Tag Archives: Faith without works

No works? No faith

Reading
James 2.1–17

 

(Re Hebrews 11.1:) …by means of pistis [faith], the true people of God are willing to act decisively in the visible world not for reasons that are immediately apparent but because an unseen yet even more genuine underlying substance (hypostasis), God’s reality, compels the action. This willingness to act on the deeper, truer, but nonetheless hidden reality is ‘faith’ for the author of Hebrews. — Matthew W Bates, Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King, Kindle Ed’n, p.19.

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Faith without works is dead.

A while ago, I was listening to a friend of mine. She was talking about someone she knows, someone who had given up on her Christian faith.

My friend found some consolation by reminding herself that years ago, her friend had once accepted Jesus as her Saviour. That never goes away, right? Once you do that, you’re going to heaven whatever happens, yes? 

That’s a very common idea. It’s what I was taught when I started my Christian walk, at the age of fourteen. You pray a prayer in which you confess you’re a sinner and you accept Jesus into your heart. And when you die, you go to heaven.

And if you ever fall away, that doesn’t matter because Jesus is in your heart. 

Millions of people believe it, but it’s hardly in the bible at all. What is there is some awkward bloke called James who has the hide to say

Faith without works is dead.

The great Reformer Martin Luther didn’t like the Letter of James. He called it ‘an epistle of straw’. When he translated the bible into German, he put James right at the very end. After Revelation. James annoyed him so much that if he could, he would have deleted it from the New Testament.

Luther didn’t like James because he found the centre of his theology in the Apostle Paul. Paul wrote

…we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. (Galatians 2.16)

When Martin Luther read Paul, he saw that faith in Jesus Christ saves us, and not works. James seemed to be saying the opposite:

Faith without works is dead.

Who was right? Paul or James?

Did James think Paul was wrong? I would say this: James did think Paul was wrong, but the version of Paul that James knew was a distorted one.

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‘Just believing’ is not enough—Sunday 22, Year B (9 September 2012)

Readings
James 2.1-17
Mark 7.24-37

Scotland is a lovely country. I was visiting there about fifteen years ago, and I went on the West Highland railway line to a town called Oban, where some of my ancestors came from. From there I boarded a ferry and eventually spent a brief 24 hours on the tiny island of Iona. That’s the spiritual home of the Iona Community, whose songs we often sing. Iona is a stunningly beautiful place. I loved walking around, seeing where the ancient kings of Scotland were buried, walking through the Abbey with its altar of green marble, a rock which is found only there. It was June (remember, that’s summer over there!) and even the weather was absolutely glorious—well, it did rain a little bit; but after all, it is Scotland.

When twilight was falling, I went to the Abbey chapel for evening prayer. I was looking forward a quiet prayerful service in this medieval chapel, the perfect end to a perfect day.

I took my seat in the dimly-lit church. Not long now.

I waited (the service seemed to be a bit late starting). 

So I took the opportunity to pray. As you do.

I started to feel quite peaceful. Just waiting. Continue reading

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