James 2:22-23 – You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness” – and he was called a friend of God.
I was mowing the yard last night and got to thinking about the relationship between faith and works. One thing you have to know about my yard – parts of it are dying and there are weeds growing throughout. To keep my yard healthy I have to spend a considerable amount of time tending it (not saying that’s what I do, but you get the picture). It’s not enough to say, “I now have a yard and it looks good, so I think I’ll quit while I’m ahead.” There is, necessarily, weekly maintenance involved or else it grows out of control and weeds begin to take over.
The same can be said of our spiritual lives. Once we have been saved, it’s not enough to “coast into heaven.” Faith, not accompanied by works, is not the kind of faith the Bible describes and commends. James says in the verse above that our faith should be active along with our works and that our works even complete our faith. (A quick side note so no one gets confused…notice James also says that Abraham believed God and it was his belief that counted him righteous before God, not his works. But again, his works proved his faith).
I mentioned a quote in the last post by Dallas Willard, “Grace is opposed to earning, but not effort.” This is where the two concepts – faith and works – are linked together, grace. By God’s grace we are able to believe (Eph 2:8-9) and by His grace we are able to work. Never separate your faith from your works. If justification is a declaration of God about us, sanctification is a work of God in us and through us. The Bible tells us in Philippians 2 to obey and to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” And if we stop there we might be fooled into thinking works play a role in salvation, but the next verse is key. It says, “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”
Grace is the link. We are given the grace to try and we are given the grace to fail. But if we don’t try, our very faith may be proven futile in the end. Jesus said they will know us by our fruits. The key is to understanding that the fruit is definitely produced by Jesus, but it’s done in accordance with our efforts. Like my yard, if left to itself it will begin to die and be overgrown with weeds. My yard won’t take care of itself. Likewise, once we are saved Jesus doesn’t just take over our bodies and do the work for us. If we leave our spiritual lives on cruise control, we may end up in a ditch! In the original verse from James he says that Abraham believed God, it was counted to him as righteousness and he was called a friend of God. What is the proof that we are friends of God? John 15:4 – You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.
Listen to the words of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 9 and ask yourself if he sounds like a wimpy Christian or one who is actively efforting, via grace of course, in his spiritual journey.
Do you not know that in a race all runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. ~ 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
This coming from the guy who also said, “I do the things I don’t want to do and I don’t do the things I want to do.”
Grace is opposed to earning, but not effort. There is grace to try and there is grace to fail. Always try hard; Always fall on grace.