In this 2nd century homily, we see that there was no separation between faith and works in the early church. Rather, faith is confessed not only once, in the moment of baptism or justification, but continually through deeds, as is seen in Matthew 7:21-23, cited by our anonymous author.
It is one of God’s greatest mercies to us that we, being alive, do not sacrifice to dead gods or worship them, but through Christ we have come to know the Father of truth. That knowledge consists in not denying Christ through whom we know the Father. As he himself has said, If anyone declares himself for me in the presence of men, I will declare myself for him in the presence of my Father [Mat. 10:32]. This is our reward, to acknowledge him who saves us.
How, then, do we acknowledge him? By doing what he has told us to do, by not rejecting his commands. By not honoring him with our lips but with all our heart and all our mind. As it is written in Isaiah: This people honors me only with lip-service, while their hearts are far from me [Isaiah 29:13, Mat. 15:8].
It is not enough for us to call him “Lord.” That will not save us. As he says: It is not those who say to me, “Lord, Lord,” who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does what is right [Mat. 7:21-23]. We must acknowledge him by our actions, by loving one another, by not committing adultery, by avoiding calumny and jealousy. We must live continently, compassionately, virtuously. We must let love for each other take precedence over love of riches.
It is by these actions that we acknowledge Christ, not by doing the opposite; and remember that it is not human beings that we should fear and respect, but God. The Lord has said to you: If you are gathered together into my arms and do not obey my commands I will cast you from me and say to you, “I do not know where you come from. Away from me, all you wicked men!”
So, my brethren, let us move forward to face the contest before us. In the contests of this world victory does not come to all competitors but only to a few who have trained hard and fought well; but in our contest, let us fight so that all may have the victory. Let us run the straight race, let us compete in the eternal contest, and let whole crowds of us steer our course towards the crown of victory. If we cannot all be victors let us at least come close.
Remember also that in the worldly games cheats are flogged and thrown out of the arena. What do you think will happen if you cheat in the eternal contest? What God has said will happen: their worm will not die, nor will their fire go out; and all flesh will see them.
This excerpt from a 2nd (second) century homily on faith, deeds, and works (Cap. 3, 1-4, 5; 7, 1-6: Funk 1, 149-152) reflects upon Matthew 7:21-23. It is used in the Roman Office of Readings for Monday in the 32nd week in Ordinary TIme with the accompanying biblical reading taken from Daniel 2: 26-47.