Faith without Works?
By Austin Donahoo
As Christians we sometimes set faith and works in opposition. Churches sometimes set personal conversion and the broader cooperate and social implications of the gospel in opposition. But biblical teaching holds these things together. Salvation comes as a free gift of God's regenerating grace, but this grace always and inevitably transforms believers into those who love God and neighbor. James Boccardo spoke on this theme last Sunday as he preached from James 1:16-27.
The Lord’s Renewal of His People
James is a book that is filled with advice to Jewish Christians, who appear to be turning away from the “Word of Truth." James extends great warnings and wisdom to explain the signs of a person who has been renewed unto life and is looking to the ultimate day of salvation. James Boccardo reminded us during his sermon that it is necessary to reflect on the specific gift God gives that is described a “good gift." James 1:18 states about God’s gift, “Of this own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures.” (ESV) This text was a reminder to those who are already Christians that God brings regeneration and life, not evil desires that lead to death. The main point of James' sermon was the truth that this good gift results itself in good works done by the one who is made alive in Christ.
The Actions of the Believer
While preaching, James focused on the idea that believers who are genuinely saved through faith produce specific actions in their lives. While he presented many examples from James 1:16-27, I think it would be beneficial to address specifically the actions of receiving the Word of Truth and the way it leads those in Christ to obey his law of liberty.
First, v. 18 proclaims about Christ, “he brought us forth by the word of truth…” This can easily be overlooked, but we cannot miss the amazing reality presented here. Christ, by his own work, brings forth his people to be new creatures. These new beings in the Lord do not simply receive a ticket to paradise and are left to live their lives according to their own desires and wishes. Rather, they are called to live according to the law of liberty that is discussed in v. 25. This law allows us to persevere in the way of God and not be thrown about by the vacillations of the world, because it is the law of love that calls us to seek God’s will and the good of neighbor first. As James stated in his sermon on Sunday, the law of liberty means a variety of transformative changes in our lives when we adhere to it by the power of the Gospel.
The law of liberty in Christ that fleshes itself out in love for God and neighbor brings itself forth in different ways. On Sunday, James discussed that it shows itself in slowness to anger (v. 19), the removal of all wickedness (v. 21), and a life of action in addition to speech (v. 22). Lastly, the book of James states, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction.” (1:27). Not only does the regeneration of God work itself in personal holiness and devotion to God, but also to the extension of mercy to the broken and the needy. Neither holiness nor a heart for others is an accessory to the Christian life; they are necessary components of the evidence that the Spirit is residing within us.
Reflection and Application
I would urge everyone who takes the time to read this to examine their lives for the evidence of good works, and, as James stated on Sunday, reflect deeply into whether or not your life shows a regenerate heart. If not, there is no need for despair. Give your life to the Savior, Jesus Christ, proclaim his Lordship over your life, and by rest in his finished work on the cross of Calvary.
If you are a Christian, I would urge you to have a consistent time of reflection into the evidences of faith in your life. Make sure you are striving for holiness in all aspects of your life and make sure you have individuals around you who will use the Word of Truth to correct you when needed. Lastly, I would exhort you to seek ways to live in the law of liberty by serving those around you in need of God’s grace and mercy. These are true testimonies to the living faith that is within us.
Austin Donahoo is a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary pursuing a Master of Divinity. He has a B.A. in Christian Ministry from North Greenville University. Austin is from Greer, SC, and his passions include reading, discipleship, and Christian Community Development.