Friday, April 3, 2009

Faith That Works

People call me a "free gracer," or even a "cheap gracer," because I have (and still do) intellectually agree that the prospect of a once-believing Christian could die apostate and, to our surprise, be welcomed into the Kingdom of Heaven. Is it the standard? No. Is it to be pursued? No. Yet, I'm convinced that to deny that possibility on a theoretical level would contradict scripture. However, despite whatever theoretical possibilities exist, I am also convinced and convicted that Scripture has no teaching for the encouragement, comfort, or even the invitation to live a life characterized as a "carnal Christian." Faith is not faith which has no works.

Wait wait wait! You JUST said that it's possible.... stop. I am interested in expositing what Scripture has to tell us. To agree with a theory is quite a different thing than to discharge my duty faithfully to teach the Word of God to believers called into His grace for the singular purpose of glorifying His name. We see in each morning paper that it's possible to win the lottery, and yet most of us still head off for work just the same. The person who learns of the lottery and decides to quit the work to which he is called will suffer great loss and live with zero confidence in his future. So it is with the followers of Christ.

Few passages state this truth more poignantly than the text we'll be studying this Sunday, James 2:14-26. Beginning with the challenge to anyone who "claims to have faith but has no deeds... Can such faith save him" (James 2:14)? It cuts to the heart of our theological values in evangelical protestantism: how dare you assess my deeds and ask if I am really saved! (see previous article on Faith & Deeds) But James does dare. And, he does so for the benefit and edification of his readers. Moreover, he does it for the glorification of the name his readers bear: Christ.

James describes faith without deeds as lifeless, "as the body without the spirit is dead" (James 2:26). A body without breath or spirit is lifeless, useless, limp and inanimate. It will bear no offspring, no labor, no worth of any kind. While Luther and the rest of the protestant movement emphasize faith alone, Peter addresses this topic telling his readers to "add to your faith" (2 Peter 1:5). After describing a laundry list of works that result from and add to faith, Peter concludes "they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive" (2 Peter 1:8).

But probably the most debated point that comes from the faith and deeds topic is that of eternal security. In James 2:18 we read a charge that few of us dare to place on any brother or disciple in the faith: "show me." While his readers were presuming upon the grace of God, so confident in it that they thought their actions were irrelevant, James saw fit to sweep that blanket of security right out from under them. "You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder" (James 2:19).

If we continue reading in Peter's exhortation to "add" to your faith, we are told to "make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall" (2 Peter 1:10). Who needs to be sure? The one who called and elected us? Certainly not. But if you know a tree by it's fruit, you will know you are His child by your fruit. If you are marked by the Spirit, a seal guaranteeing your inheritance, then you will see the mark in the Spirit's work. If you were buried with Christ in order to be raised again with Him, then you can eagerly await that assured resurrection when you indeed die to yourself for the sake of Christ. But if you presume upon His grace, as a worker would presume upon the lottery, you will forsake the blessing of confidence before God for a blind hope of salvation without any credible evidence.

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