Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Not Faith + Works but Faith that Works.

The book of James practically and faithfully reminds Christians how to live authentically and wisely for Christ. In its five small chapters, It has over fifty commands.

Luther wants called the book of James an “epistle of straw”. He did not like the book of James when he first read it because in his opinion there was too much emphasize on works and not enough emphasis on what Jesus has already done. He thought it was devoid of the gospel but he eventually saw that he indeed was mistaken.

Like Luther, we often have this response also. At first read it may appear that James’ view on faith is contradictory to Paul’s, but with careful study, it is clear that they the spiritual fruit that James talks about simply demonstrates the true faith of which Paul wrote. Their writings are not  contradictory but rather complementary.

God wants us to be free. That is why Jesus came. When reading through James we must be careful how we read it so that we do not mis read it and miss what James has to say and offer us.
The gospel is the foundation on which we are to understand the book of James and the bible. If we do not understand the gospel, everything we learn will turn us into self-righteous pharisees which will eventually lead us to pride, or despair. We will either become a legalistic pharisee or we will become gospel soaked lovers of Jesus.

There are two ways to approach James. (And notice the verb tenses.)We can either approach James with the mindset that:

I’m obligated to live this way so that God will love me.
I’m free to live this way because God has already loved me.

You are either motivated by legalism to obedience or you are fueled by the gospel to obedience. Thats it, there is no in between.

I’m obligated to live this way so that God will love me.
Unfortunately in many churches today, the Gospel of Christ is assumed and we are taught morality and ‘do this’ and ‘don’t do that’. We are taught a moralistic therapeutic deism, where we try harder to be better, and told to pick ourselves up from our bootstraps, Jesus is our life coach and moral example, and guide to a healthy, good works, moral and happy life. We leave the sunday morning motivated to try harder, and to perform better. Therefore when we approach God our mindset becomes ‘I do good things IN ORDER to gain Gods love and favor.’ So we work really really hard, to be moral and good people, so that God will bless us. The result is we either do well in our performance, and then are puffed up with pride, or we are defeated, and we fall into despair. This is how it works. When things crash and the world hits us, we question Gods goodness and character entirely based on our misunderstandings and poor interpretations. We let our circumstances dictate our passion. This leads to guilt-driven obedience. It is a life of shame, and condemnation. We see the gospel as “Do” and use our good works as a means to salvation. The common interpretation of James is Faith + Works = Salvation. This is wrong.

I’m free to live this way because God has already loved me.
But if we interpret the book of James through the lens of the Gospel we learn the Its not Faith + Works but rather Faith that Works.The gospel says that I do good things because God has already loved me. God came in Jesus through the Gospel not to just set non-Christians free from the penalty of sin, but to set Christians free from the power of sin. The Gospel is our motivation in our obedience to God. We don’t do good works in order to gain his love and acceptance, but we do good works because Christ has already gained infinite love and acceptance on our behalf. We are free to be harsh with sin because we know the cost that Jesus, our savior (not our life coach) paid. We understand our wretched, wicked and corrupt state and that God has done something in Christ to save us. We understand that Christ has done something totally radical, and counter intuitive to every performance driven impulse of our heart. He has actually done the work. It is finished. Therefore good works are not a means to salvation, good works are the fruit of salvation. In a thankful and appreciation to what he has done, we respond. Those who have saving faith, have been given a new heart, and are being regenerated into the likeness of Christ. It is impossible to have saving faith and not do good works. That what James means when he says “faith without works is dead” he isn’t saying that Faith + Works. He is saying Faith that Works. Faith alone saves, but the faith that saves is never alone.

When we read the bible it must be interpreted through the lens of the Gospel because believe it or not, the bible is not about you. Its about Jesus.

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