Faith Without Works
There seems to be, at least for me, a major disconnect with living out faith in Christ. It is not a problem of knowledge. I am quite certain that the claims of Christianity are true. There is no doubt in my mind that God exists, that He is who the Bible says He is, and that He has done for us what the Bible claims He has done.
From that standpoint, one could say that my faith is strong. But there is that other aspect of faith that doesn’t have so much to do with what we think, or even what we feel. Rather there is another side of faith that is about what this faith causes us (or perhaps a better word would be “motivates” us) to do.
Making the connection between belief and action should be such a simple thing. In every day life, it plays itself out. You believe the stove is hot, so you avoid touching it. You believe that you’ll get in trouble if you’re late for work, so you get out of bed earlier. So, why is it so hard to do the same thing with Christ?
“As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”
The last half of James is a very hard-hitting section of scripture with regards to this concept. Originally, when thinking about this topic, I looked up James 2 to refresh my memory on the context of this writing. That was a very convicting time as I was reading through the latter half of the chapter.
How often do I see something that needs to be done, or know the appropriate way to handle a situation…and then don’t do it?
Maybe I get frustrated with my wife for something, knowing all the while that I could be accused of the very same thing. I know that I am supposed to love my wife unconditionally. Why, then, do I allow the pettiest little thing get me so angry, frustrated and bitter? Why, then, do I hold on to that bitterness and allow it to grow into a nice, strong, healthy resentment?
Where is my forgiveness? I expect the Lord to forgive my sins, but then build resentment for my wife’s mistakes? Is there not a passage that describes this very situation? Yes, in fact, it would be found in Matthew 18…
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
“The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’
“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.
“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”
This last line, especially, drives the point home. It is important to remember when we read the parables of Jesus to ask a couple of very simple questions. In most (probably all, but to be safe, I’ll say “most”) of Jesus’ parables, there is a person who represents God. In this case, the king. So, we should always ask which character represents God, which character represents a faithful follower of Christ and which represents a sinful man. Once we have identified those characters, the final (and most difficult question) is, which of the characters am I the most like?
To be fair, I am quite certainly not like the king. Nor am I like the man who owed the servant a small pittance. Most often, I am like the servant who’s debt was forgiven.
But, it’s ok, right? Aren’t the fruits of the spirit something like anger, bitterness, resentment, spite and sarcasm? If they are, man am I ever full of the Holy Spirit!
Of course, those are precisely not the fruits of the spirit:
22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Well, that doesn’t really look much like the list I was following. Perhaps I should go back and examine where I might have taken a wrong turn. But where can one look to do this? Where in the whole Bible can one find a simple, straightforward list that we can use as a kind of “health check” for living a godly life?
3His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
5For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. 8For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Peter 1:3-8
In the end, if what you are showing in your life is not love, go back to the beginning of this list. Here we are, right back where we started…faith. Maybe, like me, you believe in the facts of God, Jesus, creation, the Bible, salvation, etc. But believing in these facts is not the type of faith needed, or wanted, by God.
Whenever your life shows a lack of love, examine your faith and find out where it’s flawed. Then, in sincere prayer, ask fo the guidance of the Holy Spirit to show you how to mend that aspect of your faith so that your foundation can be more solid and you can show more goodness, have more knowledge, self-control and perseverance, be more godly and kind and be more loving.
I know this was a bit of a long post, but this is, I believe, an extremely important aspect of our lives and our faith. The only thing hanging in the balance is how you will spend eternity. I continually thank God that He is patient with me and gives me more time to get this, not so much “right,” but at least less wrong.
Grace, love and peace!