Point of Reference
by Fred Price
James asks, “...do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness, and he was called God’s friend.’ You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by his faith alone.” James 2:21-24 Is this a contradiction of Paul’s stand on grace? Absolutely not! James would concur that grace is free, unmerited, and unearned; salvation can’t be bought. But our salvation is sealed, cemented, made alive and profitable when it is driven by a loving, caring attitude which is expressed in obedience to God’s will. (See 1 John 3:18) It’s not a contradiction of Paul’s ideal but the culmination of a process, two threads of thought that end up in complete truth! “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 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’s not accompanied by action, is dead. But some will say, ‘You have faith, I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” ( James 2:14-18)
John, known as the Apostle of Love, goes so far as to question the reality of God’s love indwelling us if we don’t produce fruit in and of the Spirit. (See also Matthew 7:16-20, John 15:1,2, Galatians 5:22) Questioning, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” 1 John 3:17 We are further instructed to have the same mind or attitude as Christ ( Philippians 2:5); who told his followers “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you . Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve,…” ( Matthew 20:25-28) And, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” Promising that, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” ( John 13:15,17 – see also John 14:15 & 15:10) Paul summing up the ideals of grace and works with, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself …” Galatians 5:6
Salvation is indeed freely given – yet it cost Jesus his all. Realizing we can’t repay him, we must however attempt to pass it on in gratitude, sharing our good fortune with others. If I’ve been given food, clothing and shelter yet fail to share with others; the only reasonable conclusion would be that I don’t care! How gracious will God view this? How generous will God then be toward us? How beneficial is faith in God’s goodness and ability if it isn’t responded to faithfully? Hebrews 11is known as the faith chapter, citing examples of men renowned for their faith and faithfulness. How noteworthy would these men of faith be if their faith hadn’t led them to action?
John pointedly states that, “We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” 1 John 4:19-21 He goes on to define the expression of our love for God as obedience to His commands – our faithfulness to God gaining us victory over self-centeredness; which is the essence of sin. ( 1 John 5:1-5) Finally he describes love in action. “This is how we know what love is – Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives (or at least live our lives) for our brothers.” 1 John 3:16 Jesus spoke similarly to his disciples when He commanded “Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last. Then the father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other.” ( John 15:12-17)
Faith and faithfulness is not a new concept. John the Baptist preached, among other things, the need to, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” Luke 3:8 Jesus declaring that, “By their fruit you will recognize them.” Matthew 7:16 & 20 While likening his followers to fruit-bearing trees, he also noted that, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” Matthew 7:19 In fact, Paul acknowledges that, “...we are God’s workmanship, (by grace, through faith) created in Christ Jesus to do good works , which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10 (See also 2 Timothy 2:15) He also lists the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22 as being love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”; heartfelt emotions that lead to productive lives.
We are expected to be active practitioners of our faith – indeed it is demanded in both Testaments, with both reward and punishment promised according to our response. ( Romans 2:6) In fact, properly understood, the much-maligned high expectations of the Law could be, and often were, considered a joyous opportunity to do something positive for God; not a burden.1The parable of the separation of the sheep and goats, where one group is promised heaven, the other warned of hell based on their response to the needs of the less fortunate around them, is indicative of the importance of this expectation. Jesus noting that in its simplest form, the requirements of the gospel are merely belief ( John 6:29), yet in this instance listing the practical results of a legitimate faith. For, “...whatever you did (or didn’t do) for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” ( Matthew 25:31-34)
1Ann Spangler – Lois Tverberg, Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus, Zondervan Publishing – Subtitled, How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith
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Fred Price - married (50 years), father of two grown children, grandfather of six.
Fred retired earlier this year after 42 years as a factory worker. He has always had a heart for young people and the challenges they face today. Over the years Fred has taught Discipleship Groups for High School and college students.
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