Remember the Bible Series, #5
The Importance of Works
Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
~ James 2:17
Our last memory verse illustrated one of the foremost tenets of Christian faith: the knowledge that we cannot save ourselves by our works, our deeds, our actions. Salvation is a gift from God and can only be gained, through His grace, if we have faith in Christ.
This does not mean, however, that we can do whatever we want and expect to be forgiven for it. There was, actually, an early sect of Christianity that taught not simply freedom from the Law, but the complete abolition of morality, reasoning that if Christ would forgive all sin, there was no purpose in stopping sinful behavior. There were even extremists who encouraged total hedonism, using the logic that the more one sinned, the more one showed himself to trust in Christ’s forgiveness. How far astray human logic can lead us! (People usually refer to this doctrine as “antinomianism,” although the more accurate definition of antinomianism involves complex issues of theology.)
But the importance to the Christian of works does, ultimately, give rise to a contradiction that logic cannot reconcile. We are told a number of times that Christians will stop sinning, or that those who love Christ will follow His commandments. Yet, nobody has really managed it. Paul himself lamented, “For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.” (Romans 7:15-20)
So, we will not try to make it all logical and tidy, but instead read and understand this passage: Faith without works is dead. Which is to say, if our deeds do not reflect our faith, our faith is worthless. It will not save us. If our faith is dead, we are dead, for it is a living faith that brings us the life of Christ’s forgiveness.
Looking at the Greek gives another dimension to the passage; it can properly be translated, “faith without works is dead by its own standards.” The implication that true and saving faith includes a change of behavior is implied by the very definition of faith. If one does not change one’s behavior, he does not have faith.
Does this mean we should anguish and feel guilty about our sins? Not necessarily. There is much to be said for feeling absolute certainty in our forgiveness. This is the “hope” in “Faith, Hope and Charity.” But it does mean that we must confess our sin and honestly resolve to avoid it. And as we have learned, if we resolve to avoid a sin, God will send a Spirit to strengthen us in fighting temptation.
Lord, let me seek to avoid sin, out of my love for you. Amen.
~ Mason Barge
Editor, Daily Prayer