2006-12-21 - Faith and Works
James 2:17, "In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead."
The dreaded James 2 verse that people always quote to "prove" that perseverance of the saints is a false doctrine and that believers can, ultimately, end up losing their salvation. How awful it must be to live under the shadow of not having assurance of faith. Let us glance into this often-quoted verse today.
The first thing to consider is that if you are a Christian, resting alone in Christ's sacrifice for your sin, and putting all your hope in the efficacious nature of His atonement, then God has a right to your obedience and service. If Christ is your Savior, then He is also Lord of your life. No one will deny that there will be times of struggle, even dark moments of the soul, but at the end of the day (or struggle), Jesus Christ is Lord of your life, or He is not your savior. The modern author John R. De Witt puts it rather simply, "Christ is either both Saviour and Lord, or he is neither Saviour nor Lord."
With this in mind let us consider that what James has in mind here in this verse is that while faith saves, it is a certain kind of faith that saves. James is saying that no one is saved by persuading himself/herself that they are saved. Salvation is not about a set form of words that was once said when we were six years old, or 34 years old. It is not about relying on some scheme saying the right thing to God that will unlock the door to eternal blessedness. Salvation is about faith. It is about life-changing faith in Jesus Christ that relies not on some action we have done in time but foundationally upon the work of Christ, and also in our participation in that work through faith resulting in our justification before God, but visibly in our vivification and sanctification.
Faith that saves is not historical faith in something we have done in time. It is not something that if we believe all the right facts about Jesus we are part of the club. The devils believe all the facts of God's revelation. They are believers, experientially, without a doubt because they experience God's wrath upon them. But they are not saved. They know God's righteousness, and His sovereignty, but they are not believers in a saving manner. Their faith produces no works. It is not a saving faith.
True faith effects us in the core of our being. True faith goes deep into the reaches of who we are and has its home in our soul. Someone who loves sin, thinks little of sin, or sins freely without a second thought as though it were a small matter cannot have a true grounded faith residing in their hearts. True faith brings forth fruits in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8). Have we brought forth such fruit? It is a foolish consideration to think that a Christian could live in such a way that nobody knew they were a Christian. Our lives evidence who we are and what we believe. A believer is not perfect, but it is the goal and direction of the believer to be moving toward being perfect and more like Christ.
It is true that faith without works is dead. But we must distinguish what kind of faith we are referencing. Everyone has faith. Even someone who denies they have faith still has faith that their position of non-faith is true, which is faith. The true Christian, as evidenced in Scripture all over (Galatians 5:22-25 Fruits of the Spirit, for example), tells us that Christians live a certain way and that way is distinctive. James 2:17 is not a proof text about losing your salvation and does not deny the perseverance of the saints. It simply is a warning to us to be sure that our faith is really grounded in the Lord Jesus Christ, and if it is, certainly we will seek to live in a manner of such a high calling as Children of God.
Soli Deo Gloria,