Links Daily Devotional

Faith in Action

…faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead…You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. (James 2:17, 24, NIV)

You may find it hard to know what to do with James. After all, “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is a gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). So just what was James trying to do by throwing works into the mix?

First of all, we must recognize that this contention has been held in uneasy balance for centuries. Volumes have been dedicated to trying to sort it out. We don’t have the kind of space necessary here to explain completely the meanings of salvation and justification—and yes, they need sorting out if we are “saved…through faith…[and] not by works,” but we are “justified by what [we do] and not by faith alone.”

But let’s start here. Let’s separate grace from faith. Many will tell you that an argument rages between salvation by grace and salvation by works. But grace is all God’s doing. He gives His grace to us, chiefly in the sacrifice of His Son, whose atoning work stands complete in and of itself. Salvation is made for us and offered to us by grace. His grace, not ours. His grace, alone. James knew this. He did not write “grace without works is dead.”

The question hinges on how we respond to this grace. If we are to be saved, we respond in faith, alone. If we are to be justified, we respond in faith, alone. This is why Paul wrote: “To the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness” (Romans 4:4). In Paul’s teaching, no works were necessary to attain salvation or justification.

So what gives with James? Was he refuting his fellow apostle? Unlikely. Rather, James was dealing with a misapplication of Paul’s teaching, wherein believers offered no demonstration of their faith. Their faith was invisible.

Consider this: You and your golf partner arrive at his ball. He hops out of the cart, pulls his club, stands over the ball for a number of seconds. Then he reaches down and picks up his ball. He puts it in his pocket, returns his club to his bag, climbs back in the cart and starts driving toward the green. When you finally get done blinking your eyes and clearing your head, you ask, “What was that all about?”

“Oh,” he responds, “I believed I could hit it well. So I picked it up, and I’ll put down on the green over here where it landed.”

Your partner had all the faith in the world that he would hit a good shot. But his actions didn’t prove it. How are you to know what he really believed? His unwillingness to hit the shot might just as easily mean that he had no faith at all!

This is what James was addressing. An invisible faith—a faith without supporting action—is lifeless. In fact, Paul himself would have deemed such action-free faith a trampling of God’s grace. We cannot, he wrote, go on sinning that grace may abound (Romans 6:1-2). We must live out our faith in God, showing the world that we really mean it when we say He is King. There is only one way to do this: Follow His lead. Obey His instructions.

Faith lays claim to Christ’s grace freely given to us. A statement of faith does not. James had seen too many “believers” make a statement and do nothing more.

Jeff Hopper

August 31, 2011

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