Hey, what are you?
In many Western nations, once considered to be Christian, many may consider themselves Christian. They may even call themselves by a specific brand of Christianity.
“I am Baptist” or,
“I am Anglican” or maybe,
“I am Catholic” or perhaps even,
“I am spiritual”.
Sometimes, when we fill in a form, it might have a blank that needs to be filled in about ‘religion’.
Yet, what does it mean to be a Baptist or Catholic?
It makes me smile when people ask me that question. Often, I simply respond with: “Well, I am a follower of Jesus Christ.”
We aren’t believers by association ourselves to a certain brand or group. We aren’t believers because we were born in a Christian country (whatever that means). We aren’t even believers because we were raised in a Christian home (although that is a great thing). None of these things ultimately makes you a believer.
Yet, that is what is often understood. Christianity is a faith that you might want to associate yourself with. It’s about believing in God, but what does that even mean? Is it just about believing in God and that’s it? That sounds very easy, doesn’t it?
Easy believism is the trend in society of associating yourself with a group that believes something. It doesn’t mean you need to embrace the full package of what that faith stands for. The problem with it is that although we are saved by grace through faith, it does need to lead to something. Jesus didn’t come and pay a high price for you to ‘just believe’ and then move on with life.
James makes that very clear with the example he gave about ‘easy believism’.
“If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you say to them, ‘depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but do not give the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?”
That’s a shocking example! That faith means nothing! It’s dead!
That was also James’ conclusion when he said that faith without works is dead!’
Now, please understand, these people that received the letter came out of Judaism. They embraced Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. They embraced the fact that it is not keeping the Law of Moses that will get them into the good graces of God. The Law of Moses wasn’t designed to do that. It only showed them the need for a Saviour.
What is the human tendency to do when you walk away from something? You go too far into the other direction. We are people of extremes oftentimes, aren’t we?
Yes, it’s true that we can’t save ourselves. God needs to do that, and He did that through His Son Jesus who died for us on a Cross to make right what was wrong. All God now asks from us is to put our faith in that saving work, because we can’t save ourselves.
But be careful here. Easy believism is such an extreme that can easily draw us in the wrong direction. Let me give you an example of easy believism.
Many years ago, there was a man called “Blondin”. Blondin was a famous acrobat and tight rope walker. He is known for crossing the Niagara Falls on a tight rope. Large crowds came to see his acrobatic stunts. Usually, he’d start with a relatively easy crossing, but then, gradually made it harder and harder. On one occasion he crossed the tight rope blind-folded! One time he crossed an empty wheelbarrow across the rope on one of his stunts. Then he filled the wheelbarrow with a sack of potatoes and crossed the Niagara Falls again. The spectators were absolutely delighted in seeing this! Then the scene changed. Blondin suddenly asked one of the spectators, the Duke of Newcastle this:
“Sir, do you believe I can transport a man in the wheelbarrow across the Falls?”
The Duke responds enthusiastically: “Yes sir, I believe that you can do that!”
Blondin, encouraged by this response then asked the following question:
“OK, now please hop in the wheelbarrow! I will show you right now that I can do it!”
The crowd, including the Duke of Newcastle were flabbergasted by that proposal. In the end, the duke declined Blondin’s invitation to get into the wheelbarrow.
Blondin then asked the crowd again: “Is there anyone who would like to volunteer and get into the wheelbarrow?”
Then, after a while, an old lady stepped out of the crowd and volunteered. She stepped into the wheelbarrow and Blondin and the old woman (who turned out to be Blondin’s mum), crossed the Niagara Falls together. She was the only one in the crowd that not just believed that Blondin could do it, but also trusted him with her own life.
This well-known story shows us the difference between easy believism and faith. I can believe in all the right things about God or even knowing them from Scripture. Yet, faith is not only knowing things about God or the Bible. Faith is relational and intimate. One way to define faith is that faith trusts God and obeys God. That goes beyond intellectual belief.
Back to James. The issue of showing faith through works is a tricky issue. Again, manmade religion tends to go into extremes. There are those who rely so much on hard efforts (works) whereas others just believe and disregard works (because they can’t save us anyway). The temptation is to set up faith against works here.
But what if they are not supposed to be used against each other? Before diving into the text again, allow me to explain what I mean by ‘works’.
In the bible, there are works of the Law. That refers to keeping the commandments, such as the 10 Commandments, among many other laws. That is not what James is referring to here.
When Paul and James refer to ‘works’, they point to the things we do that flow from a vibrant, moving, active faith that truly shows its true nature. True faith shows! Works, therefore, should be understood as “a lifestyle of loving God and loving others”. Love is also not in a vacuum. True love shows!
It’s not that the works cause us to believe or love. They are simply the outflow of a love relationship with God that leads to loving relationships with others. You don’t add works to your faith to validate your faith, rather, genuine faith leads to an ongoing love of God and an ongoing love of others.
So, instead of asking for lists that we need to keep in order to show that we really believe, why don’t we rather spend time with God and let that relationship based on love, drive us to be what we can be in Christ?
Paul said it like this in Ephesians 2:8-10 as well. We are saved by grace through faith. It’s a gift from God and it leads to what? To do works! Works (loving others) are the supernatural outflow of the abundant life in Christ Jesus. Isn’t that amazing? God prepared you and me to do good works (Paul calls us God’s ‘workmanship’), but they don’t flow from a place of ‘getting saved by doing good things’, but rather from a place of love and acceptance.
Yet, many people need a bit more convincing still. I will explain that in my next blog.