Like Button

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Faith and Works

In the middle of James's epistle we find a principle explained that should seem obvious but eludes many. I believe, in fact, that this principle in his epistle is the primary point of the epistle, that everything else revolves around it. The primary principle is about faith ... and works.

You know the passage. James 2:14-26 begins with a rhetorical hypothetical. "What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?" (James 2:14) Obviously he is not actually asking the question. The answer is a given. But it leads down some interesting paths. "What is important," he seems to be asking, "believing the right thing or doing the right thing?" His next hypothetical is about believing the right thing. You see a brother or sister in need and you don't help, but you wish them well. "What use is that?" he asks (James 2:15-16). None, of course. Good intentions -- right beliefs -- don't actually accomplish anything. In the same way, "faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself." (James 2:17) Imagine that! Dead faith.

Okay, so, obviously right belief isn't the answer ... right? Right works is what's important. Until James addresses a hypothetical naysayer. "You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works." (James 2:18) You see, works without faith is of no use either. On the other hand, right beliefs without works merely qualifies you to be in the company of demons (James 2:19).

Imagine that! In the domain of demons there is better theology than in our domain. There are no atheists among demons. There are no agnostics. They know the truth. No doubt. No skepticism. No quibbling.

What then? As it turns out, to the question "Is it faith or is it works?", the right answer is "Yes." It is right belief and right actions. We are saved by grace through faith apart from works (Eph 2:8-9) for good works (Eph 2:10). We are called to repent and we are called to "bear fruit in keeping with repentance." (Matt 3:8; Acts 26:20) Right beliefs, right doctrine, right faith is required for right works. Conversely, right beliefs that do not produce right works is of no use. Both are required.

Are we saved by works? No, we are saved by faith in Christ. Oh, then we are not concerned about works? No, faith in Christ alone that does not produce works is dead faith and cannot save. We are saved by faith alone, but not by faith that is alone. Believing the truth and acting on it are both important.

No comments: