Summary: This is on James’ emphasis on works as the necessary other side of faith. Yes, only faith is required for salvation, but works completes faith.
Off the Bench…Into the Game
February 11, 2007
Not too long ago, Toni and I were wandering around downtown Chicago and we happened to find a small art gallery with some truly wonderful works for sale. Being who I am, the first thing I looked at was the prices, which were way out of our league.
Toni, as is her nature, wasn’t paying attention to any of those details at all, but was just enjoying the art. She was lost in her own world as she browsed through the watercolors, oils, and mixed media.
At one point, one of the store employees approached us and simply said, “Hello.” Toni, still lost in her thoughts said, without looking up, “We’re just here to look awhile.” My reaction and the reaction of the sales associate were completely different. I breathed a sigh of relief while I watched the smile on the face of the sales clerk slowly diminish as she walked away.
I don’t know for sure, but I wonder if she worked on commission. I’ve never done that, but I bet it really gets frustrating after awhile to hear people tell you over and over again that they are just browsing.
Let’s face it. When we say, “Just looking,” it means “Go away. I have no intention of buying anything.” The malls are full of “lookers” who are just out to window shop, waste time, or just pretend that they are really in the market for a few new diamonds or a new Porsche.
Have you ever noticed that some people spend their entire lives “just looking?” People like this are never willing to invest their energies completely and totally in anything because of the risks involved.
People who go through life “just looking” drift in and out of jobs without ever finding a vocation. They drift in and out of relationships without ever daring to love. They drift in and out of communities without ever casting a vote or dropping any sort of anchor in the neighborhood. These are the kinds of folks who drop in and out of the church without ever opening their hearts to the Spirit of God or feeling the presence of the love of Christ.
As I read the lesson from James this morning, I get the feeling that he was feeling a similar sort of frustration with those around him.
James’ epistle has had its share of detractors throughout the Christian era. Some have felt that the emphasis on works is in direct contradiction to Paul’s attention to salvation by faith alone. Martin Luther, the sixteenth century German reformer, even went so far as to call James, “an epistle of straw.”
Chapter 1: verse 22 clearly states James’ interests. “Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear!”
That is what James is well known for…a vigorous emphasis on “doing,” on action, on effort, on work. Actually, the Apostle Paul says almost the same thing in Romans 2:13, when he states, “…not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified.” Later on, James will say, “Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove” (2:18).
I have a feeling that James was frustrated by the “lookers,” those hangers-on who just stayed close enough to the church to make them feel good, but far enough away that they wouldn’t be inconvenienced. He was talking about people who actually believed that they were Christians. They no doubt thought that they were. In actuality though, they were just bench-warmers and bystanders.
James was convinced that just hearing the word was not enough. He believed that Christians must also be “doers” or people who act on their faith. He saw works as the tangible effects and result of faith. It was obvious to him that faith which did not end in good works toward the people of God for whom Christ died, was not genuine faith.
Doing is always a part of faith. Search the Scriptures and you find that there are many instances of God’s people acting without a plan.
I found the following in one of my files the other day. It doesn’t sound like something I would write, but at the same time I don’t know where it came from. I would give credit to the person who wrote it if I knew who he or she was.
Abraham didn’t have a plan, but he packed up anyway and left home. Moses didn’t have a clue, but he confronted Pharaoh with God’s ultimatum. Rahab didn’t have a friend, but she hid the Israelite spies who were sent into Jericho.