Thoughs on Faith & Works

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their 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 my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless.  Was not our father 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 considered righteous by what they do 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 2:14-26

Ever persisting in the evangelical church is the ‘dilemma’ between faith & works.  Even this week a pastor made sure to explain that it is not by works that we are saved.  We can still get to heaven without works, but we ought to do them as a proper response to our salvation by God through faith.  In some sense this is true, but I still think that it’s more than that.  Too often in this conversation we leave a way out.  We say, “it’s okay to just have faith, but you really should have works to show it.”  As the pastor said, faith can save you, but faith plus works is better.  As if you could have one without the other, but you really shouldn’t.  But when you look carefully see what James is saying in his famous “faith without works” passage, this is an impossible distinction.

James is not saying that you can have only one, but ought to have both.  He say they are inseparable; one and the same.  You cannot claim that you are alive but have no physical activity; no heartbeat, no muscle movement, no brainwaves.  That is the mistake of saying you have faith, but you’re not held accountable for your works (aka they aren’t necessary).  We claim that the corpse is alive, but just not seeking salvation through movement.  “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” (v. 26)  We define life as things that move, grow, and change.  A rock can move by falling, but we do not say it is alive.  When a bird has life it moves and flies.  We know its life has ended when it stops working, falls to the ground and ceases to move.  So it is with faith.  When we stop (or never start) living and working out our faith in a living, omnipotent, providential, miracle-working God, we show that we do not have faith.  When we do not act we are dead.

Much of the trouble comes by our confusion about what faith is and what works are.  Scripture says that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Heb. 11:1-NKJV).  Never has mere belief or opinion been accepted as substance or evidence for anything!  As James says, “even the demons believe that (have the opinion that there is one God)– and shudder.” (vs.19)  They shudder because they know His holiness and His power.  Yet, do we say that they have faith?  What we describe as our faith in God is often no more than this, yet without even the shuddering!  We say we believe God will provide, yet we worry and stress and spend all of our time on paying the bills and providing for ourselves.  We say that our hope is in Him, yet we devote all our lives and energy to achieving and maintaining our own ‘security’.  We say we believe what Scripture tells us about the purpose of our lives yet a vast majority of our time is spent seeking and enjoying our own joy and comfort.  We think that believing certain things is having faith, but this is a huge mistake.

Teacher “Pappet” leading the daily prayer and devotions at Faith Haus, a safe house for girls in Mae Sot, Thailand.

Faith is evidence of things not seen.  I cannot see love, but I see its evidence in a life laid down to serve abandoned young girls in Thailand, keeping them from trafficking & sex slavery.  I cannot see God, but I see evidence in people trusting faithfully that he will provide never going hungry, never lacking what they need, all by His clear providing hand.  What if we could see his evidence in a family that gives more than they keep, because they know that others’ needs are greater than their own desires?  Or, what if churches were characterized more by sacrifice, service, and giving than by activities, programs, and production, because they believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is alive and gives life, not an idea that needs to be dressed up, marketed, and sold?  These are works.  Like a pulse proves life, active service and sacrificial work are the very lifeblood of those who truly believe.  James says, you show me faith without works, but it is a corpse at best, a demon at worst.  I will show you faith by works; by the works of those who live by faith in action, trusting and knowing that He is there.  This is evidence.  This is faith and works as one.  This is how we can taste and see and know that He is good; that He is God.

There is no dichotomy, no tension, no one without the other.  It is a distinction between life and death.  If a man claims he has life, check his pulse and prove it.  But before that, we should check our own.

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Comments

  1. Ashley says:

    “What if we could see his evidence in a family that gives more than they keep, because they know that others’ needs are greater than their own desires? Or, what if churches were characterized more by sacrifice, service, and giving than by activities, programs, and production, because they believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is alive and gives life, not an idea that needs to be dressed up, marketed, and sold?”

    Very convicting. Such important challenges for those of us who say we believe in Jesus. Great job on this article, Derek. Thanks for writing it.

  2. Faith is knowing that God is doing something within me so that I am enabled to do good deeds. If I do not believe that it is God doing that in me, then I would not be moved to do good works. If one believes that God is at work within, to change, to empower, to do things for HIM, then faith and work would well work together. It is HE who enables us to see with God’s eyes the need all around us. I like Ashleys comment above. We live in a highly commercialized era. Sad!

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