Today I’m going to tackle the thorny issue of faith and works. Many people believe that if you do good things, God will allow you into heaven. Some of these are people without any real faith, who never go to church, but who think that their heavenly future is secured because they are kind and helpful.
Some are people who have a faith, but that faith concentrates on the saying of James that Faith without works is dead (James 2:26). They explain it to mean that you need to prove your faith is genuine by doing good.
Both kinds of people are wrong
Centuries ago there was a debate about the book of James and whether it should be in the Bible at all, because it seemed to contradict the teachings of Paul, who said, For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. (Eph.2:8-9)
A careful reading of James reveals that he is actually agreeing with Paul. In his letter in the Bible, James distinguishes between those who say they have faith and those who show they have faith. The subject is not works at all, but saving, genuine faith. How can you recognise when a person really has faith?
True faith doesn’t show partiality:
My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? … But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. (James 2:1-4,9)
True faith does more than bless with words:
Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. (James 2:15-18)
What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? (James 2:14)
The question is about ‘such faith’ – can this kind of faith save him?
You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder. You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless ? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. (James 2:19-26)
His point is that faith is a verb in the life of a disciple of Christ and genuine faith leads to good works. If genuine faith is the root then works will inevitably be the fruit. If there are no works there was no faith.
The way we behave is evidence of the kind of faith we have – do you have the right kind of faith?
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Eph.2:4-10)
“This is my living faith, an active faith, a faith of verbs: to question, explore, experiment, experience, walk, run, dance, play, eat, love, learn, dare, taste, touch, smell, listen, argue, speak, write, read, draw, provoke, emote, scream, sin, repent, cry, kneel, pray, bow, rise, stand, look, laugh, cajole, create, confront, confound, walk back, walk forward, circle, hide, and seek. To seek: to embrace the questions, be wary of answers.” (Terry Tempest Williams)