especially, it was time for slides again. I knew that to explain this topic well, I’d need visuals and, really, diagrams. You’ll see why…

My backup plan (and of course there must always be one… or two… and especially when traveling and you can’t test the venue first) was (A.) use a whiteboard to draw them (because they were simple enough to do quickly), or (B.) print out a simple pdf of them (because they were few enough to print quickly and effectively for everyone using the printer and copier on site).

In all, preparing just the speaking notes took a few hours and then preparing the slides took about the same. I did “borrow” concepts from older, wiser thinkers and teachers before me, so I have had to remake two of the graphic diagrams and save them from being completely 90s retro style (the cycle diagrams below). When it’s all done, I’ve probably spent a total of 10hrs or so on the whole talk, all things considered.

So, let’s run through it now…

About The Faith and Works Talk

Unfortunately, the device we were recording on died during my talk, so we don’t have this recorded. So, obviously, you’re not going to get all the stories and fun with this. Just the flyover that explains the slides and overall ideas behind this.

Living In The Tension Of Faith And Works

The first image in this post (the one up above) was the title slide. I spent quite a bit of time introing the concept of Faith and Works as we know it. Besides having everyone stand on their chairs to demonstrate they obviously know what “faith” is, I explained what the Christian worldview of faith and works is and how it alone stands in contrast to all other world religions.

There is nothing we can do to earn our salvation. No amount of good works would ever make us perfect again. The truly good work was done for us on our behalf by Jesus Christ.

However, though the talk was about the “tension” of faith and works, I wanted to be very clear from the start that there is, in fact, zero tension between the two of these concepts. They are actually such close friends you could argue they’re the same from a Christian standpoint.

The only way we experience “tension” between these, is if we get them out of order. Then, it’s more than tension though, it’s misery.

An Important Distinction When It Comes To “Earning” In the Kingdom Of God

Then, we segwayed into the idea that, despite what you may have been told, there is in fact “earning” in the Kingdom of God. The Bible repeatedly talks about rewards we’ll receive in the life to come. Plus, only a fool follows someone or something without very strongly looking into the credentials. We know that’s reasonable and wise.

However, we must make a vital distinction when we’re talking about earning.

The distinction is between earning for the sake of our standing with God and earning for the sake of our stewardship with God. 

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God’s Word is clear that we can do absolutely nothing to earn our standing. That is secured by Jesus Christ and once we place our faith and hope in Christ, we can do nothing to gain or lose anything in regards to our standing. We are seen as perfect and accepted by God.

This grace and joy we experience is what powers our “stewardship”. You could say our stewardship is an outflow of this reality, and it only exists as truly good works because of this reality.

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Again, responsible and faithful stewardship, we see from scripture and even Jesus’s teachings such as Luke 19:11-27, is an expected responsibility. It is judged and we are rewarded.

However, the only way we “fail” at this is if we have things mixed up in the first place.

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If we are trying to achieve our standing, hoping it flows from our stewardship, we won’t just feel tension, we’ll feel miserable.

Standing and stewardship go “hand in hand” but only as much as our stewardship is a part of our standing. If you get these concepts out of their proper order, you aren’t thinking like a Christian, for sure, and there’s no chance you’re living a joyful life either.

At this point I read the passage in Luke 18:18-30. This is a vivid example of a person who believed his stewardship earned him his standing. He was worn out with life as he knew it, and knew he needed something more. Rather than grab coffee with the guy and beg him to get right, Christ hit him with a stewardship request that he could not do and showed his standing problem with God. It revealed he didn’t long for God himself, he more-so longed for just the benefits of God or maybe even being God-like. Thus, he went away sad.

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Getting Practical With The Four Pillars Of Walking With God

Then, rather than spend a lot of time talking about this concept in a lofty, head-in-the-clouds, sort of way (because, really, it’s a pretty easy concept to grasp even if you don’t believe it yet), I decided to hit them with some Paul Washer wisdom. Who doesn’t enjoy some of that? Ha!

I explained that I was going to give them a way to explain this process to themselves as well as their friends, which is important to be able to do.

So I told them about one of the most simple yet helpful concepts I’ve ever heard in my life: Paul Washer’s “Four Pillars Of Walking With God”. I then overlayed these on what we had talked about so far.

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See, you cannot get any of these “four pillars” out of the order they flow in. If you put your obedience before your faith or joy, you become miserable. You will not be able to sustain that kind of life. 

Your soul is not made to be sustain anything except a life of joyful obedience. It is impossible to do anything else.

Understanding What Goes On Inside Ourselves With The Cycle Of Grace

Then, at the risk of being “too much” or “over complicated” I explained that I’d like to give them one more visual example that focuses less on the process we go through in for faith and works and more of what continually goes on within us.

This next diagram, “The Cycle Of Grace”, is a very helpful visualization of what happens in our soul as we experience faith in God and regularly walk and live in his grace. It also shows why we’re so miserable if we get it messed up.

I wish I could give credit to who came up with the concept, but the internet seems to be confused on it. It’s been around a while. I’ll research more on it. What I do understand though is that this was formed after observing numerous missionaries experience “burn-out” in difficult cultures such as India for many years.fter studying

After studying the life of Jesus Christ and fruitful, joyful missionaires that didn’t burn out, this is what someone came up with: The Cycle Of Grace.

FYI: I made all of these slides myself, but this is the graphic I remade because, well, the others were super 1990’s retro.

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When we experience Acceptance from God, we are sustained by him and what people refer to as the “disciplines of our faith” (which I would simply explain as the motivated practices of our faith, because, discipline is a myth) such as prayer, scripture memorizing, fasting, etc.

From this acceptance by God and sustenance of the Holy Spirit we receive from God, flows our significance. Only then can fruifulness flow in our lives.

“Fruitfulness” is scriptural christianese for joyful obedient righteous works that demonstrate our faithful, joyful lives. This flows from our larger input of already-acceptance and sustenance. It’s natural and pleasant to our soul.

But, we often get this wrong too… even as Christians… We spin into the dreadful “Cycle Of Works”.

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This is a hurricane of misery… Only, with less order than a hurricane.

This one starts at fruitfulness and tries to attain significance by “good works” and “discipline” brought out of our own piddly strength.

It then must find it’s sustenance in the works themselves, and because this working is never lasting, always fleeting, and never satisfying, this is also how we develop addictions. A continual, miserable, thirst for more of the thing that never satisfies us.

Then, only from this can we feel “acceptance”, but even that too is a pseudo-acceptance — short-lived, derived from within ourselves, and powerless to satisfy us. So on we go again in the miserable cycle of works.

One is a wonderful way to live, the other is miserable.

Putting It All Together

Again, these do not contradict or say anything different. One model is simply a bit of a better way to understand the process we or our friends go through with faith and works with our walk with God and the other is a bit better at explaining the continual “cycles” within our soul that we experience internally.

So, to show their similarities, I overlayed all of them…

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#boom

Pretty awesome to visualize isn’t it?

God is good. Life is good.

Lastly, somewhere in there I also threw in two tidbits of helpful insights:

(1.) The only way to complete one’s joy is to share it — it’s just a reality of our existence and we all know it’s true.

(2.) For many of us who have walked with God long, it can be easy to begin to believe rightly that we are truly accepted by God, and then begin to skip the sustenance. We can operate on our significance and even in fruitfulness for quite a while, skipping the “input” side altogether and jumping back to the “output” side again day after day after day. However, this cannot last. It’s a very different thing to interact and even pray to a concept of God rather than God himself. Eventually, the enemy and our own longings will devour us, at worst, or we’ll just dry up and begin spiraling into the cycle of works at best. We must cycle through the input of our sustenance in the Spirit continually.

I admitted I have struggled with that last bit and it connected with quite a few who were present. It’s easy to think we’re fine and coast on fumes because there is much work to be done… but, nobody works effectively and sustainably like that.

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