Faith or Good Works?

IMG_20170318_234705Read James 2:14-26

“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works also is dead.”

—James 2:26 (KJV)

As part of our Lenten observance, my wife and I decided to bolster our faith by studying devotionals from The Upper Room each day. I’m used to daily devotions because I grew up as the son of a Southern Baptist minister, and my family used Our Daily Bread religiously between breakfast and whatever else we did every day of the week. Timberley and her parents were United Methodists but infrequently sat down together at home to read the Bible and a brief devotional. At my house, the readings were followed by a familiar hymn and then a closing prayer, with each family member taking his or her turn praying out loud. In Timberley’s family, talks with God were private, as they should be.

This past Monday, Timberley and I read an Upper Room devotional entitled “To the Street” by Andy Baker of Tennessee. It asked that we first read the verses listed above from James’ letter to “the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad.” The passage interested us so much that we ended up reading the entire epistle of James, who, by the way, might have been a brother of Jesus. From what I’ve learned in subsequent studies this week, this short letter is one of the oldest writings in the New Testament, along with the scribblings of the apostle Paul. Many verses in James are popular with all Christians, not just with seekers like me who suspect that Paul is largely responsible for much of the confusion over Jesus’ actual teachings.

Specifically, I’m talking about the roles of faith and good works in a Christian’s life. I often heard my father, a Southern Baptist, stand in the pulpit and proclaim that a convert is “once saved, always saved,” a position taken by Paul, putting faith before good works. As a child, I never understood how someone who “accepted Christ” at some point but otherwise lived an immoral life might be rewarded with an after-life in heaven, while someone else who never converted to Christianity but lived a moral life might be punished for eternity in hell. I still doubt that. But to paraphrase James, who must have been a Methodist at heart, it doesn’t matter how much you think you’re a Christian or how often you say you’re a Christian. To be a true Christian, you must act like a Christian by helping orphans and widows, and by keeping yourself “unspotted from the world.” That sounds about right.

Thought for the Day: A faithful follower of Jesus would not refuse to help poor or disenfranchised people, and also would not pursue wealth, power, or fame.

—Rahn Adams (North Carolina)

2 thoughts on “Faith or Good Works?”

  1. Rahn, you are right on target with your comments in this essay. I agree with you 100% about Paul’s writing. One of the two scriptures I try to live by is James 4:6-7 [Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God and he will draw nigh to you, KJV]. My other life scripture is Micah 6:8 from the Old Testament. Good work, my friend.

  2. Thanks, Bill. I looked up your verse from Micah and really like it. I’m afraid that honor, mercy and humility are in short supply these days. By the way, I’ll send you a personal note soon.

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