“Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?” (James 2:22)
James has much to say about faith alone. Faith without works is like a body alone and without a spirit inside. It is dead. He hammers this point home: “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone” (James 2:17) “But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” (James 2:20) “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” (James 2:26)
Martin Luther didn’t think too much of the Apostle James. He called the book of James an “epistle of straw.” Such a statement was designed to diminish, if not deny, its worth. Lopsided theology has a tendency to disregard sections of scripture that don’t fit into the finely tuned system. But long after the “untempered mortar” of men has proven weak and flimsy, the Word of God will still be keeping the lives of true believers strong and intact.
The Word of God will still be keeping the lives of true believers strong and intact.
The Jews prided themselves on their knowledge of the law, but they made void the law by their disobedience to it. Likewise, those who claim to know and believe the gospel of salvation, make void their faith when they walk in disobedience. We have received the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ in vain when it does not establish us in obedience to Christ and all He would teach us. Paul never saw the faith as a way to escape obedience to the commands of God. “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.” (Rom. 3:31)
There is a tendency to think it’s enough to hear something and agree with it. We give a hearty “Amen!” in church; but that’s only the first part of the equation. Now comes the harder part. Christ wants to work in you to both will and do of God’s good pleasure. You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. Walking in obedience to God is not legalism; it is simply being the friend of God that Christ saved you to be. “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.” (John 15:14)
Walking in obedience to God is not legalism; it is simply being the friend of God that Christ saved you to be.
James tells us that Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness, but his faith was made perfect through his offering up of Isaac. There his faith found completion, and he demonstrated that he was a friend of God. Yes, he did something. And James says: “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” (James 2:24)
James, and more importantly, the Holy Spirit through James, calls us to obedience. We are not to only hear, we are to do. “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” (James 1:22) He is not alone in this call. Paul as well charges the believer to work out their salvation in fear and trembling. Why? Because Christ is in them, working to will and do of God’s good pleasure.
God’s Word does not contradict itself. Where it appears to do so, the problem is in our understanding – oftentimes because our theology has gotten in the way. We have latched onto one truth that men have twisted just enough to prevent us from receiving other truths. This has been happening throughout the history of the church.
Jesus told us that the Word is truth. He told us that to be His true followers we were to continue in His Word. If we would know His whole truth, and nothing but His truth, it would make us free. His Spirit of truth would guide us into all truth, and we would be sanctified by His truth. With such promises we dare not settle for partial truth.
Where should we go to find this truth? The foundation of the prophets and the apostles.
Where should we go to find this truth? The foundation of the prophets and the apostles. “And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone” (Eph. 2:20) God never intended for us to build our faith upon the teaching of any others – whether they be early church fathers, or later reformers, their doctrine is to be rigorously held up to scripture, and where they deviate from the Word of God, we are to deem their writings to be worthless chaff.
Thank God for the Apostle Paul. Thank God for the Apostles James, John, Peter, and Jude. We need all of them. If we are to have a true, living, vibrant faith, which doesn’t discard what doesn’t suit us, we will need a stubborn commitment to take in every word that has proceeded from God’s mouth. And that Word tells us that we have a great salvation that has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness. It tells us that we have been saved for more than a future entrance into heaven. The gospel is the power of God, bringing to us the potential to live out a life of true worship and total obedience to our Lord and God while on this earth. Any gospel that would diminish or deny that truth is “another gospel,” which leads those who adhere to it into the ditch of a “dead faith.”
Theology has consequences, consequences which can be deadly.