I have lived in many places over the years and every once in a while I end up in a community that is adamant that Christians can’t have “works” because we are saved by faith alone. Apparently those Christians have never read James. It would not be surprising. Martin Luther, that venerable reformer, wanted to remove James from the Bible (why not, he got rid of several Old Testament books!) but was prevented from doing so by others. James didn’t fit his theology of sola fides or faith alone for salvation. Here’s why:
As the lifeless body is dead, so faith without actions is dead.
That is pretty clear and straight to the point. If you want to read it in context, here is a link. In fact, the only place the phrase faith alone occur in the Bible are in James 2:24:
So you see that a person is shown to be righteous through faithful actions and not through faith alone.
Luther was fighting against a corrupted system in the Roman Catholic Church of his time in which there was no discussion of faith, but only a system in which people worked for God to work off their sins. His message of salvation by faith alone was a radical return to the idea that God saves us by grace so that we can live a Christian life.
Christians today who say there is no place for works in their lives take Luther’s statements (consciously or unconsciously) and try to apply them to a radically different situation. They would do well to reexamine James, because James has the antidote to much of what is wrong in many Churches in the West today.
Faith is not really faith if it is not strong enough to lead to a transformed life. This is because faith is not an agreement to a group of ideas about God. It is a relationship with the Living God–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–that leads us to be transformed step by step, grace by grace, and glory by glory, into the likeness of Jesus Christ. If there is no transformation, if there is no changed life, if our lives do not increasingly look like Jesus, there is no faith.
John Wesley, who founded the Methodist movement, said that we are not saved by works, but neither can we be saved without them. If we say we believe in Jesus Christ, but our lives do not show that belief, what does it say about our profession of faith?
Does this mean that in order to say we have faith we must be perfect? Absolutely not! If we have faith we must struggle against sin and seek to do God’s will, obeying Christ’s commands–for if we believe in him we acknowledge him not only as our Savior, but also our Lord. We obey our Lord or we are unfaithful. As we try to live the life Christ calls us to live we seek his help in fulfilling his calling upon our lives. God gives even more grace to those who pray for it so they can live the Christian life. This transformation occurs over time, as our relationship with God grows deeper.
Do not be drawn away by the idea that we are saved by saying we have faith alone. Faith is not faith unless it results in a transformed life.