Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Word for Wednesday: October 14 Edition

James chapter 2, from verse 14 to the end:
What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works?
I interrupt almost immediately to add emphasis: " ... if a man says he has faith ...". To continue:
Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, "You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works." You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness," and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works, when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also is faith without works dead.
But wait -- isn't there a conflict here with Paul's writings, in Romans and elsewhere? Romans 2:19 - 28:
Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the Law.
Well, of course, I don't think there's a real conflict, but I do think the texts need to be read carefully to avoid confusion. You could say that Paul is slighting works, and you could say that James is slighting faith. But, to be honest and complete, you'd have to note that both Paul and James are pretty specific about what kind of works, and what kind of faith, they disparage. James talks about a man who says he has faith (suggesting that the man is either dishonest of deluded, and in fact has no faith), and asks whether that (non-) faith can save him; the answer, unsurprisingly, is "no." About "works," he speaks generally, but particularizes by example. He doesn't use, as an example of no-works, a hypothetical man who doesn't keep kosher, or who labors on the sabbath; instead, he shows us someone who fails to meet his neighbor's basic practical needs, for food and clothing. Paul, on the other hand, almost exclusively writes the phrase "works of the Law" rather than "works." He has something particular in mind; and I'm thinking it's more the keep-kosher / keep-the-sabbath kind of thing.

Jesus said (Matthew 22:37 - 40):
And He said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.
With Jesus having fulfilled the whole Law, I'm pretty sure that applying what He said here requires the faith that Paul was speaking of, and fulfills the works that James urged. At least, that's how I'm understanding things.

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Harl Delos said...

There are many people who claim to be Christian, proclaim it loudly, and scream that they're being discriminated against.

This time of the year, we hear complaints of people wishing each other "Seasons' Greetings" as if Advent were not a season.

And there are others who quietly live their faith, who hold out hope, who dispense charity, and are noted for their fidelity. People take a close look at those people, trying to puzzle out the way that they live such contented lives, and often they find their way to a God-filled life, while looking at those who brag of being Christians while being living embodiments of Satan's virtues.

Only you and God know whether you have faith. If one wishes to, as we are commanded, spread the faith throughout the world, we must endeavor to conduct our lives as if our faith were real.

Or, at least, that's how it appears to me, and this one I talk to regularly, who claims to be my God.

akaGaGa said...

This is one of those issues that seems to go around and around. The only thing I would add to the mix is from James' statement:

"Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?"

This wouldn't be your typical "good works" as we normally define it today. As far as we know, it wasn't even witnessed by anybody but God and Isaac.

So I guess I'm saying we shouldn't limit works to visible help-your-neighbor stuff. I know a lot of the things that I have been tested on - particularly the tough ones - have been invisible to anyone else.