Sunday, July 17, 2011

Where There's Smoke, There's Fire

John, your older brother and best friend, is hosting a bonfire at his house. He's asked you to come over a little early to help him set up the party. Pulling into the driveway of his house you can see the sun about an hour away from the horizon. John comes out to greet you with a big hug and tells you to come on out back where he's already got a huge bonfire magnifying this summer heat. As you start walking around his garage, you glance up over the top of his house and notice there is no smoke. There is so little wind that the tall aspen in his front yard doesn't turn over a single leaf. The smoke from the fire should be going straight up, but there isn't a sign of it. Where there's smoke there SHOULD be fire.

Wouldn't you be a little suspicious in this situation?

There is a difference between saying, "You need good works to be saved," and saying, "You are saved by good works." It's the same difference as saying, "You need smoke to roast a marshmallow," and saying, "Your marshmallow is roasted BY smoke." The first one is technically true, but the second one is just plain stupid.

Please take note of the phrase "technically true" right there. I use the word "technically" there because saying, "You need smoke to roast a marshmallow," is not the easiest or simplest way to get your point across. Truly your marshmallow is roasted by fire. However, like I mentioned above, where there is smoke, there is fire. It is common knowledge that anytime there is fire, smoke will be there too.

If someone does not have this knowledge about smoke and fire, they will not correctly understand the statement, "You need smoke to roast a marshmallow." Likewise, if someone does not correctly understand how faith effects (that is, brings about) good works, then they will not be able to understand the statement, "You need good works to be saved."

So why would we even say that you need good works to be saved? Why can"t we just cut to the chase and say that your marshmallow is roasted by fire, or say that you are saved by faith?

Well, to put it simply: we can say that, we do say that, and we SHOULD say that. We should be saying that continuously. The point of this essay is not to say that we should say, "You need works to be saved," but to say that we CAN say it.

We will all agree that smoke is generally more visible than fire -- especially during the day. (God led the children of Israel by a pillar of fire only by night, not all the time.) Smoke rises and fills the sky; it is visible from miles around; a fire can be hidden by hills or trees. Who ever heard of the saying, "Where there is fire, there is smoke"? No one. That’s because it is a hundred times more common for people to identify the presence of fire by smoke, and not the other way around. Likewise, it is easier for us to identify the presence of faith by looking at good works, rather than identifying good works by noticing faith.

Can there be a place for saying, "You need works in order to be saved"? Yes. Should we use it often or even at all? No.

What we should say often is that marshmallows are roasted by fire. Let people infer the smoke on their own.

It is also well worth noting that God is omnipotent. "With God all things are possible," and all that. God can certainly create a fire without smoke if He so deems. But does He? I don't know, but I doubt the thief on the cross had many good works to his name.

This was written recently by my son Paul,
posted on his Facebook page,
and stolen re-posted here
for those who aren't FB friends with him.


  1. Until I got to the very end and saw the explanatory note, I thought this was your writing. What is that old saying about the acorn?

    Beautiful piece. Thank you for sharing!

  2. How funny, Cheryl. I thought everybody would know right away that it didn't sound like me. But I liked the analogy so much, I wanted to let other people read it too.

    On a homeschooling note, this is a kid that I didn't teach to write. He didn't write and didn't write, and I finally gave up on teaching him. Eventually he took a class at the community college for his freshman writing requirement. And now you're saying he sounds like me. Must be in the genes, because I don't think it was in the schooling. I find this intriguing.

  3. You know, I just read it again, and now I see sentences that don't sound so much like you. But then there are sentences that I still think do. I honestly did not realize it wasn't you until I got to the end. Maybe because the content is so you? Because you are his mother and teacher? I don't know. As you said, very intriguing! (Maybe if I knew Paul better I would have recognized his voice?)