A Working Faith

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Sunday, April 7, 2019 0 comments

by Logan Ames

In the fall of 2011, I spent two weeks in the beautiful state of Colorado for some specific and intentional counseling that was geared toward people like me who would be entering into vocational ministry. While the therapy consisted of group and one-on-one sessions, the entire trip included a lot of free time that allowed me to explore the wonderful creation around me while also having much needed solitude with the Lord. I did my fair share of hiking, climbing, and driving all around the Rocky Mountains in the middle of the state. One afternoon, I decided to go walking on a popular trail, but I also considered going farther up the mountain and away from the well-traveled trail. I wanted to get away from everything as much as possible, even if that meant being alone in the Colorado wilderness. I asked my counselor about it and he told me that the area where I planned to hike was known for its mountain lions. However, he said they are rarely seen unless they want to be seen, and that they don’t really go near humans. Then he laughed a little and said, “Well, good luck, Logan, and if I’m wrong, sorry!”

To be quite honest, I was a little bit fearful of what would happen to me if I stumbled upon that rare mountain lion. My dad had told me he wouldn’t venture that deep into the wilderness without some sort of “protection." I was on a counseling trip and had flown out there, so I was about as far away from bearing arms as a newborn baby. I wanted to experience the wilderness and I wanted to be out there where it’s just me and God, but I also didn’t want to get eaten. As I contemplated going, I remember the thought coming to my mind that if I REALLY believed that God is in control, then I had to actually WALK that out. I had to actively take a step of faith. I had to go beyond just thinking that God is more powerful than mountain lions. It was time to live it out. Needless to say, I had a terrific hike, talked to God a lot, and as a real bonus, did not get eaten alive by any hungry mountain lions.

True belief is faith in action, not just faith in statements. The above story is completely about me and my faith journey from mere words to actions, and no one else in that story really benefited from me. James tells us in his letter to the early Church that true faith works to trust God AND meet the needs of others. In James 2:14, he first asks rhetorically what good faith without deeds would do for a person and if that type of faith could save them. To be clear, James is not saying that deeds (or works) are what save a person. He continues to put the focus on faith. That being said, he recognizes that there is a type of faith that works and a type of faith that does not work. When James asks, “Can such faith save them?," he is making the point that the type of faith that does not reveal itself in action must not really be grounded in Jesus. If it’s not grounded in Jesus as the Messiah who suffered and died on our behalf and then rose from the grave in victory over death, then it can’t bring salvation.

The faith that follows Jesus cares about what and who He cared about, and Jesus always had compassion on those who were suffering and had real, obvious needs. So, in James 2:15-17, the writer brings up a hypothetical circumstance that was very real for some people back then and is real for many people today - someone comes with a need because they cannot provide clothing or daily food for themselves. The type of lazy faith that James is addressing in this writing basically would tell such a person, “Good luck and may God bless you." They might even be really sincere in their well wishes for the needy person. But the point is that they aren’t really DOING anything to help. Rather than offer to share what they have or go and buy the person what they need, they are settling for well wishes. Is this what we do today? Have you ever seen an obvious need that you had every ability to meet but instead settled for, “I’ll be praying for you”? Nowadays, we don’t even have to say that we’ll pray. We can just go on Facebook and click the “praying hands” emoji to get our point across.

Look, prayer is great. We should always pray for one another. But prayer was never meant to be a substitute for action. If there is a need right in front of you that you have the ability to meet, you don’t even have to pray about whether to meet it. If God has put it in front of you, He’s already answered the question you’re asking in prayer. To ignore the need and do nothing to meet it is incompatible with the faith that Jesus taught in his followers. So, James concludes, “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17). It might still be classified as faith by those who live it, but it is a dead faith. It does not work and therefore does not produce more faith.

Martin Luther said it correctly when he said, “We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone." When James wrote to the early Church in his letter, he understood that they had a long history of trying to earn God’s favor through good works. Yet, he also realized that when they came to know the freedom of following Jesus, they went to the other extreme and began to assume that works didn’t matter much. James would’ve been in agreement with the Apostle Paul, who addressed this issue in Ephesians 2:8-10: “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." In other words, our faith in God’s free gift of grace is what saves, but the only appropriate response to that reality is to do the good works He prepared for us to do AFTER we are saved by faith. To refuse to do good works is a sign that one never experienced that salvation by grace through faith.

Paul makes the point even clearer in Romans 12:1: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God - this is your true and proper worship." Rather than do good works to try to earn God’s mercy, and rather than freely accept His mercy and ignore the responsibility that comes with it, Paul says that the only thing that makes any sense in response to what God has done is to say, “Here I am, Lord; show me what to do and use me however you want."

Have you been letting God use you to meet the needs of those around you? Or have you been somewhat ignorant and lazy after receiving the free gift? Ask God to show you specifically what you can do in your life to have a working faith that trusts God in your own scary circumstances and also meets the needs of others when God puts them in your path. Be willing to do whatever He commands because you are so grateful for what He’s already done for you.

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