A Functional Faith

In the section of James we’ll be reading this Sunday we’ll encounter what is the most famous quote from the entire work: “Faith without works is dead.”

Martin Luther wrote in his introduction of James concerning this section, ““This defect proves that the epistle is not of apostolic provenance.”. For him, what James says concerning justification was irreconcilable with what Paul wrote. When James says “we are justified by works and not by faith alone”, Luther in essence shouts “Sole Fide…by faith alone!”

After thinking about this whole thing for about 500 years, most reasonable Biblical scholars have calmed down a bit and have realized that James and Paul weren’t arm-wrestling for soteriological dominance…they appear to be making points from two different sides of an issue. One points toward justification, explaining how it is NOT determined, the other points from justification, explaining how it is DEMONSTRATED.

I was talking with my friend Dennis the other day about the amazing designs he does for advanced scuba technologies, and I pondered that for all of his incredible ideas, none of them are real until a diver puts one on and uses it.  Up until that point, it’s theory.  It can be an awesome breakthrough idea that will change diving forever…but until someone is using it, its just an idea. Get the correlation there?

Based on v19 we realize that faith isn’t just having an orthodox doctrine or a strong emotional response to truth since demons have those things as well. What DOES a Jesus shaped faith look like in James’ description of it? Look at the examples he uses and consider how those examples translate to your own life.

I find James’ words really challenging, do you? I have to start looking at my life and wondering about my priorities. I contemplate my plans and dreams and consider who is at the center of them in the long range. From the place where we are right now…how can we be more active in demonstrating our faith in Christ?

It’s also important to  find that balance between being confident in Christ’s sacrifice for salvation, and being convicted to move forward into maturity.  It may be helpful to think about salvation and justification less judicially and more relationally.  If a husband or wife considers the marriage licence to be the most important bond between them, they may be tempted to think through the bare essentials of what they must and must not do in order to keep that contract intact. But if they understand that marriage is a life lived for their partner, they will always strive to please the one they love. The contract is not the motive of lovers.

Anyway, it’s stuff to excogitate on until we explore it on Sunday.

5 responses to “A Functional Faith”

  1. How easy is it to say, “I love you?” Pretty easy. How easy is it to SHOW someone you love them….not so easy.


  2. I think this could be at involved in the that struggle within the church between a life of grace and legalism.

    With grace we respond as one who accepts the grace and love that we find at the cross. Our works are a response to the one who saved us. We are like a young puppy who we find dirty and alone. That puppy cannot stop licking us and jumping on us, and will likely never leave our side.

    When we are following legalism, we are taught our lessons and just as importantly the punishment for not following the lessons. No wonder people are leaving churches in masses.

    I thinking I prefer being a puppy.

  3. Several things come to mind when contemplating all of this. One is a quote you mentioned in morning service some time ago…”Preach the gospel, and if necessary use words” . I can’t remember who said it but I think it speaks to this whole faith/works balance fairly well. As baptism is an outward sign of an inner work so good works are an expression of a renewed heart. Jesus said to love our neighbor and as D.C. talk so simply puts it, love is a VERB!! The notes in my bible say it beautifully as well. There is a synergism between faith and works, a practical harmony between a vertical faith in God and horizontal works to a needy world.
    I’ve seen the new Batman movie 3 times now ..I LOVED IT, anyway…one line in the movie resonates over and over in my head and I can see how it could possibly apply here…maybe not but either way, gotta talk about it…there is a part where batman is trying to recruit cat woman to help him fight the bad guys…she agrees to do this one thing for him but then says basically, after this I’m outta here, I’m going to take care of myself, forget the rest of the world… Batman replies “there’s more to you than that”.. I think Jesus daily in situation after situation or opportunity after opportunity whispers that same thing to us, don’t just walk away, don’t turn a cold shoulder..live out this faith in Me by reaching out in love to the world around you…Who know’s what small act of kindness may make the ultimate difference in a fellow man’s heart…”anyone can be batman” (also from movie) or in essence Jesus to those hurting in our fading world….

  4. So what you’re saying is, it’s not enough for me to just READ the Christian-ese chain mail, I have to actually send them to all of my friends and spin around in a circle 5 times all while making the sign of the cross or else I’m not really a Christian. JUST KIDDING!

    I love all the things that Matt, Spud and Julie have said. Love, a puppy and Batman… all 3 are so right on!

    For me, it got me thinking how sometimes it feels like God has put a mini BS detector in each of us. I mean, is it possible to pay lip sevrvice to God and have Him fall for it? No! That thought is completely laughable. We as humans were made in His image and it makes me think that He has put a smidge of His discernment in all of us as well. Why else would we have sayings like ‘Talk is cheap’, ‘Don’t just talk the talk. You have to walk the walk.’, ‘You’re all talk’, or ‘Empty promises’. There are so many of those sayings, which to me, says that James was so right to warn us against it. I’m sure it’s a big reason why the church has received such a bad wrap. Too many people running around claiming to be a representative of Jesus while living in opposition to his instruction. Not to mention how damaging empty words can be to us as individuals, which James mentioned in vs 26. I LOVE how the message worded vs 26! That’s exactly what we become without works, a corpse. It means we have allowed His word to only penetrate so far. Our brains but not our hearts. It makes us a walking, talking, corpse.

    When Matt’s first season of football started in college the coach handed out t shirts to all of the players. He still has it 14 years later and even though the sleeves have been ripped off, it’s paper thin and has holes all over I don’t think seeing it will ever get old. On the back in giant, bold, upper case letters it says simply ‘WALK THE WALK’. It is a reminder to him, our boys and myself that if all you do is run your mouth rather than putting your whole heart in the game by watching film, lifting weights, running drills, and making practices, that man crouched down whose snarling face is inches from yours across the scrimage line, is going to EAT YOU FOR LUNCH. If a player fails to walk the walk he will get hurt, he will let his team mates down, let his coach down AND give the team a reputation of being easy to beat. Other teams will ground you into the turf just to shut you up. I feel like the same is true with what James is saying. It’s multi-faceted. He isn’t just trying to warn us for our own protection or to protect the church’s reputation… It’s all of it. Words in and of themselves are meaningless and have the power to hurt everyone in their path unless backed up back action. Words without action invites trouble for the person who speaks them and will eventually be that person’s demise in every sense of the term.

    Yay for James and yay for football! Go Jags!!! (sorry… had to get that in there)

  5. It’s interesting how “opportunities” appear within days of the teaching.

    It was getting late in the day so I dashed to the store to pick up prescriptions, and headed across the highway for the grocery. Seated on the triangle dividing the turning lane and the crossing lane was a man holding a sign, “Homeless, Need Food”. Having lived and traveled in cities and countries where you do not give money I heard myself judging this man, ‘he would just use it for booze or drugs’. I purchased my groceries and he was still there. Rob’s words recorded in my head played, loudly. Instead of turning I went straight, made a “U” turn and waited for the light, hoping no one would come up behind me. Still judging (or being cautious) I put my purse in the back and rolled the window down. I slowed, honked and he jumped up to the window. I gave him the roasted chicken intended for our dinner. He eagerly took it and shouted, “Finally! Someone who can read!” He ran across the street and disappeared.

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