Faith, Hope, and Love
In Christian theologies, there is often a tension between faith and works, and the relationship between the two is often misunderstood. Ephesians 2:8-10 says:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
The core of Christianity is that we cannot save ourselves, that it is God who saves us. And that is what the beginning of this passage clearly states. We are saved by God’s grace, through faith in that grace and the work of Christ on the cross. Why? So that we cannot boast and so that God gets the glory for this miraculous work in us.
The the last sentence of this passage talks about the “good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Which brings up the question do we have to do these works to be saved? James wrote that faith without works is dead and cannot save us.
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.
But what about the thief on the cross? He had faith in Jesus but had no opportunity to do any good deeds? Yet Jesus told him that he would be in paradise with Jesus that day. By his faith alone he was saved.
And what of the invalid who has no strength or resources to help another? If such a person puts their faith in Jesus, but has no opportunity to do what we might consider good deeds, should not their faith alone save them, just as it did the thief?
As I understand it, if a person has a saving faith in Jesus that faith will produce a change of heart, and that change of heart will motivate them to treat others differently. It will motivate them, when the opportunity is presented to them, to help others. The good deeds that are produced by this change of heart may be as small as a kind word to a stranger or as big as funding and building a homeless shelter in a place of great need.
James says that faith without deeds is dead. Such faith does not die because it is not accompanied by good deeds – It was never alive to begin with if it doesn’t change the heart.
1 Corinthians 13:13 says, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” Faith is important, but love in action is greater because it is the product of a saving faith and an abiding hope in God. May all three abound in your life today and always.
Linda: thank for suggesting I read this. “Wrestling with” is a good way to put it as you did your comment on my blog.
I am also wrestling with some thoughts about how faith is talked about before and after a person is saved. For example, James is not writing to non christians. His audience already had obeyed the Gospel.
You can see where this goes. If they had faith to be saved but then did not show the actions which meant that the Faith was a dead faith, is it because they never had faith or because faith died? or maybe it was in the process of dying.
Perhaps the parable of the sower will help on that. All soils had the word spread on them, 3 of the soils germenated and only 1 produced fruit. I would suggest that the faith died but I understand why someone would take the other side–that the faith never lived.
Excellent thought! I hadn’t considered James in relation to the parable of the sower (though that is one of my favorite parables). I can see how in certain circumstances there may have been faith – real faith – that sprouted in the heart of a person, but if they didn’t cultivate it and nourish it, then it could die. In other circumstances, I do believe someone can say they have faith – give lip service to believing – but not really believe in their hearts that they need saving. It is this kind of faith that to me seems to have never lived. Thanks for checking out this post! I love comments that make me think further and deeper about a topic I thought I understood. 🙂 Peace, Linda
Well, keep reading cuz the next few verses say the same thing but with different illustrations. I AGREE on the lip service comment. God is not mocked. Sometimes we try to figure out who is and who is not saved by their ‘conversion experience’. ONLY GOD can know that. We can only look at the actions and even then we can’t serve as judges…but consider, how do WE, ourselves know, if WE believed? Maybe our actions are as much for ourselves as for others?
Another excellent point. Only God knows whether others are truly saved, though we can know whether we ourselves are because the Holy Spirit attests to our saving faith in our hearts. And maybe it is seeing the change in our own thoughts and actions that helps us to see what the Holy Spirit has to say on the matter? I do know that needy people who I at one time never gave a second thought to, those same people weigh heavy on my heart and often spur me to action. I also know that it is not me, but Christ living in me, who is responsible.
After John and Psalms, I think James is one of my favorite books (though truth be told I say that about a lot of the NT, depending on what I’m pondering at the time). I will definitely be checking out the rest of your series on this book. Peace, Linda
Awesome post, Linda! 🙂
I think that Eph. 2:8-10 sums this topic up succinctly. We must bear in mind the order which Paul presents the elements of our Justification with God:
BY grace – THROUGH faith – UNTO good works.
The grace and the faith come first resulting in Salvation. Then the works come afterward.
I really like the way you put this:
“James says that faith without deeds is dead. Such faith does not die because it is not accompanied by good deeds – It was never alive to begin with if it doesn’t change the heart.”
It reminds me of the quote by Calvin: “Faith alone saves, but the faith that saves is never alone.”
That is exactly how I have come to look at it. It is our faith that produces works that come out in our lives. Thank you for the reminder.
Yes. Faith transforms us. Moves us. I love this. I’ve been thinking a lot about, and posting a lot about change–change in my life and the need for change in the world. Definitely on my heart. Thanks for giving me more the think and pray about. –Godspeed, Elizabeth
this reply is to chk the followup box. 🙂