actions are more important than words

You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

James 2:24

In our Christian culture there seems to be nothing more important than expressed belief, profession of faith, or acknowledgement that at one time or another a person accepted Jesus as their personal Savior. All that is well and good in its place, but if I’m hearing James and his words here correctly, it’s not enough.

A person is justified, declared righteous, made right, considered righteous- whatever the precise meaning, James teaches us, not by a faith which is alone, but a faith which acts.

The gospel is indeed the message by which saving faith is awakened, better- created. And that is a faith apart from works. We believe in Christ, in Christ’s work for us, in the victory of God in him. But that faith inevitably results in good works.

Only God is the judge, but it seems to me that those who act well without understanding the gospel are better off than those who have some understanding of the faith, but whose actions are not in line. Of course none of us are perfectly in line with the truth of the gospel. That will only occur by God’s grace when Christ returns. And there are those who are saved, yet as escaping through the flames, their works not found to be works which come from this faith. We’re getting into a gray, even rather dark area in which we can’t see well, and even if we could, probably is still well beyond our ability to discern. Somehow though, as we read elsewhere, someday God will give us the ability to judge angels.

But back to the point the pastor James is trying to get through to his readers, to us: faith is not really the faith which justifies if no works follow. It is an empty profession, which sadly enough seems to have been all too common in Christendom and even in our churches today. Though again, we all need mercy. God is the judge, one who is full of mercy as well. In and through Jesus.

what John “the elder” and beloved apostle of our Lord might say to us now from 1 John 5:1-12

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

1 John 5:1-12

Every person who believes that Jesus is, in fact, the Messiah, is God-born. If we love the One who conceives the child, we’ll surely love the child who was conceived. The reality test on whether or not we love God’s children is this: Do we love God? Do we keep his commands? The proof that we love God comes when we keep his commandments and they are not at all troublesome.

Every God-born person conquers the world’s ways. The conquering power that brings the world to its knees is our faith. The person who wins out over the world’s ways is simply the one who believes Jesus is the Son of God.

Jesus—the Divine Christ! He experienced a life-giving birth and a death-killing death. Not only birth from the womb, but baptismal birth of his ministry and sacrificial death. And all the while the Spirit is confirming the truth, the reality of God’s presence at Jesus’ baptism and crucifixion, bringing those occasions alive for us. A triple testimony: the Spirit, the Baptism, the Crucifixion. And the three in perfect agreement.

If we take human testimony at face value, how much more should we be reassured when God gives testimony as he does here, testifying concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God inwardly confirms God’s testimony. Whoever refuses to believe in effect calls God a liar, refusing to believe God’s own testimony regarding his Son.

This is the testimony in essence: God gave us eternal life; the life is in his Son. So, whoever has the Son, has life; whoever rejects the Son, rejects life.

1 John 5:1-12; MSG

John might ask us if we really do believe that Jesus is the one hope for the world. And if our faith is a following faith, that is, whether or not we’re intent on following Jesus. Do we love all, even the ones we disagree with? And this life overcomes all the world system might throw our way, a life lived contrary to the world’s ways.

We are to live as if everything not only depends on Jesus, but on our following of Jesus, both. Too often it’s just faith as in a spoken, or often more or less silently consented to creedal kind of faith: We believe such and such. But the real test for us is whether or not we’re really following Jesus, seeking to live as he lived. If we’re not, then we should question whether we have authentic faith or not, whether we have the eternal life that is in the Son.

We do this in community with other Jesus followers, as well as individually throughout our day. We prove our love to God and to others by following Jesus in a life like his: given in love for all. That is how we can fulfill God’s command to believe in the name of his Son, and to love one another.

In and through Jesus.

faith not works puts us right with God

Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.

Romans 4:4-5

It seems ingrained in us humans that being right with God depends on us, specifically on what we do. We think somehow that we have to earn so as to deserve God’s acceptance and favor. Paul here puts the kibosh on that. Of course we find this elsewhere in Scripture, even as this passage from Paul makes clear (click Romans link above).

No, faith puts us right with God. We’re justified by faith, not ever by our works. Works follow, and justifying faith does work for sure. But it has to be in that order. If we’re struggling to be accepted by God, we’re wasting time and effort. We need to stop and simply trust God, believe God’s word, God’s promise to us in Christ.

God has done what needs to be done for us to be accepted by him. We simply have to accept and receive that. And only then do we receive the forgiveness of sins and new life which opens up an entirely new way for us. Certainly filled with love and good works. In and through Jesus.

practicing God’s word

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

James 1:19-27

I’ve gathered a good bit of biblical theological knowledge over my life, but mostly in my head, and not so much into my heart and life, I’m afraid. Not that one can belittle what God actually has done in making us his children by faith. There certainly is a big change which accompanies that. We are turned from darkness into light. Although that’s a complete turn, it’s actually only the start.

We can say what matters most is not where we begin, but where we end. And not just what we believe, but what we practice. Not that what we believe isn’t important because after all, what we believe is what we’re to practice. Christian practice is built on Christian belief, Christian teaching, or the doctrines of the faith. But as James puts it, even the demons believe, and shudder.

So that is my intention, to begin to practice much better what I preach. Not just say something is true, but act on it. Faith is never in opposition to effort, but only in imagining that somehow we can merit or deserve God’s grace through our actions (Dallas Willard). Grace comes through Christ, not only to forgive us, but to enable us to grow through that grace. To quit doing what is not pleasing to God, but rather, what is pleasing to him. As James aptly and succinctly puts it, to not just hear God’s word, but put it into practice. In and through Jesus.

simple faith can be underrated, overlooked

As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!”

When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?”

“Yes, Lord,” they replied.

Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done to you”; and their sight was restored.

Matthew 9:27-30a

I think too often we can overlook the importance of simple faith. Faith in God, in our Lord, for sure, but just pure unadulterated faith.

Instead somehow we think we have to do it. Yes, with help from God, maybe even by God’s grace, but still it’s up to us. Actually faith is up to us, the rest is up to God. Not to say that once we put our faith in God we’re automatons, passively carried along by God. Not at all. We’re active, but it’s completely different.

In the case of the two blind men, whether or not they had faith in God, in our Lord, in Jesus’s ability to heal them mattered to Jesus. It may seem that we don’t have much faith, but we’re to put what faith we have completely in God, in Jesus. And by simple faith receive what Jesus has to give us. That can make all the difference in the world.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

 

simply believing in Jesus in John’s gospel account

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

John 20:30-31

In John’s gospel account, the NIV translates the Greek word πιστεύω “believe” (or a tense of that) 84 times. To believe in John is to believe Jesus’s message which is a call to believe in him, that he is the one to come, the Messiah and Son of God (which are equivalents in the gospels), and to entrust oneself to him. John’s gospel account is full of sayings of Jesus pointing people to himself, like “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” “I am the bread of life.” “I am the good shepherd.” “I am the light of the world.” “I am the resurrection and the life.” “Before Abraham was born, I am.”

And then there’s the signs, Jesus’s miracles, or mighty works. Throughout John, seven major signs. Jesus appealed to them when people didn’t believe in him. He said, “Even if you don’t believe me, believe the works themselves, that you may know that I’m in the Father, and that the Father is in me.”

Simply believing might be underrated in churches and Christians circles at times. The kind of faith our Lord refers to though is more than just believing so as to be drawn in. It refers to a commitment based on our Lord’s words, which call for nothing less than that. The idea that Christianity and Christian ethics is just about one’s works and not what one believes is so far divorced from actual Christianity. Completely foreign to Scripture, and John’s gospel. Of course works in a change of life follow. An indispensable part of the faith offered to us in and through Jesus.