at the Water's Edge

Living life and learning all I can along the way!

What Does Faith Look Like?

A while back I posted about trying to memorize the book of James from the Bible.  I’m still chugging along, with several others, but I must say that getting through chapter 2 was much more difficult than chapter 1, for whatever reason.  You can view my post of James 1 in Photos here.  As we closed out chapter 2, I wanted to take some time to focus on the second section of the chapter which is centered on the role of faith and deeds in the life of a Christian.  

James starts off with a few challenging questions:
"What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?" --James 2:14

Scripture is clear that a follower of Christ must possess both faith and good actions – or “fruit” – which is the outward evidence of one’s faith. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul focuses on the fact that salvation cannot be earned – however, he also tells us that we were made to do good works:

“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. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” – Ephesians 2:8-10

In James’ letter, he writes to a different group of Christians who needed a reminder that genuine faith is proved by its action – the two must go hand in hand.  Here’s what Matthew Henry says in his Bible commentary about this section of James:

“James had to do with those who cried up faith, but would not allow works to be used even as evidence; they depended upon a bare profession, as sufficient to justify them; and with these he might well urge the necessity and vast importance of good works. As we must not break one table of the law, by dashing it against the other, so neither must we break in pieces the law and the gospel, by making them clash with one another: those who cry up the gospel so as to set aside the law, and those who cry up the law so as to set aside the gospel, are both in the wrong; for we must take our work before us; there must be both faith in Jesus Christ and good works the fruit of faith.”

For whatever reason, many of us tend to operate toward one end of the faith-deeds spectrum – emphasizing one over the other rather than living them both out to their true meaning.  C.S. Lewis discusses the two extremes in his book Mere Christianity:

There are two parodies of the truth which different sets of Christians have, in the past, been accused by other Christians of believing: perhaps they may make the truth clearer. One set were accused of saying, "Good actions are all that matters. The best good action is charity. The best kind of charity is giving money. The best thing to give money to is the Church. So hand us over ₤10,000 and we will see you through." The answer to that nonsense, of course, would be that good actions done for that motive, done with the idea that Heaven can be bought, would not be good actions at all, but only commercial speculations. The other set were accused of saying, "Faith is all that matters. Consequently, if you have faith, it doesn't matter what you do. Sin away, my lad, and have a good time and Christ will see that it makes no difference in the end." The answers to that nonsense is that, if what you call your "faith" in Christ does not involve taking the slightest notice of what he says, then it is not Faith at all — not faith or trust in Him, but only intellectual acceptance of some theory of Him.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer also has a section of his book The Cost of Discipleship that talks similarly about the relationship between belief [faith] and obedience [deeds], which I found to be powerful in its frankness: 

“The truth is that so long as we hold both sides of the proposition together they contain nothing inconsistent with right belief, but as soon as one is divorced from the other, it is bound to prove a stumbling block. "Only those who believe obey"…and "only those who obey believe"…If the first half of the proposition stands alone, the believer is exposed to the danger of cheap grace, which is another word for damnation. If the second half stands alone, the believer is exposed to the danger of salvation through works, which is also another word for damnation.”

When we try to become “righteous” by doing good things, we end up putting our faith in our own efforts rather than in God. 

On the other hand, any time we try to live a life of faith that does not bear “fruit” or does not involve being obedient to God’s word, our faith is proved disingenuous.  

James says it this way:
“But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” –James 2:18-19

Whoa. Did you catch that? Simply believing in God only gets you on the same level as demons. A genuine FAITH involves something more.  Of course the demons know that God exists; what they are lacking is obedience to God.

James writes about the example of Abraham – the “father of faith” – whose willingness to obey God without question was evidence of his faith. “You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did (James 2:22)."  The answer to James’ original question – “can such a faith save them?” is “no” – because what they claim as “faith” is not truly faith.  

So where does all of this intersect with my life?  I think I tend to oscillate between both ends of the faith-deeds spectrum: some days putting my faith in my own ability, and other days resting in a very apathetic “faith”.  Lately, however, I feel God trying to nudge me toward stronger obedience to His word.  I keep trying to put my own priorities first, instead of letting God direct my steps.  God has also made me more aware of the need to “bear fruit” (See also: The Fruit of the Spirit series) and live out the faith I claim to have.  Which brings me to the question: what does faith look like?  It looks like being loving and kind to others; it looks like being patient in times of trial; it looks like joy in the midst of adversity and peace when your life is in turmoil; it looks like goodness and gentleness in word and deed. In short: faith looks like obedience.

At the end of the chapter, James draws this conclusion: “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead (James 2:26).”  My desire and my aim is to have a faith that is alive and growing!

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Hi there! My name is Dana and I live in West Michigan with my husband, Tom and our dog Copernicus. I created this space as a place to share the things I learn along this journey I call life. I work in marketing and I'm a sort of Jane of All Trades, interested in all things nature, gardening, cooking, exploring and learning new things. This blog is a conglomeration of my interests, hobbies, life and life lessons. Thanks for stopping by!