Christians are all sinners saved by God’s grace. This happens when we put our faith in Christ, whose blood cleanses us from our sins (Ephesians 2:8-9).
However, faith is not merely intellectual assent. We must act out our faith. Faith has to be matched by action.
Would Abraham be deemed a man of great faith if he had not responded to God’s call to leave the comfort of his home to go to a promised land of abundant blessings (Genesis 12:1-2)? By the way, he did not even know where he was supposed to go (Hebrews 11:8).
In another instance, Abraham’s faith shone when he obeyed God’s command to sacrifice Isaac. “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works” (James 2:21-22).
How could he possibly obey such a difficult command? Abraham had incredible faith that God was able to miraculously raise his son from the dead in order to fulfil the divine promise that many descendants will arise through Isaac (Hebrews 11: 17-19).
When confronted with God’s promise and command, which seemed to contradict each other, Abraham went ahead to obey the command (sacrifice Isaac), leaving God to take care of His promise (descendants through Isaac).
“No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (Romans 4:20-21).
Similarly, Noah was a man of great faith. Would he have pleased God if he had not built the ark according to God’s instructions?
“By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith” (Hebrews 11:7).
Next, let’s move on to the New Testament, which further reinforces the fact that faith is not merely intellectual assent but action.
In Ephesians, we are saved (forgiven and made righteous in God’s sight) by faith. But what comes next? We have to live a life evidenced by good works.
- God’s part: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9).
- Our part: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
In Philippians, we also see a parallel to the foregoing passage in Ephesians. God works in us, helping us to obey Him. But we too have to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.
- Our part: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).
- God’s part: “For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).
Thus, when we embrace God’s grace and mercy, we have to live out our faith with a sense of personal responsibility. Let’s examine now another account where Jesus expected a forgiven sinner to turn over a new leaf.
Most believers are familiar with the account of the woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8:3-11). The crowd gathered around her and wanted to stone her.
But Jesus said, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.”
Finally, when the crowd dispersed, Jesus asked her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?”
She said, “No one, Lord.”
And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”
While the adulterous lady was forgiven, she was also told to repent of her sinful lifestyle.
This short account has deep theological implications. The recipient of God’s love and mercy ought to show evidence of change in thought and behaviour. In other words, the sinner has to repent.
The kind of faith that truly saves must involve repentance—a change in thought, behaviour, goals, aspirations and lifestyle as well.
Just as the adulterous lady had to stop sinning and seek restoration with her husband, the thief should stop stealing and find honest work (Ephesians 4:28). Those who love to lie and gossip must stop their negative behaviour. Those who make idols should start looking for alternative jobs or businesses.
Sometimes, repentance involves a drastic change at great personal cost: “Many who became believers confessed their sinful practices. A number of them who had been practicing sorcery brought their incantation books and burned them at a public bonfire. The value of the books was several million dollars” (Acts 19:18-19).
Mr. Practical, the apostle James, underscores for us the fact that genuine faith has to be evidenced by good works.
“Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17).
“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (James 2:26).
Finally, we need to be reminded of the words of John the Baptist: “Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God” (Matthew 3:8). “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8).
Sometimes, we think that there is a serious contradiction between Paul’s teaching that we are saved by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) and James’ teaching that genuine faith must be evidenced by works (James 2:17, 26). In fact, Martin Luther once had a low view of the book of James, calling it an “epistle of straw”.
However, this is only an apparent contradiction. Paul also taught that we have to work out our salvation in fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). His fellow apostle, Peter reaffirmed the truth: “Dear brothers and sisters, work hard to prove that you really are among those God has called and chosen. Do these things, and you will never fall away” (2 Peter 1:10).
To embrace the truth, we have to imbibe the whole counsel of God, not just gravitate towards likeable portions of scripture. We have to embrace the whole Bible—and that means, in this context, not only the teachings of Paul but James as well.
Another common misunderstanding is that Jesus is merely the personification of grace. So does it mean we need not worry at all as God’s grace “settles everything” in our favour when we sin?
The fact is Jesus is the personification of both grace and truth (John 1: 14,17). The ‘truth attribute’ of Jesus means that He requires believers to be holy and righteous. As such, when we sin, we need to confess our sins and forsake our sinful ways, even though we have been saved by grace through faith.
In conclusion, we cannot claim to have genuine faith if we do not obey God or fail to repent— turn away from our sins and seek to live according to God’s ways. Faith without works is dead.
Faith: Active, Not Passive
“It would not be difficult to point out at least twenty-five or thirty distinct passages in the Epistles where believers are plainly taught to use active personal exertion, and are addressed as responsible for doing energetically what Christ would have them do, and are not told to “yield themselves” up as passive agents and sit still, but to arise and work. A holy violence, a conflict, a warfare, a fight, a soldier’s life, a wrestling, are spoken of as characteristic of the true Christian.”
― Dr Michael L. Brown
The only way to know God and relate to Him is to embrace Him as He truly is—a God of grace, love and mercy AND a God of justice, righteousness and truth. To just know Him as either the former or latter is to live in complacency and indifference to sin OR guilt and despair over sin.
Knowing that God keeps us faithful till the end is not enough. We have to seek to understand His will for our lives and then live it out. In these end times when evil abounds, it is all the more important that we live intentionally and purposefully.
Some compare the Christian life to a walk in the park. They say everything is by faith. You just have to believe in what Jesus has done for you at the cross. Anything more than that smacks of self-effort, pride and legalism.
Note: Dr Lim Poh Ann is a medical practitioner. He was the former editor of Asian Beacon magazine (Dec 2008 – Oct 2011). He can be reached at his Facebook page, www.facebook.com/AskDrLi
This article is a personal sharing by the writer, written for the exhortation of the united Body of Christ. Christianity Malaysia remains neutral on all points expressed in inspirational articles by all contributors.
SOURCE OF ARTICLE: http://limpohann.blogspot.my/2016/12/faith-proven-by-action.html
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Dr Lim Poh Ann