Ezekiel 39:1-29; James 2:18-3:6; Psalms 116:6-14; Proverbs 24:27
NT: “But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without works, and I will show you faith by my works. You believe that God is one. Good! Even the demons believe — and they shudder. Senseless person! Are you willing to learn that faith without works is useless? Wasn’t Abraham our father justified by works in offering Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was active together with his works, and by works, faith was made complete, 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 works and not by faith alone. In the same way, wasn’t Rahab the prostitute also justified by works in receiving the messengers and sending them out by a different route? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” (James 2:18-26 CSB)
This passage in James can become confusing to some, and critics of the Bible will point to this passage as evidence that the Bible contradicts itself. At face value, that would seem true, for the Apostle Paul wrote in multiple places about salvation and justification being based on faith and not works. In Acts 4:2-3, Paul said that Abraham was not justified by works, but was declared righteous by faith. In Galatians 2:16, Paul wrote that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Christ. In Ephesians 2:8-9. Paul again wrote that we are saved by grace through faith, not from works. The writer of Hebrews used the examples of Abraham and Rahab – but it was in the context of commending their faith, not their works. Yet, here, it appears that James is saying that works are required. Which is it? Faith or works?
On one end of the spectrum, there are people who teach that all you have to do is believe… the way you live your life is of no importance, for once you believe, your life is completely covered by grace. On the other end of the spectrum, everything is based on how you act and what you do, with little to any grace involved – constantly earning your salvation through proper behavior. I believe that James was saying that neither side of the spectrum is true. It is not either faith or works. It is both faith and works. The demons are not atheists or agnostics. They very much believe in God and even shudder at His holiness and glory – yet they are far from saved. Good living on its own does not save, for it doesn’t deal with the problem of sin. Salvation and justification begin with faith, which is then evidenced by works.
Living biblical faith is not just mental, nor is it merely emotional. It is spiritual, mental, visceral and corporeal. Believing in your mind that something is true is not fully-alive faith. Having a feeling or an emotion is not fully-alive faith. As Paul taught, faith begins by hearing the word of God or hearing the gospel message. The Holy Spirit causes that word to come alive in one’s spirit as faith. That faith then informs and forms our beliefs, stirs up a visceral conviction, shapes our will and motivates our body to act. Fully-alive biblical faith works, and it works itself out on our lives through obedience and action. Anyone can say they believe something, but it isn’t until that belief is accompanied with action that we realize that the belief is true, active and alive. Had Abraham simply offered Isaac on the altar from his own compulsion, it would have been a faithless act with no power. However, Abraham heard God, believed God in faith, and proved that his faith was alive by obeying the word of God. So it was faith along with the accompanying faith-filled action that led to Abraham being declared righteous. Faith that does not cause a change in your actions and behaviors is not alive, and is as effective as the faith the demons have in God. The grace to be changed… the grace to will and do God’s good pleasure comes through living, dynamic, convicting and motivating faith.
Psalms: “How can I repay the Lord for all the good he has done for me? I will take the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord. I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.” (Psalms 116:12-14 CSB)
When you consider that it is very likely that Jesus either read or sang this messianic psalm at the end of the last supper, this psalm becomes much more poignant and powerful. Jesus did not simply believe in the Father and believe that He was God’s Son, the Anointed Messiah; He acted on that belief and obeyed the word of God, even unto death on the cross. The cup of salvation mentioned in this psalm is a specific cup in the Passover meal – and it was that cup that Jesus took and said, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is poured out for you.” Everything that Father God asked Jesus to do, Jesus fulfilled in the presence of all God’s people. Considering that, we can say, along with the psalmist, “How can I repay the Lord for all the good He has done for me?” What the Lord calls us to do is present our bodies to Him as a living sacrifice and obey all the things He taught and commissioned us to do in faith.
Prayer: Lord, I thank You for dynamic, powerful, motivating, living faith. As I hear, read, study and meditate on Your word, Your Holy Spirit makes that word come alive in me as faith. That faith moves me to respond to Your gospel and unleash its power to save. That faith motivates me to step out in obedience, which then opens the floodgates of grace… grace to will, grace to do, grace to endure, grace to be transformed into Your image. Help me to not ignore the affect of faith and allow the flame to burn out and die, as I reach for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ that is only possible by faith. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.