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August 22, 2017

August 22, 2017

"Faith Without Works Is Dead"

"What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, 'Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

But someone will say, 'You have faith; I have deeds.' Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.’" James 2:14-18 NIV

Yesterday, I told you that I grew up Lutheran and that one of the first things I remember learning is that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone. As you can imagine, by the time we were middle school smart alecs, we started saying to our teachers, “So that’s all we have to do, right? Just believe, and we’re good.” 

As you can imagine, our teachers’ and parents’ response was, “Not so fast, kids.” In fact, the next verse that we learned was James 2:17“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” (NKVJ) 

What we young barrack room lawyers were after is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a 20th century German theologian called “cheap grace”, that is “grace without discipleship”, salvation with no response from us. 

And this is precisely what James, in the passage above, is telling us we can’t have. If we truly stand convicted; if we in some measure understand how far we fall short, and how miraculous it is that God loves and saves us, then we are compelled to keep trying to live as disciples of Christ; compelled to try to love our neighbors as we know we are loved, and to forgive our neighbors as we have been forgiven. 

One theologian summarized Luther on this idea this way: God does not need your good works, but your neighbor does. Bonhoeffer used the term “costly grace." The only genuine response to grace, to God’s infinite love, is to pick up our crosses and follow. To be disciples is our duty, but also our joy.

May the joy of God’s unconditional love enable us to be faithful disciples today, and to love and serve our neighbors, whoever they are and wherever they may be.