December 31 I Thursday
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?” —James 2:14
The history of the church is filled with course corrections, often swinging from one extreme to the next to counter incorrect theology or unkind attitudes. The most famous example is when Martin Luther grew disillusioned with the Catholic teaching that good works help achieve salvation. He became convinced that justification was by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, a conflict which ultimately split the church into Catholics and Protestants. Luther was adamant works had no place in salvation. He argued the book of James, with its inclusion of statements such as the opening verse, should be removed from Scripture.
Luther was right to question the emphasis on works as a means of salvation, but it was too strong a course correction to disregard entirely. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” Paul clearly states it is faith in God that saves us, but Paul continues in verse 10, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” It is essential for us to understand that we are not saved by good works, but we are saved for good works.
We sometimes treat good works like a poisoned chalice. We may worry if we get involved in helping our communities or serving in an impoverished country that we send the message, “This is the means of our salvation.” Conversely, we can be so eager to prove we are not saved by good works that we do nothing at all. We settle into our churches to hear the truth of the gospel, but do not allow the truth to move us to compassion. We may share the gospel message, but avoid accompanying it with acts of service.
Ajith Fernando, the Teaching Director of Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka, describes this as the “presence versus proclamation battle.” He warns Christians who preach Christ as the only way to salvation without offering some kind of physical aid “will always be despised for their supposed arrogance.” Similarly, Stuart Briscoe says, “How will they [suffering nonbelievers] connect the dots between our good deeds and God?...We must articulate what we demonstrate. We must explain as we exhibit. We must tell as we show.”
As James writes, “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17). Truth and doctrine are absolutely important, but we miss the point if that truth does not move us also to love the lost God has sent us to seek.
Prayer: Lord God, it is by Your grace that I am saved for good works. May Your truth move me to display Your transforming power in my life through acts of service. Thank You, Lord.