- Mark Janzen
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2: 14-17 14 )
If you are a Christian and you are familiar with the New Testament, you will find the recurring theme that we as Christians are saved by faith alone. Not faith in just anything, but faith in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross that our sin might be paid for, who rose from the dead so we might have life with Him in His kingdom.
There is nothing about us that makes us worthy of salvation, and there is nothing we can do to save ourselves. We are not pure enough to enter God's presence; we are not powerful enough to overcome Satan; we are not wealthy enough to pay for our sin. There is nothing that we can do to make our citizenship in God's kingdom a reality. Our only hope is Jesus and His perfect work on the cross. His death paid for our sin, and His resurrection offers us life with Him. If we repent, and by faith, believe in Jesus, we are members of His kingdom. No matter how good, none of our works can buy us a seat at the table of Jesus. We are saved by faith alone in Jesus alone.
To the Jewish audience this passage in James was written, this message of salvation by faith alone was good news! The Old Testament law, with all its rules and regulations, offerings and sacrifices, had been an exercise in futility and a source of exhaustion for these Jews as they could never attain the perfection the law required. The Old Testament law of God showed these Jewish people that they could never be good enough for God. They could never do what needed to be done. So, this message of salvation by faith alone, apart from their own efforts, apart from their own works, was a message of relief for them.
However, they took this message of "salvation by faith alone" and decided that it no longer matter how they lived. If salvation was by faith alone, then it should not matter what I do or how I do it, right? If I only need to believe by faith that Jesus is Lord and that He paid for my sin, then I am saved, and the way that I live my life doesn't matter, right? If nothing I do contributed to my salvation, then what I do doesn't matter, does it?
Wrong. James reminds them that they are saved by faith alone, but it is not a faith that is alone. It is a faith accompanied by works, or efforts, demonstrating that your faith in Jesus has changed your life. Saving faith changes who we are and how we live. Saving faith does not leave us as we were. The proof of saving faith is a life full of works that demonstrate that faith.
The life we live on this earth is a wonderful opportunity for us to show that our faith in Jesus is a faith of substance and true. Our works ought to demonstrate the truth of the gospel because we believe it from the very core. We give of our time and efforts and resources for the good of others because Jesus came to earth to give all that He had for us. We do the things Jesus has called us to do because we believe that He is real, and we believe by faith that He has given all of Himself for us, that we might have life with Him. This realization, by faith, makes us act and live a certain way.
As Christians who live by faith, we give of our money to those in need because by faith, we know that we have eternal riches, wealth beyond measure. Knowing this, by faith, changes us into generous people.
We give of our time because, by faith, we know that we have life eternal, time never-ending, so we are generous with the time we are given here on earth for others to see a glimpse of what Jesus is like. We know that through faith, by grace, God has given us time eternal, so spending our earthly time for the good of the eternity of others is so much easier.
As Christians, we give up our desire for reputation here on this earth, knowing that we have been given a place in God's royal kingdom, a reputation of purity and righteousness, even when we do not deserve it. So our desire for an earthly reputation fades when we realize that we are children of the one true King, Jesus Christ. Faith in Jesus changes everything about us.
We are saved by faith alone, but it is a faith that changes how we live. The more we know Jesus, the more we will love Him, and the more we will want to be like Him, so that, through us, God's people, this world can see the greatness of Jesus and His love for His people.