Faith and Works
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. ~ James 2:14-18
I thought it might be nice on this Reformation Day to hear from one of the readings Martin Luther wrestled with - one that still mixes up many a Lutheran two millennia later. We often still get tangled up in the debate about faith vs. works as if they are two completely unrelated ideas.
Luther himself was at best ambivalent about the epistle of James, and this passage is perhaps partially why. Luther certainly favored Paul's strong assertions of faith being that which justifies (saves us).
And yet, if we read James closely, there is no rebuttal of the importance of faith. Instead, perhaps the word that should spring to mind as we read James is "integrity." One of the definitions of integrity is "the state of being whole or undivided." So James then seems to really be alluding that faith and works together make the whole person.
When we think of faith as simply "belief" or "the state of believing," then it seems to be something of an intellectual exercise. Believing the right things is often the litmus test for some faith communities.
Yet when we think of faith as trust or confidence, then something else happens. When you trust someone, or have confidence in their love for you, what happens? Do you return that love? Does it show? Doesn't trusting someone wholly and completely lead that trust and love to just bubble out of you?
When we act on our trust or our love or our faith with actions that demonstrate them, we are said to act with integrity. We are showing that we are whole and complete - actions springing from who we really are. If who we are is someone who trust God, then that's going to show.
God wants wholeness for us. Integrity is a way we can see that wholeness in others and the way we can show that wholeness in ourselves.
Faith and works springing from each other in an endless dance of relationship with God.
Faithful God, help me to live a life of integrity so that all may know my complete trust in you. Amen.