Friday, August 03, 2012

Faith and Works?

This is an awesome, thought-provoking, and helpful piece based on James 2:14-26 in the New Testament.

You can see why the young Martin Luther, excited with the insight that we are only saved from sin and death by the grace of God through our faith in Jesus Christ, was driven a bit crazy by some of the things that James writes in those verses. (Faith, by the way, includes repentance for sin and trust in Christ to erase the power of sin and its result, death, over our lives.)

But, of course, James is not, in these verses, disputing the power of faith--simple trust--in Christ to save.

He is saying that faith is more than simple intellectual assent to the truths taught in the New Testament, such as that Jesus is the fulfillment of God's law and the Old Testament, that He is the "Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world," and that all who follow Jesus alone have life with God forever (John 3:16-18; John 14:6; Acts 4:12). 

True faith, James is pointing out, infects the life of those who believe and, as a result, they live differently.

Among other things, they are more loving toward God and neighbor, they seek to undertake acts of mercy and kindness and justice, and, speaking the truth in love, they share with their neighbors Jesus' call repent (turn from sin) and believe in Him in order to have new and everlasting life with God. Jesus calls all of this "bearing good fruit."

As we trust in Christ, daily turning to God for forgiveness of sins in Jesus' Name and daily being renewed by the grace and goodness of God, two important things will happen in the lives of believers:

(1) We'll be motivated to do the will of God;

(2) Often without our even knowing it, God will supernaturally empower us to do His will. (Check out, for example, the reactions of "the blessed" in Jesus' parable of the final judgment in Matthew 25:31-46. They were so operating in utter dependence on Christ in their daily lives on earth that when Jesus lauds them for their good works, they express unawareness of those works.)

This isn't to say that there aren't times when Christians don't have to say, "OK, Lord, this isn't something I want to do. But it's your will. So, I'll do it." (Even Jesus prayed that way in the garden of Gethsemane asking the Father to create some other means by which human beings could be reconciled to God. It turns out that there was no other way. So, Jesus accepted the cross and died for our sins.)

The thing God wills us to do may be to give money to provide housing for the homeless, speak out against prejudice, help a neighbor who gets on our nerves, forgive a family member who has hurt us, refrain from a sin that excites us, or tell a friend a hard truth about their sin and its consequences.

But as we consciously accept God's will for us in particular situations, God will build our faith, lift us by His grace, and fill us with His supernatural power to do the good of which we are, by nature, incapable on our own. God will help us to do good and righteous deeds that are otherwise foreign to those of us who are "born in sin" (Psalm 51:5).

Keep drawing closer to Christ and, however imperfectly or haltingly or infected with the inevitable mixed motives of human beings who haven't gotten to heaven yet you may act or feel or think, you will bear good fruit.

No comments: