Musings, Nits, and Praises: Faith and Works

Musings, Nits, and Praises

A farrago of all things deemed blog-worthy by a music-loving, poetry-writing, humor-seeking English teacher

Faith and Works

Since I've been teaching/facilitating the interactive class on James at BOCC, I've been forced to examine James's teachings closely, and I've found them more convicting than ever. Much of our class discussion has centered on James's well known passage on faith and works in Chapter 2. Of course, reactions to the passage have been quite dichotomous over the centuries, ranging from Luther's rejection of the entire book based on what he viewed as "salvation by works" in contrast to Paul's teachings, to the conservative CoC interpretation that replaces James's illustrations of faithful acts with worship traditions or the 5-step plan to salvation. Rather than attempting to provide a comparative analysis of James 2 and Romans 4:1, I'll simply say that it's clear that when Paul writes that Abraham was considered righteous by his faith and not by works, the "works" he speaks of are matters of Jewish laws and traditions that Jewish Christians were trying to impose upon their Gentile brothers (see Ch. 3). Just as James asserts that faith (defined as mental assent) must manifest itself in our actions in order for us to be genuinely faithful, Paul defines faith in the same way--Col. 3 and Galatians 5:22 are a few examples.

Okay, I'll find get to the point I want to make. In our class discussions, some people have rejected the notion that what James says regarding the co-working of belief and deeds is a "salvation issue," interpretating it as James saying, "Now that you are already saved, here's how you ought to be living." While I agree James intends to convey such an idea, it's unwise to diminish the significance of our faith manifested in our actions. To do so is to ignore Christ's teachings in Matthew 7:21 and 25:31-46. I think some people are wary of suggesting we earn our salvation through meritous deeds, and understandably so as it contradicts scripture and negates the necessity of Christ's sacrifice. However, if we are "saved by grace through faith" (and I readily admit there's plenty of mystery in how God's grace covers us), and faith is belief in action, then James is indeed discussing a salvation issue. Again, we do not earn our salvation, we respond to God's grace through our demonstration of faith, a faith that must be accompanied by action. I'd like to hear others' thoughts on the matter.

4 Responses to “Faith and Works”

  1. # Blogger Malibu Librarian

    I completely agree with you. I find it hilarious to see Christians, many of whom take other passages quite literally, backtrack or downright rationalize passages in scripture that they'd rather ignore. How can we divide ourselves from other Christians by narrowly interpreting some passages and then treat others with such disregard (well, that's not what the writer REALLY meant...oh really?)

    Relating this discussion to the COC's, however, I'd say a lot of this is due to our fellowship's increasingly level of comfort with mainstream evangelicalism (which is far more often Calvinistic). We just can't find within ourselves anything nice to say about those darn Catholics, even though (I believe) there's more often more good to be said about them than their evangelical counterparts.  

  2. # Blogger Jason

    Watering down the significance of James's statements (and other hard truths in scripture) or just contorting them to meet our presuppositions is the equivalent of some extreme reader response techniques in literary study, and it reeks of the double-mindedness that James rebukes. As you said, there's a lot of inconsistency if we split hairs about some scriptures and ignore others.

    Do you think the increased acceptance of evangelicalism stems from an intentional favoring of a more comfortable definition of Christianity or a rejection of the "saved by works" perspective? Maybe it's both. I think many contemporary CoC's are desperate to shed the "We're the only ones going to heaven" stigma (and rightfully so), and in turn have softened their stances not only on matters of tradition but also on topics explicitly addressed in scripture. However, there is also an allure to the mainstream evangelical stance because it makes us feel good and costs us nothing. I think such an approach epitomizes culture skewing faith. It permits people to be double-minded, offering a solution for how they can feel religous and still whole-heartedly pursue material ambitions. In fact, that line of thinking can even utilize God as a means to and an avid supporter of our worldy pursuits--see Prayer of Jabez. Of course, the conflict between God's wisdom and the world's wisdom is nothing new, but I think our culture's affluence probably excacerbates the problem.  

  3. # Blogger Jason

    I forgot to add the musical aside I intended to make to my last post. For a song that poignantly and convictingly speaks of the double-mindedness James addresses, check out Derek Webb's "Wedding Song."  

  4. # Blogger Sarah

    This has nothing to do with your post (although it was good), just wanted to say hey and that I've found your blog! (Thanks, Chad!)  

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