Do Faith and Paul Contradict Works and James? Part 3

James 2:26 – For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

Imagine you were speaking to a Mormon who lived by a strict moral code, was a “good person”, and did not understand the difference between their spirituality and yours and they kept asking what else they needed to do. You would try, as Paul did with the Jews, to turn the conversation from what they needed to do to trusting in what Jesus did. Most people we minister to are not like this as our world has become so enamored with self-esteem and tolerance that most folks think they are pretty wonderful and don’t need to change or do anything to be right with God.

On the flip side, imagine speaking with someone who grew up in a Christian home, was well-aware of God’s love and grace, claimed to have category 1, but did very little in category 2. They did not serve much, give much, share their faith much, etc. When confronted, they defend themselves by saying that they had a “personal faith” that lived inside of them, and that real Christianity is not about doing things but rather trusting Jesus. You would likely start stressing category 2 – that internal faith produces external works. In short, you would tell them they get to follow Jesus’ example and should start following in His footsteps of obedience. The record of faith in the early church recorded in Acts is that their faith immediately resulted in missional action by the Spirit’s power. In Acts we have not just theology, but theology in the context of a historical narrative of what happened as they were doing the work and bearing the fruit of Spirit-empowered mission.

The difference between faith and works can get in the way of us seeing that some works are acts of faith. This explains why Abram obeying God and moving to another nation in obedience to a God he just met is described throughout the Bible as an act of faith. For Abraham, his faith internally showed up with obedient action externally.

Perhaps some practical examples will help.

When a bride and groom show up for their wedding ceremony relaxed with a smile on their faces, their actions are works of a faith. They are showing externally that they trust God and one another internally.

When a young child is on the edge of a swimming pool and their parent is in the water with their hands outstretched, the fact that the child jumps, trusting their parent to catch them is a work of faith in the love of mom or dad.

When a grandparent is on their death bed and gathers their family members around their bed to say their goodbyes and speaks joyfully of the eternity that awaits them with Christ, then breathes their last with tears in their eyes but a smile on their face, that smile is a work of faith revealing externally their devotion internally.

James speaks of this kind of faith. As Jesus’ brother, he is frankly weary of lazy Christians not living on mission, being generous, and getting things done and excusing their sin by saying it’s all about internal faith and not external faith. His brother Jesus had internal faith that compelled him to do a lot of external works. Frankly, he’s writing to many church members and half-hearted Christians who have a personal relationship with Jesus that should be public and his timeless message to turn the temperature up on the lukewarm is as timely as ever!

Have you known people who said they were a Christian, but their “fruit” didn’t really reflect that? Ask God to help your “fruit” reflect your “faith”. 

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