What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? James 2: 14
It is easy to get hung up on this, many people have, but I do not think there is any need…
Firstly, I believe faith is intrinsically linked to deeds and that this is what James was saying. It is simply not possible to have faith without deeds and the person who claims as much, is lying. Faith is more than passive belief or understanding.
As James writes,
You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder. James 2: 19
Of course, we Christians don’t make it easy for ourselves sometimes. We often conflate belief and faith – using the terms interchangeably and without distinction and I think this can cause confusion.
When I say I believe in Jesus, I do not mean that I acknowledge his historicity or even that I acknowledge his divinity. To flip James’s example on its head, I could say I believe in Satan! This would certainly not mean I have faith in him.
No, when I say I believe in Jesus, I usually mean to imply that I have faith in him: I recognise him as the Son of God, I trust him and give myself to him. These are acts of faith which lead to more actions: repentance, baptism and witness; then to more actions: service, mission, charity and self-sacrifice.
I believe that faith requires, by definition, demonstration through action.
The second point I would like to make is that many people, Christians and non-Christians, appear uncomfortable with salvation that is not doctrinally tied to good works.
The implication seems to be, that Christians who consider themselves saved are likely to abuse their position and sin with impunity.
However, I see no empirical evidence of this. It is not as if Lutherans and other by-faith-alone Protestants are all smug, debauched recidivists. On the contrary, these denominations often seem to be very strict in their behaviour and have their fair share of charitable history.
Finally, I honestly do not believe my actions will get me any closer to heaven or, indeed, get me there any quicker.
I could be a sinful, criminal all my life, turn to Christ as I was dying and be in heaven the same day…
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.f”
Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23: 39-43
Now, I do not know the personal history of the saved criminal, and it is possible that he may have done many good works. However, this is not implied and, on the contrary he admits to deserving death. His punishment, he says, is just. He recognises Jesus and asks for salvation – Jesus gives it to him, that day. Simples.
I want to please God and to make him proud but I know that however badly I do this, I’m safe and I’m his. I am saved by the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and not by any good deeds of my own.
Does that affect how much I want to serve the Lord? Not so much.
Faith is nothing else than reason grown courageous – reason raised to its highest power, expanded to its widest vision. L P Jacks