For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9
Through faith…not of works.
Oh where would we be if our salvation was based on our deeds? By grace, through faith. What beautiful words. What incredible truth!
And yet it doesn’t just stop there. James in his writing says very bluntly,
Faith without works is dead. James 2:20
Works do have a place in our lives – after our salvation. They are, in fact, proof our faith.
Faith is not dormant. Faith is an action word.
James 2:14 says,
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?
But just what are these works - these actions - that prove our faith?
If you and I were to create a list of some possible “works” that a Christian should do, our list would probably include: read your Bible, attend church, teach a Sunday school class, prepare a meal for the sick, join a Bible study, send money to a missionary, volunteer for a good cause, share the gospel with your neighbour. And yes, these are actions that prove our faith.
But what I have found soul-searching while studying the book of James is just what his “list of works” includes. With the entire focus of his letter on “works being the proof of our faith”, here is what his list looks like:
-rejoice during trials and allow them to develop Godly character -resist temptation -be quick be listen -be slow to speak -be slow to wrath -put away moral filthiness and wickedness -receive and continue in the Word of God -visit the fatherless and widows -keep yourself unspotted from the world -have no discrimination towards others -love your neighbour as yourself -show mercy -control your tongue so that you do not offend others -be not envious or contentious -be a peace-maker -be gentle -yield to the thoughts and ideas of others rather than demanding your own way -don’t be a hypocrite -be full of good fruits -avoid “friendship of the world” -resist pride -be humble -submit to God -resist the devil -don’t speak evil of one another -don’t be judgmental -don’t boast -if you know to do good, do it -don’t be a lover of money -wait patiently for the coming of the Lord -grumble not one against another -be dependable – “a man of your word” -confess your faults one to another -pray for one another
I don’t know about your list, but most of these “works” didn’t make it on mine. Definitely clear is that James’ focus is inward - my inward character which then displays itself outwardly in my attitude and behaviour toward others. Be slow to anger. Don’t discriminate. Speak evil of no one. Confess your faults one to another. These are the types of “works” that make it on James’ list.
Yes, James underscores the quote: God is more interested in what He can do in me than through me.
God is more concerned that I learn to control my tongue, than all the children I may teach in a Sunday school class.
God is more interested that I remove bitterness and envy in my heart, than all the meals I prepare and distribute to the needy.
God is more intent on the fact that I speak no evil of others, than all the Bible studies I attend.
Paul said the same thing in 1 Corinthians 13.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
Yes, I may be able to speak in different languages, I may be able to prophecy, I may have tremendous faith, I may give away all my goods to feed the poor, and much, much more… but if don’t have and show love to my fellow Christians and those around me, I am nothing.
In other words:
It’s not how many people I’ve preached to. It’s not how many Bible verses I've memorized. It’s not how many committees I’m on. It’s not how many gospel tracts I’ve given out. It’s not how many sermons I’ve preached. It’s not how many children I’ve taught. It’s not how many mission trips I’ve been on.
It’s my heart – revealed in my attitude and behaviour.
Jesus Himself said, Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Matthew 12:34.
James also said, What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? James 4:1
Jesus condemned the Pharisees for all their outward deeds and piety and yet inward corruption.
Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. Matthew 23:28
Could it be He would say the same to me?
For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7
Perhaps we need to take a closer look at what “works” are on our list. Maybe we need to turn the page to a fresh sheet, rethink our “Top Ten”, and sync our list with God’s. Maybe we need to examine ourselves and ask some tough questions:
Does God’s “list of works” match mine? Am I am Pharisee – outwardly religious but inwardly sinful? Is my character a top priority on my list? Do I treat people the way James instructs me to? Do I expend all my energies on my outward deeds to the neglect of my inward heart? Which is of higher concern to me: How I appear to God or how I appear to man?
Perhaps we need to pray as the writer of these psalms did.
Prove me, O Lord, and try me; test my heart and my mind. Psalm 26:2
Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Psalm 51:10