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Thursday, March 8, 2012

40 Days with James ~ Day 16 ~ Dead Faith, Part 3

Day 16 ~ Dead Faith, Part 3
James 2:20-24   You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?  Was not our ancestor 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.  You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
"Aha! I knew it," you say.  "I knew it was too good to be true: all of this saved by faith alone apart from works business.  There it is, plain as day, James says it: We are justified by what we do and not faith alone!"  Could it be?  Have we been wrong about the free gift of salvation all along?  Do we really have to work in order to be justified before God?  Are we saved by grace plus works?  Or, is something else going on here?

How are we to understand this along with what St. Paul says, for example, in Galatians 2:16, "[We] know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified."   (See also Rom. 5:28 and Eph. 2:8-10).  Which is it?  Are we justified by observing the law (what we do) or by faith alone in what Jesus has done?  Is it James or Paul?

Before we all flee from the "faith alone" church to one teaching works righteousness, it is worth our time to review what has gone on so far in this chapter.  (Take a moment to reread 2:1-19.) As we have seen, James is addressing a group of Christians who apparently do not believe they have to be a reflection of God's love.  They got their salvation for free, and since they didn't have to do anything to get it, they no longer have to do anything in light of it.  This is dead faith.  This is to remain in slavery to sin.  The gospel is not an excuse to disobey God's law, rather, it frees us from the condemnation of the law so we can freely live according to the law, without fear of condemnation.  That is what faith does, and if your faith isn’t doing that, James says, you are not saved.  Wow!

Both Paul and James are saying the same thing.  Context is critical here.  Paul is addressing Christians who believe there is something they must add to their salvation.  These are people who don't believe Jesus is sufficient for salvation.  So, Paul tells them, Jesus is all you need.  Don't trust your obedience to God's law, trust Jesus.  It is faith alone.  James agrees that it is faith alone that saves us.  But, he is addressing people with the opposite problem.  They are using the truth of faith alone as an excuse to not love God and neighbor.  So he must remind them (and us!) in the starkest of terms that faith is never alone. It is always working in love.  In this sense, faith alone cannot save because “alone faith” is dead faith.  As Paul himself says in I Corinthians 13:2 , “If I have the faith that can move mountains, but do not have  love, I am nothing.”

Salvation is a free gift from God to sinners.  Faith alone in Christ alone because of God’s grace alone saves you.  Salvation is all His doing.  This faith that looks to Christ is not a dead faith, but a living faith that does not excuse sin, but trusts Jesus and actively loves the neighbor.  Faith alone saves you.  But saving, living faith is never alone.

Confession:  Heavenly Father, I confess that I have used your grace as an excuse to sin.  I have tried to make myself feel better for sinning by saying, “Well, at least I have faith.”  Forgive me for not expressing my faith in love.  Forgive me for not reflecting your love for me.  Grant to me a heart of active faith.  AMEN

Challenge:  Consider signing up for a service event with the church.  Consider going on the next Habitat for Humanity build, sign up for a ministry (Sunday school, ushering, reading, etc.), ask how you can help Centro Cristiano, or organize your own event.

Pastor Bob

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