Works and faith, you can’t have one without the other. Not quite as catchy as ‘Love and Marriage’ but the concept is the same and perhaps more fundamentally true. Marriage is the public visible expression of love while works are the public visible expression of faith.
Faith made manifest in Works
The second chapter of James is an excellent study in works and faith. My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others? James 2:1 (NLT). I could write an entire article on favoring one group of people over another (and I have) but that is not the point being made here. The concept is that faith driven works are as much attitude as action.
Photo By Tatoli ba Kultura
Racism, sexism, homophobia; these are some of the most obvious examples of favoring one group over another. The truth is we tend to put people into groups and align ourselves within one or more of those groups. It is not a new concept. Many years ago people banded together into tribes, tribes grew into countries. Most countries however have divided themselves into a multitude of groups. Very often those groups divide themselves even further. Sometimes with disastrous results.
I am not trying to say preferring one group over another is a bad thing. It is a normal, natural part of life. The error creeps in when you start to believe your group is better than another. Or worse, when you think another group is inferior.
James uses the example of a rich man and a poor man. People have long believed the wealthy have worked hard and deserved their wealth and the respect that went along with it. And there is also the idea helping the wealthy will somehow benefit us, that we could have the scraps from the rich man’s table. Our idea of the poor is very often the opposite. We see them as lazy and a drag on society. The best example in recent times is the ‘makers and takers’ rhetoric of the political right.
Thoughts and emotions dictate what we do
You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’[j] 28 But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:27-28 (NLT)
Just as sin originates in our heart so do our works. We can go to church every Sunday, volunteer at the mission, organize food drives but if we do all these things to make ourselves feel better or because we are ‘supposed to’ then we are missing the point. Works are not what we do but how we feel. We should go to church because we want to worship with other like-minded believers, volunteer at the mission because people there need help and organize food drives because people are hungry.
But even if we do these things for the right reasons if we have prejudice in our hearts then our faith is still not perfect. Do we fear the immigrant and support the building of a wall? How can we say to Latin Americans, “Jesus loves you and wants you to be a part of the Kingdom of God! Now get out of America”. The same question can be asked about Muslims and gays. What is the difference between telling a poor person to sit on the floor or to tell someone to get out of our country.
If we have faith then we will realize that all people need and deserve the love of God. And Gods love comes through us from our faith. Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” Matthew 9:13 (NLT)