2nd September 2013

Does Faith Work? 

“…Someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God…Even the demons believe—and tremble!…Faith without works is dead.”
James 2:18-20 (NKJV) 

This has been held up as one of the Big Texts on the relationship between belief and action. Unfortunately, in a cultural era when “faith” is invested with connotations of self-generated detachment from reality, and “works” tend to be acts of guilt or self-promotion, there’s a second layer of confusion added to the misconception that the apostle James is identifying. 

So this scripture is easy to “cook”. If thoroughly separated from its epistolary context, whipped up briskly with religious agendas and human insecurities, and popped into the oven before anyone stops to look at it, some strange results can emerge: 

  1. Faith in Jesus is not what saves us; it’s the accurate keeping of the Ten Commandments… or else.
  2. We have to prove we have faith in God by performing miraculous deeds, or at the very least by believing and acting on people’s claims to miraculous power… or else. 

Or, to read it simply, James is frustrated because some churchgoers see faith and works as separate virtues. Contextually, ‘works’ are acts of charity (verses 15-16) and ‘faith’ is already drifting in meaning away from a transformational acceptance of the gospel and towards a sort of abstract thinking about God that has no real effect on the believer. “Show me”, etc, is a rhetorical device, not a legal demand underpinning our salvation. If the demons are described as non-consenting believers, we can see how God looks for our agreement to the principle of love towards others. This type of believing gains a firmer hold on our lives as we harmonise our actions with our knowledge. It is a faith that invalidates the normal human pecking order and changes the way we treat others. If it doesn’t, then that ‘faithy feeling’ isn’t a genuine connection with the will of God. 

Incidentally, however colourful the language and however corrective the tone, James gives no specific condemnation on those whose “faith” lacks vitality. There is a serious error, he insists; the right connection needs to be made… but I don’t actually see an “or else” here after all, just the simple question of whether what we call “faith” is the real thing. 

There is faith and “faith”, then, only one of which is a part of God’s new creation (Galatians 5:22): not just the bare knowledge that he exists, but an agreement with and trust in what he is by very nature.

Prayer
Father in heaven, I believe in your love and righteousness. I cannot claim any of my own actions as righteous, but I know that as I genuinely follow your guidance, my faith will be strengthened and fulfilled. In Jesus’ name.
Amen
 

Study by Fiona Jones 

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fionajones1About the Author:
Fiona Jones attends the Worldwide Church of God UK in Perth/Fife where she assists her husband in his pastoral role there.

Local Congregation:
Worldwide Church of God Perth
Combination of house churches and monthly outreach service and lunch
Gillespie Centre, Dunfermline, monthly
House churches on other Saturdays

Meeting Time:
11am Saturday,
Local Congregational Contact:
Rob Jones
Phone:  01383-737456
Mobile:  07789-172394
Email:  rob.gus.jones@gmail.com

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