Summary: Sorting through the idea of faith versus works
Part 2 – “Faith That Works”
I could tell you countless stories of growing up with 2 brothers. But the one that sticks out in my mind as most traumatic was the time we were living in a small rental house while my dad was building the house they live in now. I had just gotten out of the shower and was walking from the bathroom to my bedroom with only a towel around my waist. To get to my bedroom you had to walk through the front room and past the front door. My two genius brothers get this idea: One of them is going to hide behind the front room door and the other is going to stand at the front door of the house with his hand on the handle ready to open it. And they timed it just right….I walk through the front room and just as I get in position at the front door, Jarrod grabs my towel and pulls it off while Jordan opens the front door and Jarrod pushes me outside in the front yard…buck naked! Here’s where their perfect timing comes in….I’m standing in the front yard at the front door when something to the right catches my eye….it’s the gas meter reader standing there staring at me.
I wonder if Jesus’ brothers messed with him growing up. I know that if I am Jesus’ brother and I am planning a prank, I had better think long and hard about the payback…
What would Jesus’ brother do? That’s a good question. Let’s look at James 2:14-23,26 and find out.
Faith That Works…..
Suppose you are flying along in an airplane when the captain comes over the speaker and says “this plane is going down, we’ve lost power to the engines – you need to strap on your parachute and jump.” So you get your parachute on and you are standing in the doorway of the airplane and you are considering where you are and looking down at where you need to be…..and it is at that point you have a choice to make. So you ask yourself a question; “Can this parachute save me?” Your answer is yes because you understand the stringent requirements that the government puts on parachute manufacturers in order for them to market their product so there is really no doubt in your mind that the chute will rescue you. But all that being said and true, there is really only one way to find out, right? You can have faith in the parachute all day long, but that faith cannot save you until what? You jump.
And that is what we need to chew on today. James says in verse 17 “So you see, it isn’t enough just to have faith. Faith that doesn’t show itself by good deeds is no faith at all – it is dead and useless.”
Martin Luther is quoted as having said “…St. James epistle is a right strawy epistle in comparison with [those of John and Paul], for it has no gospel character to it.”
The reason he made that statement is because of this verse right here. See Luther’s vision was for every man and woman to see their ability to have a personal relationship with God that was based solely on their willingness to accept that relationship by faith without the aid of the church, the priests, and certainly without the requirement of works. So in reading James 1:17 that faith is not enough, he had a hard time balancing that with Paul saying in Ephesians 2:8-10, “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.”
So, was Luther right? Do we have a problem? Is there a contradiction? Is Paul correct in saying grace saves us, not works? Or is James right in saying that we are justified by works and not faith alone? The answer is…..yes.
Yes, grace saves you by faith and yes saving faith is a changing faith that always, always, always results in acts of compassion and mercy and graciousness and God-like-ness.
Paul and James are both right. Let me explain……….
Regardless of what people think to be true about people, the truth is that everybody has faith.
Everybody has faith….in something. Rob Bell has taught us that the popular idea that some people are people of faith and some are not just isn’t true. Everybody has faith in that everybody is following somebody.
For example, Bell writes: “Some people believe we were made by a creator who has plans and purposes for his creation, while others believe there is not greater meaning to life, no grand design, and we exist not because of some divine intention but because of random chance. Both perspectives are faith perspectives, built on systems of belief. The person who says there is no creator has just as many beliefs as the person who says there is a creator…maybe even more.”