November 13, 2004

Faith Without Works

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill," and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

-- James 2:14-17(NRSV)

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

-- James 2:14-17(NIV)

Take this one and memorize it.

It was very early in my Christian life; I was at university and fell in amongst Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship folk. I was invited to an "advance" which is what they were calling retreats then. They taught me all sorts of stuff, like there is no such thing as a virtuous pagan as all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Fortunately I had met a virtuous pagan so was safe from that particular instruction.

I mentioned in conversation that I had seen something on television about Mormons who stored six months worth of food in advance of emergencies. This was when the media were agitating about survivalists and the commentator had asked the Mormon what he would do if there were a real emergency and he replied he was obligated to share his stores with his neighbours.

I must have sounded too impressed with the Mormon fellow on the television. One woman looked at me with horror in her eyes, But that's justification by works! I'm afraid I had no answer for her.

James has an answer for her. My answer now is, any faith that does not make you just, does not justify you.

Peace be with you, Friends.


At 2:08 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

This certainly pushes another of my buttons, Dave. I think faith and belief got kind of mixed up by the N.T. writers and especially by the Council of Nicea. In my opinion when Jesus reportedly focused on faith and belief, he was referring to our need to trust ourselves to the Way-- namely "He wanted people to recognize their Heavenly Father, love him and consequently love everyone; that was the gospel" (from my website).

That obviously includes works, but by the time of Luther the Church had screwed it up royally. Going back to the early church the supposed controversy between James and Paul about this reflects perhaps different connotations that they give to the words.

I can only say of the intervarsity fellowship what Paul said to the Roman Church: "the name of God is blasphemed by the gentiles because of you" (Romans 2:24).

At 3:07 p.m., Blogger crystal said...

Is this a catholic/protestant issue (works vs faith)?
I guess I come down on the side of works - sort of the proof in the pudding thing :-). And I'm not sure I understand exactly what "faith" means - a belief in ... God's existence? His love for us? Could you guys say what "faith" means to you?

Maybe this is a different issue - but it's kind of like the actives vs contemplatives thing. The Jesuits (from whom I've learned to be a christian) are considered actives but really they value both ... contemplation in action. Yet there's that gospel story of Mary and Martha ... Luke 10: 38 ...

At 3:27 p.m., Blogger david said...

Got an email from Larry saying the Anonymous comment above was his and he pushed the wrong button. I don't know about anyone else but i coudl tell it was him by reading it :0)

I don't know how to fix it so we'll leave ita s is I think.

At 3:35 p.m., Blogger david said...

What is faith and what is belief?

Crystal only asks easy questions I see. St Augustine defiend belief as thinking with assent that is to say, you think a thought and you agree to the thought so then you believe it.

I think the problem with much of Chrsitianity is it sacrifices faith for belief. That is to say, it puts this thinking with assesnt thing before faithfulness, commitment to God and God's work on earth, and commitment to the other folks in your life who share that commitment.

The Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution only made things worse. Beliefs suddenly had to conform to the rigours of scientific facts. So you get these people getting all hung up about proving this-that-or-the-other-thing and missing the important bits.

As for Inter-Varsity. I met some good people there. Most were True Believers -- which sort of short circuited any kind of productive discussions -- but most were well meaning sorts. I have to admit I felt more at home with the Student Christian Movement (SCM).

At 5:10 p.m., Blogger crystal said...

So K, if belief is assenting to a certain thought, what exactly is faith? You mentioned commitment - is faith a decision to commit yourself somehow? I don't mean to belabor the point, I'm a johnny-come-lately christian and I still don't get what fith is, but I want to know becasue Jesus mentions it so often (those places where he says things like "Your faith has saved/healed you"). I guess I'm afraid I don't have it :-(.

At 5:29 p.m., Blogger david said...

Start with how we would use the word faith in ordinary language -- in ways where we know what is meant. Then ask yourself if this sense of the word also applies to religious contexts or to scriptural situations.

What does it eman then when we say someone is faithless? Or acted in bad faith? Or acted in good faith? What does it mean when you say a friend (or a pet) is faithful? Or that you can put your faith in a person?

Do these have anything to do with believing specific doctrines or statements? Sometimes. But not necessarily. It has to do with how the person functions in relationships. It has to do with character.

Not a whole answer. But the beginnings of one.

At 6:41 p.m., Blogger crystal said...

Good answer! Thanks :-)

At 2:41 p.m., Blogger Marjorie said...

Faith vs. works is often framed as one of the differences between Protestants and Catholics. Catholicism, at times, has emphasized a view of working off your sins [the sacrament of penitence has shades of that]. This of course got perverted with the selling of indulgences. The Protestant Reformation, in an attempt to remove the corruption, emphasized that faith is the way to heaven, you don't earn your way there, its given by God's grace [but perhaps you need faith to trigger his grace]. Ultimately, there shouldn't be any real difference, because your faith should be made manifest by your works and I've way oversimplified Catholic doctrine on the matter anyway.

Often, what it boils down to is comfortable Protestant Christians like me feeling let off the hook because we don't do anything for the needy but write a few paltry checks now and then.

As to InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, my guess is they are a bit fundy and fundies don't like Mormons. Mormons are low Christology, I think, and fundies get really undone about that. So my guess was that this young woman was not feeling too charitable towards Mormons. I could be wrong.

BTW, I have oversimplified everything I've said and may have gotten some things a bit wrong, but I don't think egregiously so.

At 5:05 p.m., Blogger Larry said...

I think Crystal made an excellent suggestion:
"Could you guys say what "faith" means to you?"

It is certainly a very subjective thing. My faith is not Dave's faith or Marjorie's or Crystal's, and for that reason it would be immensely beneficial for us to "witness" - a Quaker term signifying sharing what God has said to you.

My faith is in the Loving Heavenly Father. It stems out from there to the one who told us about him and the two commandments that he said were primary. It stops there. All the rest of it is other people's faith. I want to hear about other peoples' faith to weigh it and compare it with my own and perhaps get more body to mine.

Well it does extend to one proposition: I believe there is that of God in everyone. That's the first amendment and actually a clarification on what the word 'neighbor' means.

What is your faith?

At 8:53 a.m., Blogger Marjorie said...

what is your faith is an excellent question -- one worthy of a post from each of us, I think... What say you?

At 10:45 a.m., Blogger david said...

I'm agreeable.

I would suggest we each post a full blog so we acn each comment on each other's.

At 1:08 p.m., Blogger Brian said...

I happened onto your blog by pushing the "next blog" button. I'm not a Quaker myself, but I do believe that faith that produces no action is just mental assent. Parts of James are hard to understand and even harder to put together with the rest of scripture, but I believe it was meant to be a part of scripture. Again, actions flow from faith, not the reverse; anyone who says otherwise does not understand the rest of the Bible.

At 1:34 p.m., Blogger david said...

Welcome Brian! Hope you drop by again.

I'm curious about your statement BTW: Parts of James are hard to understand and even harder to put together with the rest of scripture, but I believe it was meant to be a part of scripture.You see the only places in scripture (that I'm aware of) that mention other scriptures being hard to understand is here in James and later in II Peter. Both say that Paul is hard to understand.

The difficulty with James, isn't that he's hard to understand. Its that he isn't all that easy to accept. He tells Christians to live morally upright lives. And doesn't really leave much in the way of loop-holes.

At 11:09 a.m., Anonymous Spear said...


The best definition of "Faith" is Heartfelt and heartmeant TRUST with mental assurance or belief". It is this sort of TRUST that we ought to have in the context of salvation and redemption that the Blood ALONE did it and FINSIHED it. So, it was nothing that I did, but what He did that saved and redeemed me. It is the same TRUST or FAITH that stands when we ask of Him anything believing with full assurance that we are in right standing with YHWH Most High and that nothing stands in the way of me receiving what I ask for, except that it not be in His Will. If you read the concerned passage in James in CONTEXT you will see that faith without works is dead, because works is a product of faith and not the other way around. Putting it simply. It is a work that I would want to do that proves my faith in Him, works done by free will and out of love, and as James also sais, I will show you my faith BY MY WORKS. There is no trust in the works unto salvation. The trust or faith is in the Blood alone. Anything else would be an enemy of the Cross and would say that the Blood of Christ is not sufficient, so in effect we will say that Christ died for nothing. I personally feel some of you are getting toO spiritually technical.

At 11:33 a.m., Blogger david said...

Hello Spear --

You certainly went back to thee arly days to find this passage. If you read furtehr you will see we did read James in context. have you rwead Paul in context? The whole point of salvation is to form us fully in the image of Christ -- which means holy obedience even unto death, death on a cross.

We're looking at Acts now if you wish.


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