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  • Writer's pictureAllison Wilcox

Faith without works

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.

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. ~ James 2:1-17

I have a bone to pick with Martin Luther. He wasn't a fan of James, and especially didn't like anything that sounded as if it was contrary to "justification by faith alone."

But here's the thing. What James is saying here - that faith without works is dead - isn't the opposite of the Apostle Paul's claim that we are saved by grace.

Instead, it is a picture of the truth about how faith plays out. What kind of faith is it that piously prays to God or just shows up on Sunday, but then turns a back toward a neighbor in need or forgets the sending part of worship (Go in peace, serve the Lord) which calls us to live out our faith each and every day?

Is it a living faith? Is it an active faith?

By its very nature, faith is movement. It is like that living water that Jesus used to describe himself. It bubbles up naturally. Maybe not effortlessly - because, well, we are human and are prone to mess up from time to time - but it not a static thing that just stays with us. It isn't ours alone to keep hidden under a bushel, to use on of Jesus' metaphors.

Faith is taking that light out from under the bushel. Faith is the thing that others see in us that lets them know who we are and who we serve.

Faith is meant to be alive, which, sorry Martin - I think James got right.

Holy God, you have made me righteous and give me the faith to serve you. Help my faith to live. Amen

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