Saturday, August 08, 2009

James 2 - Faith and Works Explained

In the 2nd chapter that bears his name, James, the brother of Jesus, expends no small amount of energy trying to get a simple and yet profound message across.  In three specific instances, in verses 17, 20 and then again in verse 26, the message is the same: faith that isn't accompanied by action is useless.  In other words, if our faith isn't backed up with some sort of living out of the faith, it probably isn't faith at all.  

What James is not talking about here is is saving faith.  This is where Luther got hung up and wrongfully concluded that James was merely an "epistle of straw" as well as a "chaotic mess." Here, James is in agreement with the Apostle Paul who claims that it's by "grace through faith by which we are saved."  However, what James is talking about here in James 2 is a faith that goes above and beyond saving faith.

James was well aware of the tendency that could easily overtake many of the earliest followers of Christ.  Scattered among the nations, they could easily fall into complacency and turn their time and attention in the wrong direction.  As such, James seemingly nips in the bud the potential and perhaps actual problem, seeking to warn his audience before things got out of hand. It would be easy to fall into the trap that faith is all that  is needed.  That works are simply an added benefit.  Nevertheless, James feels quite ecstaticlly that faith without works is useless and dead.  

And here's the main point: these actions that he's calling for arent' something we're supposed to add to our belief.  Rather, they become a part of who we are.  As a band of Christ followers, we're supposed to be living out our faith by fulfilling the two great commandments.  We're to love God and we're to love our neighbors.  The Law of Christ requires that we live our lives as servants to those around us.  

The question that we have to ask ourselves is this?  Do we really believe?  Do we really believe what we're selling?  If not, it should be no surprise that our lives are characterized by very little "works" or "action."  If we do believe, if our faith is authentic, our lives can't help but show the love of Christ in our own unique and authentic way.  

somewhat ironically, in the very words of Luther himself:  Our faith "is a living, busy active mighty thing, this faith.  It is impossible for it not to be doing good things incessantly."