I watched the MSNBC/Washington Post Democratic Presidential debate on Wednesday night. South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg showed during the debate that he could take punches and counter punch as he moves into the front runner position in Iowa and New Hampshire.

He also displayed a stunning ignorance of the Christian gospel.

Addressing system racism after being challenged over his lack of support among black voters, Buttigieg promoted a works-based salvation.

“I care about this because my faith teaches me that salvation has to do with how I make myself useful to those who have been excluded, marginalized, and cast aside and oppressed in society,” he said.

Here we have the Gospel according to Mayor Pete. The biblical Gospel says something quite different.

How does God view our “usefulness” or our good works apart from Christ? The Bible teaches that our “righteous acts” are like a “polluted garment” or “filthy rags” before God, (Isaiah 64:6).

We can’t work our way to salvation.

And we all need salvation because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23, ESV). No amount of usefulness will bridge the gap.

No, we “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, who God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith,” (Romans 3:24-25, ESV).

In case that isn’t clear, here it is again.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them,” (Ephesians 2:8-10, ESV).

God bestowed us His grace. The only way we can be saved is through faith and even that is not our own doing. We were not saved by works, by making ourselves “useful,” but saved for works. Our good works are the fruit of our salvation, not the cause of our salvation. We can offer good works only because of God’s activity in our lives.

Buttigieg’s faith is a Christianity of his own making, but not the biblical gospel.

Which shouldn’t surprise us as he said, “life begins with breath” attempting to defend abortion using the Bible. He doesn’t believe abortion is a sin, but not addressing climate change is. Then he just glosses over everything the Bible has to say about homosexuality and marriage.

So add this to the list.

Update: I’ve had a couple of people refer to Matthew 25 when Jesus talks about separating the sheep and the goats in the final judgement as evidence that I’m off base in my comments.

Here is the relevant passage:

“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

If you took that passage and read nothing else in the Bible I could see how you could come to that conclusion. But we have the rest of the Bible. I’m not saying works are not important. I’m saying works don’t save.

Jesus explains in this passage there are two types of people. Those who follow Him and those who do not. Those who follow him love and serve others. As I noted above, it is a fruit of salvation. It’s not the source. It’s the evidence of a Christ-follower.

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