Thursday, November 3, 2011

What is Faith? - James 2:14-26

14 What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works?  Can faith save him?
15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food,
16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?
17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.
18 But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”
19 You believe that God is one.  You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.
20 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?
21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the alter?
22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected;
23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,” and he was called the friend of God.
24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.
25 In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?
26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

What is Faith?

While trying to outline this passage, it became abundantly clear to me that the Biblical concept of faith is much more complex than how we generally use the word in English…we tend to think of faith as being synonymous with belief.  So, I did some digging.

In Greek (the original language of the New Testament), the word for faith is πίστις, pistis, meaning: moral conviction, abstract constancy in such profession, assurance, belief, faith, fidelity.  You see, it is not merely belief – as James sarcastically points out in verse 19, even the demons believe – but rather belief followed by action.  Remember, it includes fidelity (loyalty) and constancy (believing it’s true all the time in all circumstances).  Those two factors are more related to what we do than to what we think.  NOTE: faith is not faith + action, faith is belief + action.

Interrelatedness and Inseparability

Now, let’s do some basic algebra here.
You have your basic equation faith = belief + action.
Some people think that faith without action (or “works”) is just a lesser degree of faith.  This could not be further from the truth!  If you subtract action from the equation, you get faith – action = belief.  This is NOT faith – action = 0.5faith!
You see, faith – action does not equal (any amount of) faith!

So, what does this mean for us?  Does it mean we are saved by acts or works!  Not at all – or, may it never be, as Paul says!  Just check our previous studies on Galatians to see that our works cannot possibly “earn” us salvation.  (I want to really emphasize that I am not preaching a gospel of salvation through works here!)
But, no Christian will contest that we are “saved by grace through faith.”  And since faith is belief plus action, this means that we are saved by believing something so fully that we live it.  Faith means believing something with not just your mind, but with every fiber of your being – believing it with your time, with your wallet, with your interactions with people.

Why is this so important?
1.      Hebrews 11:6 “Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”
NOTE HERE - English translations put the word “believe” in the second half of this verse because we don’t have an English verb form for faith.  The Greek word is pisteuo, the verb form of pistis…it is the exact same word.  Also, the word seek is ἐκζητέω, eczatao, meaning craving put into pursuit.  In other words, this verse would read:
“Without (belief+action) it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must (belief+action) that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who (craving into pursuit) Him.”
2.      Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
What this is saying is that (belief+action) proves that we really believe what we say we believe because we’re willing to stake our lives on it.  I see this applying itself in three ways:
a.       Faith shows God that we actually believe in Him.  I mean, it’s not like he doesn’t know if we really do or do not believe, but faith is His only standard for salvation.
b.      Faith shows us that we are really believed.  I strongly believe that when God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, God wasn’t “testing” Abraham for God’s sake – it was for Abe’s sake.  It was to show Abraham how strong his faith really was.  Many questions I know buy into the devil’s lies and start the question their salvation – but the fact of the matter is, if you can still feel God’s Holy Spirit prompting you to step out in faith and actually do things that reflect your belief, that’s His assurance that yes, you are one of His children!
c.       Faith is proof to others that Christianity is something so powerful that it really does change people’s lives – so it “might” be worth their time to look into.  I believe this is what James was referring to in verses 15-16 of today’s passage.  Consider that if some unsaved friend of ours, let’s call her Sally, hears us say that we’re saved and a new creation, yet we still tell “little white lies” and remain materialistic, etc., will she think God is real?  No!  But, if Sally sees us go out of our way to be kind to others, put up with ridicule for our faith, and base our life goals and plans on God’s will, of course Sally will see that there is something supernaturally different about us now.  Us having actual faith leads others to Christ.

Now, one more point.  I’m sure you’ve all heard Romans 10:9 “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”  What does Lord mean?  It means He’s your ruler – He’s in charge.  Faith in Him means he is in charge – that His will dictates your actions. 

Salvation is a free gift of God’s mercy and grace, and we can never earn it through good works.  But, in real faith – in the saving faith – belief and action go together, they’re inseperable.
Our actions don’t save us…but these acts always, automatically stem from a true, saving faith.

That’s a paradox we’ll all have to wrap our minds around this week.

Any thoughts?

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