How does your faith impact your life? How does it inform your decisions? Guide your actions? Transform your behaviors? Adjust your attitudes? The intersection of faith and practice is a major message in Scripture. We are to “live out our faith” and not simply offer it lip service. James states it boldly and clearly when he says, “faith without deeds is dead” (James 2:26). What James is saying is a faith with no works is useless, ineffectual, and essentially lifeless. Our life’s works and actions must “prove” our faith in the sense that we practice what we preach, and behave in accordance with our beliefs. Does our conduct match our convictions?
So as I think about this today and each day, I must ask myself “am I living for Jesus, and am I living like Jesus?” As I ponder this question, I think it is helpful to be more specific and ask more focused questions:
- Does my life reflect Jesus well?
- Does my thought life honor Christ?
- Do my words and speech represent Jesus?
- Do my attitudes mirror those of Jesus?
- Does my behavior and lifestyle point people to Jesus?
- Do my decisions, money practices, and relationships remind people of Jesus?
In other words, do the “works” and “deeds” of my life prove my faith? Or, is my faith dead?
Some have postulated that Paul and James were in conflict. After all, Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-9 that it is by faith we are saved, and not by works. James states that faith without works is dead. So which is it? Is it faith alone without works? Or, is faith only living faith with works? In reality, it is both. Paul is focusing on a legalism where people thought they could earn eternal life. Clearly, the Bible says we can only come to Christ by faith in Him and in what He has done on the Cross. But…he does say clearly in vs 10 that “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” So Paul’s message is that we are not saved by good works but saved to do good works. And that is the very idea James is promoting when He says that your faith in Christ must propel you and compel you to do good works as you serve God and others and fulfill your life mission.
Martin Luther summarized it succinctly when he stated “it is faith alone that saves, but the faith that saves is never alone.” We are saved by faith in Christ alone. But once we are saved we need to get busy living for Him and living to honor Him. We must do good works and thus prove our faith as James would say. Whereas Paul was concerned with legalism, James was concerned by laxity or neglect in living out our faith in a real and devoted way. For James, it was never about easy believism. It was always about devoted discipleship—practice what you preach! So both Paul and James are correct. And for us, we must live daily in gratitude for what Christ did for us on the Cross, but then get to work in serving Him and others proving that our faith is real and our convictions are true.