There is a debate among people who hire others to work for them that can get very interesting. Which is more important in hiring someone to do a job – their academic qualifications or their experience in the workplace. As you read articles about this debate you can discover that both sides of the discussion have good arguments. One of the arguments for the academic side is that getting the degree, or an advanced degree shows a commitment to learning that’s necessary for any job. Meanwhile, the argument from the experience side is that if someone has shown that they can do the job, why shouldn’t they be given the opportunity to keep on doing it, or find a way to do it better? The best way to stop the debate, of course, is to find someone with the academic credentials who has experience in the field.
That discussion sounds amazingly like the discussion Christians have about grace and works. What makes a person a “better” Christian: the fact that they live by grace and have faith or the fact that they do works befitting the gospel. There are some who take their understanding of grace as a license to sin. God will cover the sin because of His grace, so we can do whatever we want. There are others that people observe and say, “Oh, they must be a good Christian, look at all the good things they’re doing.” I’m amazed how often those who claim no religion at all, or a different religion are willing to make these judgments. The question of grace and works isn’t an “either/or” question, it’s a “both/and” question that depends on timing to answer the concern. “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:15-17)
One of the reasons Martin Luther rejected the book of James as canonical was verses like this that seem to emphasize a righteousness based on works. It’s easy to see why this passage left that impression. I think, though, that Luther, as excellent a scholar as he was, missed the boat. James doesn’t describe a works based salvation, he’s describing two people who claim to be Christians. One of those people proclaims to be a Christian and yet, when the opportunity to minister comes along, all they offer is platitudes. The other shows his faith by meeting the physical needs of the person in question. The truth is that the grace of God changes people. The grace of God changes who we are. James is dealing with a timing issue. There are no good works that we can do to earn our salvation from God. The only way to develop a relationship with God is through faith, which is a gift of grace. Once we’ve received God’s grace though, He works to change us, to mold us into the image of Jesus Christ who worked to meet the needs of people.
Because of grace, we no longer look out for our own interests, but also the interests of others. If the grace of God doesn’t move you to action to proclaim the gospel and meet the needs of people who are hurting, then James would say that you might want to examine your relationship with God. Faith is more than a noun, it’s an action verb that shows itself in our daily lives. God’s grace should move you to compassion and action, to becoming like Jesus in meeting needs. One of the faults we as Christians have is our belief that God is concerned solely with blessing us and that we’re supposed to keep all those blessings. If we are truly moved by the grace of God, we’ll realize that we have been blessed to bless others. We’ll meet the needs of people, just like Jesus said in Matthew 25 about the sheep and goats.
Oh Lord, open my eyes to the needs of people around me and let me show my faith by what I do.