While reading the Bible today, I came across James 2:24. This is a sticky verse and no doubt, the verse that has caused some Christians to rip the book out of their Bible completely. It says:
“You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”
But in Galatians 2:16, the Apostle Paul writes,
“…we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”
At first glance, those verses seem to be in opposition with each other, huh? But I believe that the book of James is in the Bible for a reason and when you take James 2:24 in context, you can see where James is coming from and what he is getting at.
The verse is very pragmatic. It doesn’t deal with the spirituality mumbo jumbo that floats around in the air and never comes to fruition in something tangible. What James is saying is that if you say you have faith, and yet that faith doesn’t affect you at all or cause/motivate you to do anything differently (things contrary to human nature, like thinking for others, being merciful, generous, kind, and honest), then your faith is pointless, useless, and essentially dead.
I think of Galatians 5:6–
“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.”
So our actions don’t justify us but they aren’t unnecessary either. Faith + Works does not equal Salvation. However, Faith does equal Salvation + Works. A true faith will result in works, which is what I think James is getting at. He uses the example of Abraham and his son Isaac–Abraham had to do the WORK of almost sacrificing his son but the action was motivated by and done in FAITH. Abraham could have just said “C’mon God, You know everything. You can see my heart. You know if I have faith or not. Isn’t that enough?” But he didn’t say that. He obeyed God in faith. He tied his son up, put him on top of the altar and wood, and raised his hand to kill him. God stopped him just in time because Abraham had proved through his works that he had faith.
As I have been questioning the practical implications of faith for the past several months, these verses were very interesting to me. I see here that faith alone doesn’t change anything practically. I can’t just think good thoughts and hope (cross my fingers) that things turn out how I want them to. That isn’t faith. That’s just wishful thinking, which has no power whatsoever. But when my faith is working in me, it leads me to do something, to engage with the Truth and let it influence and change my behavior and outlook.
For example, if I am anxious about something and I read Romans 8:28, nothing happens unless I 1) choose to believe that the verse is true and 2) choose to bank my hope on that promise. When I let that verse change my outlook, it is faith at work. It is easy to say “Ah, everything will work out.” That’s pretty much just crossing my fingers and hoping that the cosmic forces of the universe will align all circumstances to my favor (and how likely is that?)
Banking on God’s promises is different than wishful thinking. Why?
1) Because God is real. God IS reality. Nothing and no one is more real than He is.
2) Because God loves His creation and His people. He pays attention to every little detail of my life.
Why do those 2 points change things?
1) That God is real means that there is an eternal being who is sovereign, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. If God isn’t real, then there is nothing controlling this universe and frankly, that scares the $#&* out of me.
2) That God loves me (Romans 8:37-39) means that all of His promises are true–they all find their Yes in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20). I wouldn’t want to bank everything on a God who didn’t love me or made me earn his love. But God tangibly demonstrated His love for me through Christ’s death on the cross. Romans 8:32 says:
“He who did not spare His own son, but offered him up for us all, how will He not also with him graciously give us all things?”
Since God has already sacrificed the hardest and most precious thing for us, why would He withhold anything else?
So then, faith is taking those truths and LIVING THEM. When I truly understood in 2004 that God is real and that He loves me, my whole paradigm shifted. As a sinful human being, I (obviously) must remind myself of these truths every day and CHOOSE to let them change me. As I am transformed by the renewal of my mind through God’s Word and prayer, I become less and less conformed to this world and more and more conformed to my Savior.