Monday, October 10, 2011

Rest In God's Grace - Work In His World

Paul, the great apostle to the Gentiles wrote, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2: 8 & 9 NIV)

James, the brother of Jesus, writing to Jewish believers, said, “But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” (James 2:18 NIV)

Who is right here? I’ve often wondered if James ever read the words of Paul, or Paul the words of James. If they had met face to face and this question of faith versus works had come up in their conversation would they have been at odds with each other. Perhaps. But it isn’t inevitable. When they penned their strong opinions on the subject they were talking to different audiences about different things.

Paul was combating a group of Jewish Christians (characterized by theologians as “Judaizers”) who insisted that Gentile converts to Christianity must be circumcised like Jews, and follow a number of the Jewish ritual laws. These acts were known as “righteous works” meaning that their performance helped to work out one’s salvation. They might be compared to ordinances in the church today such as water baptism, the marriage ceremony, and communion, all of which are considered “meritorious,” doing some work of grace within the life of those who perform or submit to them. When Paul declares that salvation is by grace, through faith, and not of works, the “works” he was referring to were those rituals the Jewish believers insisted upon.

James, on the other hand, is confronting a situation in which believers were neglecting the obligation to do good for their fellow man by saying that their faith was all they needed to please God. James showed the foolishness of such a belief by imagining a situation in which a hungry naked man is patted on the back by a “believer” who blesses him in God’s name and tells him to be warm and fed, but gives him no food or clothes. No, James concludes, you say you have faith. I want to see it expressed in some action. If there are no works, James argues, there is very likely no faith either. He rather humorously challenges them to “show him” their faith without deeds.

I think Paul and James would embrace and agree that both are right; we are saved by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, but one cannot truly have faith in Jesus Christ if he or she does not live as Jesus commands us to live. Deeds do not always indicate faith (especially faith in Christ) but faith that is not expressed in some action or deed is not possible to discern. Deeds are the proof of faith.

You may say to the firemen ten stories down, holding the net for you to jump into, “I have complete faith that you will catch me and keep me safe.” But if you will not commit yourself to their care by jumping, you have demonstrated that you don’t really have faith in them.

You may say to the leader of your brigade, “I am your man; I believe in your leadership.” But until you move forward into the enemy fire at his command, your faith in him is only a statement, not a reality.

Paul was teaching his Gentile disciples that they could rest in the assurance that all God required of them for salvation was trust in the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. James was teaching his Jewish disciples that trust in Jesus was proven by ones willingness to do what he asked them to do.

So, rest in God’s grace, but show your faith in Him by doing the works in His world He has commanded you to do.

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