By the Rev. Lakeya Stewart
Have you ever heard someone offer a list of works that must be done to be saved? I must admit that I once held this toxic view of faith. I failed to acknowledge the fact that I was not saved by my works but rather by my faith in God which I confessed. Romans 10: 9-10 says, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Is salvation that simple? Does it include a list of works?
As a minister, I am intrigued by claims that only certain denominations are the “chosen ones” that will be saved and will ultimately experience the New Jerusalem. What is the implicit message that is heard by those who hear this claim? May I suggest my interpretation of this claim? I believe that the message that is often heard is “you’re not part of us; therefore, you’re going to hell.” I thought God was the only person that could offer a judgment of whether someone would “make it” to Heaven? The God of the Christian Bible invites believers to join in fellowship with other believers, and does not shun them.
As followers of Christ, we are the hands and feet of Jesus on earth. When our actions, attitudes, and beliefs push people away from God, we have offended our brother or sister.
In the book Toxic Faith by Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton, a list of 21 toxic beliefs of a toxic faith is offered. Number 7 in this list is: Salvation by Works. They begin this section like this: “Just as there are those who think they can get God’s love by being good, or those who think they can overcome some bad event in the past by working hard, there are those who believe heaven can be earned. They spend their lives in a frenzy, trying to do more and more so God will look down, observe their fine works, and decide they will be fit to enter heaven.” (Arterburn and Felton page 64). Do you know anyone like this? Or, do you believe this way?
The question then becomes, how do we combat this toxic faith? How are we to overcome these views? The truth is that we have the power to overcome through love. We have the ability to love others despite their differences in faith because we are all humans. Jesus died for the world—that includes all people. We are also commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves. This includes those with a toxic faith. As believers, we can live our lives loving others and showing Christ-like attitudes like patience and humility even in the midst of criticism from those who believe our works aren’t “good enough” to be saved.
As Christians, we must realize that we have standards, values and moral ethics to follow as a result of our love for God. We know that it is not right to steal or to kill someone else. These principles were taught in Old Testament Scripture and are seen throughout the New Testament. God desires to have believers that will love Him and because we love Him, will live moral lives. Does stealing a piece of bubble gum or even a car keep us from Heaven? God is the final judge, but if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us. How are we demonstrating our love for God?
My prayer is that we choose to follow God with our whole heart not just today but every day.
For questions or further correspondence concerning future topics or speaking engagements, please email at RevStewartSpeaks@outlook.com.
—Rev. Dr. Lakeya Stewart, M.Div., D.Min, ABD
The Rev. Dr. Lakeya Stewart attended Berea College and the Lexington Theological Seminary in Kentucky and earned a double major B.A. degree in Sociology and in African & African American Studies as well as the Master of Divinity Degree. Lakeya is currently writing her dissertation on Toxic Leadership and Spiritual Abuse through Regent University.