James 2: Faith and Works
Controversy alert! James 2 brings us the meat of the issue we began looking at yesterday. What exactly is the balance of faith and works? Are we saved by faith alone?
Jas 2:20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?
Jas 2:21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
Jas 2:22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?
Jas 2:23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.
Jas 2:24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
Faith without works is dead. Logically, that means that faith with works is alive. I think this is the important thing to recognize in this relationship. If our faith is truly alive, the evidence is going to come out. If we are living in a way that we ought to end our faith is placed in God, then it seems to me that there is no way to avoid living as a Christian.
To see this, we need to go back to Romans.
Rom 12:2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
When we become Christians, our minds are transformed. We are new creations. As a result, without the evidence of that transformation, it would seem reasonable to question whether or not that process actually took place. Granted, this will appear different in many people, but the transformation does not seem to be optional if one has truly begun a life of following Christ.
Now, we have to put together the pieces. I am of the conviction that faith comes first. We are saved by faith alone regardless of what we have done. That makes me think about the criminal on the cross beside Jesus. His faith was what gave him salvation. However, this passage from James emphasizes that if there is no evidence of that faith in our works, then perhaps we were never transformed by that faith anyway.
In other words, think about a society like America of yesterday where many people were simply culturally Christian. They might have identified as Christians and said they were of the faith, but if that faith did not mean anything to them, there would be no evidence of it. Were they really Christians? I obviously cannot judge individual cases. That is between people and God. However, James is warning us that this is not simply something that we claim for political convenience or as just a label. Rather, it is a transformed life, and if our life does not show evidence of that transformation, maybe we were never of the faith to begin with.