Faith or works? How are we saved? And which one better represents our relationship with Jesus Christ and His transformative power in our life? The answer is both.
Our faith is not complete without works, as Pastor Mike Halstead preached on this last Sunday.
Some of the most poignant words we read in James are from verses 2:14-17 (ESV):
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
Talk about some strong words!
If you think about it, though, it is not all that different than what we already intrinsically know about the Christian faith. Our faith is not just belief; it is about living in response to that which we believe. It is about our response to the profound reality that whereas we were once “dead” in our “trespasses and sins,” we are now “made alive in Christ” (Ephesians 2:1-7). We are new creations with a new purpose, growing in our passion for the lost and love for others that led Jesus to the cross. If we have faith in the saving action of Jesus on the cross, we then live toward that conviction!
This is how our faith becomes complete. This is what God desires for us.
We see a beautiful picture of this summed up toward the end of our passage in James 2:21-23 (ESV):
“Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’—and he was called a friend of God.”
When we begin to see Abraham’s story unfold, we see him taking great steps to follow God and His promise to make him “a great nation” (Gen. 12:1-3) by leaving his homeland for the land to which God would lead him. But God had even more to ask of Abraham. Abraham was commanded to sacrifice his only son Isaac (Gen. 22:1-14), not knowing that God would provide a ram to take Isaac’s place and would credit Abraham’s faith in action as righteousness. As a result of this active faith, “he was called a friend of God.”
Having been given Abraham’s example, we now carry the responsibility to do the same.
As we read in James 2:19 (ESV), unmoved belief is empty: “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” In other words, belief in a God is not sufficient for much of anything—it is a rather commonplace reality. But a genuine belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that He died to defeat sin and death for those who would follow Him is so much more. It compels us to act powerfully in the name of the One who saved us from certain death because of our sin, which Ephesians 2:8-10 (ESV) makes so powerfully clear:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
May we all, therefore, respond in kind and allow our faith to be made clear and complete through our rich actions and compelling good works. For it is God alone who not only saved us but made us to glorify Him in all that we do. May we show that we too, like Abraham, are a “friend of God.”
Dive deeper into this week’s passage from James 2:14-26, and follow up your reading of it with these five QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF:
- How are faith and belief different?
- Why are our actions an important piece of what it means to be a Christian?
- How did Abraham’s faith and action work together in his story?
- What does dead faith look like?
- How do you actively combine your faith, if you believe in Jesus Christ, with what you do on a daily basis?
In review …