Monday, February 20, 2017

Faith and Works

Is faith without deeds really faith? And are deeds alone evidence of faith? Faith vs. works has been debated since the 1st century. Last week, in a friendly conversation, I found myself explaining why I don’t “advertise” my Christianity which eventually brought these questions to mind. I don’t have a fish symbol on my car. I don’t wear those “witness” t-shirts with pithy sayings. In fact, I rarely wear jewelry bearing Christian symbols. I’m not ashamed of my faith. I’ve always felt that if I am to be known as a person of faith, I want it to be known by how I live my life and not by the symbols on my car or my clothing.

To the casual reader, the Bible seems to be self-contradictory on the subject.

Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” John 6:28-29

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. John 14:12

For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. Romans 3:28

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 28-10

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. James 2:14-26

The gift of faith in Jesus given to us by God is the key to our redemption and salvation. When we accept that gift we are changed by the presence of the Holy Spirit into something new. This absolutely cannot happen by any power or action other than God’s. Humanity cannot force it, re-create it, or cause it to happen.

Faith is a living part of us. It is a conduit by which God interacts with his creation—both us and those around us. Giving to the poor, helping someone in need, standing against injustice and loving the unlovable are actions of faith done, not to earn or prove something, but as a matter of interaction with and by God in this fallen world.

I do nothing apart from Christ and I am compelled by overwhelming gratitude to act in response to God’s grace, in the name of Christ, for the sake of those he loves. Faith must act because it lives and it lives because God birthed it in each and every one of his children.

You can have one without the other—but they will be weak and ineffectual to their purpose. Faith and works are not incongruous, but rather two integral intertwining parts of God’s plan to redeem his creation.

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