Thomas Merton on taking God’s objective work seriously (HT: Josh Strodtbeck):
To take one’s good works seriously is to be a pharisee. Only faith is to be taken seriously, because only the mercy of God is serious. And if we put too much emphasis on the seriousness of what we do [we set ourselves up to be] judged as men who have taken seriously something other than His infinite mercy… In taking faith seriously it is God whom we take seriously, not ourselves… God Who gives me faith and renews that gift, by His mercy, at every moment, in spite of my unbelief. This I think is one of the central intuitions of evangelical Christianity… It is something, too, which many Protestants have themselves forgotten, becoming instead obsessed with faith as it is in themselves, constantly watching themselves to see if faith is still there, which means turning faith into a good work and being justified, consequently, by works.
Look at what’s been done outside of us: look outward at Christ crucified, not inward to yourself and your moral progress, and never look back. Behold our Prophet, Priest and King. Earlier in my college days I did exactly what Merton said of ‘many Protestants’, doing stupid past-oriented navel-gazing to see if my works evinced my regeneration in faith – because the gospel was surely true objectively, but what of my faith? Through those eyes, the Parable of the Talents is terrifying. Yes, God looks at the heart, and what he sees in mine is sin and cholesterol (thanks to Rod Rosenbladt for that one). But the gospel of Christ is purer and higher and greater, and that makes all the difference yesterday and today and forever.