James 2:18 – 19
As we continue in our study of the Book of James and the subject of Faith versus Works, we are reminded of the audience being predominantly Jews who were in diaspora. We are reminded of the strong view of James from the purview of the Old Testament, knowing that the New Testament had not been written or penned down.
The Church today has been saddled with the competition of getting God to do things for them (materially) or ‘making God move for them’ by joining in the contest of having or getting the said “faith” that releases the power so that the desires that we have, become a reality whether it’s the Will of God or not; and that is not what James is talking about. This sort of faith is subjective faith and indirectly, it would mean that the whole Christian life becomes a life of getting and acquiring more and more faith because as humans, we would never stop needing.
Knowing that James was speaking from the perspective of the Old Testament, we should be careful not to assume that he was also speaking from the perspective of the New Testament. In the Old Testament, there were rituals and sacrifices made and the moment someone comes short of any of the commandments, there was a requisite sacrifice (as in animals, birds and sometimes fruits) offered as a symbol to show to the priest that one was indeed remorseful for the transgression committed.
So one would come to read about the fact that when John the Baptist was baptizing at the River Jordan, he saw the Pharisees and the Sadducees coming to watch him baptize and he denounced them. “You brood of snakes!” he exclaimed. “Who warned you to flee the coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God.
In other words, there is a difference between Faith and Works as far as James is concerned. Faith means to simply believe in an object, and in this context, God. Works on the other hand is toil, an act, deed or labor. It connotes the things that we do and based on the Book of James, Work is categorized as – feeding the poor, visiting the orphans, taking care of the widow, quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, bridling the tongue and to keep once self unstained from the world, and the many more he mentioned when he referred to the Laws of Moses.
There is nothing wrong in taking care of the orphans and widows or any of the aforementioned characteristics; in fact we should do when we are able to, constantly and consistently. If we were still under the Old Testament dispensation or administration, we would be required to live in this manner, but knowing that we have since moved from the Old to the New Testament, administration has to change because of the fact that Jesus has come to die once and for all.
According to the writer of Hebrews, the days of the blood of bulls, goats and the ashes of an heifer has become obsolete because the real sacrifice has been offered and hence the New Testament kicks in.
Spelt out in the New Testament, we are saved by FAITH ALONE irrespective of the works. This does not mean you shouldn’t care for the orphan or widows but the idea is we should never base our Salvation on the good things we do. The blood of Jesus was shed and that’s the bottom line; our Salvation is predicated on that fact because without the blood, there couldn’t be remission of Sin.
Apostle Paul puts the last nail on the coffin when he said, “If you’re a hard worker and do a good job, you deserve your pay; we don’t call your wages a gift. But if you see that the job is too big for you, that it’s something only God can do, and you trust Him to do it—you could never do it for yourself no matter how hard and long you worked—well, that trusting-him-to-do-it is what gets you set right with God, by God. It is sheer gift”.
Apostle Paul spoke to the Galatian Church as he addressed the issue of mixing up Faith and Works as a combo for Salvation: he said, “You crazy Galatians! Did someone put a hex on you? Have you taken leave of your senses? Something crazy has happened, for it’s obvious that you no longer have the crucified Jesus in clear focus in your lives. His sacrifice on the cross was certainly set before you clearly enough. Let me put this question to you: How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God’s Message to you? Are you going to continue this craziness? For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God. If you weren’t smart enough or strong enough to begin it, how do you suppose you could perfect it? Did you go through this whole painful learning process for nothing? It is not yet a total loss, but it certainly will be if you keep this up!”
Was James wrong? No he wasn’t, if we decide to turn our focus on the perspective at which he was speaking from – the Old Testament. When we make an attempt to look from the perspective of the New Testament, then James would be wrong because scrutinizing further, is James saying that if someone does a lot of the good works as mentioned above, do we then take his good works as Salvation for the person, knowing he said that without good works, faith is rubbish.
In the New Testament and in accordance to what St Paul said, no matter how much good works you do and without Faith in the message of the Gospel, the said “good works” would still not save you. Salvation is predicated on the message of the Gospel, which describes that Jesus shed his blood for all and that responding positively to that message brings Salvation and then we can do good works.
In conclusion, if I were living in the Old Testament times, I should be able to show my trust or Faith in God by the good works that I do which is completely different from the dispensation of the New Testament which stipulates that I am saved by Faith alone, not a combination of Faith and Works. Once I am saved, I can then go on to do good works.
“This is how grace works; it enters the soul, penetrates the heart, saturates the
conscience, abides in the memory, affects the affections, gives understanding to the understanding, and imparts real life to the heart, which is the seat of life. If God had begun saving us because we were good, he would of course leave off saving us when we were not good.” – C.H Spurgeon