Faith without Works: On Living an Empowered Christian Life

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to pin down just what I believe. Well, let me rephrase that: I believe in Jesus Christ and in the Scriptures as His testimony. And while I am fairly conversant in Scriptural theology, I sometimes wonder what it is I’m supposed to be doing, how it is I can live out an empowered Christian life.

Yeah, it’s nice to be able to explain in detail just what was going on in the events described in Genesis 6. It’s nice knowing how to reconcile apparent contradictions in the Bible. It’s nice knowing any number of theological nuggets.

It’s nice to know those things intellectually. Nicer still is having faith in the substance of those truths, Jesus Christ.

But faith without works is dead, or so taught the apostle James.

Think for a moment about the Christian websites you’ve frequented. Just how many of them have a doctrinal statement or “statement of faith”? (Hint: If you’re reading this, you’ve been to at least one.) How many are loaded with doctrinal articles — either standalone articles or articles in response to what the creator of the site considers to be false beliefs? (Again, the Rick Beckman archive is one such site.)

Now think of just how many sites are testaments to the “works” side of things. No doubt we need true, scriptural faith. No doubt we need to continually refine our beliefs, weeding out the leaven of falsities which threaten to silence the truths.

But what about our works, our activities, our conversation… our actual lives? Are we testifying only of faith as an intellectual concept or are we testifying to a living, breathing faith which infects every part of our being, tearing us asunder from this world and enabling us to live in the light of another kingdom, a kingdom not of this world?

That’s where my beliefs are being challenged: In light of my faith, how then should I live? How can I have an empowered Christian life? I wrote a few days ago on the world hating us. Commenters Robert and Brandon both asked for examples of what we could be doing. Truthfully, I don’t have any — at least not from personal experience.

In Jesus for President (buy it, library it, borrow it… whatever it takes to read it), numerous examples were given on how Christians should be living in this world. Some examples were of responding to adversity, such as the recounting of one guy who, when threatened, stripped naked and danced around like a chicken, effectively disarming the adversaries without resorting to violence.

Or on a more daily basis, we might choose to only buy local food — or at least food that is certified to be produced by fair labor practices. Or perhaps we could choose to reject diamonds and other gemstones mined by labor forced to undergo extreme conditions for paltry wages. (Ditto coal products.)

I’m reminded of the Think Globally tee-shirt, which states, “Think Globally, Act Locally.”

The message of that shirt is fairly profound. Globalization is bad. I’ve always believed such to be the case theologically — anytime people got together in the Scriptures, they tended to reject God as a result (think Tower of Babel or just about any of the world’s empires… Egypt, Babylon, Rome… America). And as a result of that, people suffer. Providing cheap plastic trinkets for adults and kids alike might seem worth it, but not if it comes at a loss of local jobs… or the employment of those oversees who could scarcely afford to buy the product they’re producing.

It’s all a culmination of a breakdown of community. Perhaps the Internet has exacerbated that. (Did I really just say that?) Human connections have been reduced to the basest of conversations spread across thousands of miles, while there are those around each party that are desperate for love.

Yet they are merely nameless faces in the crowd, not much different at all from those half a world away assembling the gadgets, trinkets, and gizmos that add to the illusion of significance in our lives.

So I’m at this place in my life where I’m unsure of what to do, really. And it seems like every church that comes close to similarity with my beliefs at the same time seems fairly “dead.” We cannot simply relegate the works of “faith without works is dead” to evangelism, but that is what the vast majority of churches restrict their ministries to.

Elsewhere in his epistle, James said that pure religion was caring for such as widows, for the sick… I believe that the “works” he spoke of are the same things Jesus so often spoke of: feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, giving clothes to the naked… All those rubber-on-the-road activities which Hyper-Dispensationalists often relegate to the Millennial Reign or the period prior to Pentecost. I have read studies from some who would relegate the entire epistle of James to such a future time period as well.

It seems as though the churches are comfortable with evangelism and that’s that. And as a result, they’re getting stale. Their missing the living, breathing ministries which we’re called to as Christians.

And I admit that it’s quite difficult to maintain such beliefs when the only people I know who seem to agree are, well, authors of a book I read.

5 thoughts on “Faith without Works: On Living an Empowered Christian Life”

  1. I always wonder where this disconnect comes from. The more you understand, the more you can do, and the more effective you can be at it. I have taken as a forgone conclusion that we study so we have opportunity to do, and my only experience confirms this.

    I am not much, but when I go out I meet people and talk to them and it has an effect. I go work at a gospel camp in summer, it is a failing ministry that is dying because of a stark lack of faith by the majority party of the board. But I go and work and talk to people and am of no account or authority, then I meet people or see people I knew and talk to them and help them deal with the problems in their lives. Its not much but it is doing and it is blessed greatly. I make a point to go visit grandparents and great grandparents, they have their own homes and are fine by themselves, the company is not much, but means a great deal to them and is blessed greatly. Now I am preparing to go to the far north to a small community that is difficult to be accepted into. There are many good things up there but there is also encumbant substance abuse and some major spiritual issues. I have special circumstances that will allow me to be accepted in the community where the only pastor there was not, I do not know what I will be able to do up there, but I know there is a reason I’m going there and that it will be blessed. I’ve got a date in a couple days, the girl is very good, but we may have some theological issues between us, pursuing polygyny is a small thing, but it is important to my family and I believe it is important to the churches at large, most will not have faith because of scriptures but must see something to believe it can work. (as one of those odd life moments my wife told me analytically the other evening that I’d need about four wives, I was quite stunned at that coming out of the blue and asked her if she would be comfortable if we found four, she replied ‘you mean four after me? Yes that would be fine’ one of those odd life moments, I was surprise even though she has been with me the whole way I only thought of finding two or three total before)

    I do many works, and I am able to because of my study and because of the opportunities God gives me. I’m not saying that because it means much, I’m sure anyone could write a much longer and grander list than that, but because I don’t believe that you’re study has not produced works. It may be true that it hasn’t, and if not please tell me how it happened, but I am inclined to believe that you just don’t give yourself credit for what you do and for how you have changed due to you’re understanding.

    If you find a dead church address the problems, they will either listen and be transformed or kick you out for criticizing them.

    If I may suggest something as an aside though, in you’re offerings keep a portion aside in you’re account or other place as a reserve fund to give to people when they need it, Churches and Christian organizations are certainly worth giving too, but there will be people in need in your life that only you can help, its good to have reserved offerings so you can give them something (overtly or secretly) in their time of need.

  2. I’ve been challenged by the same thing. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1: 27).

    This was a sermon session at this year’s Shepherd’s conference in Cape Town, and it was delivered by josh mack, a man that not only preaches this, but LIVES it. it changed my life. i knew i was far off the path, not for something i’ve done wrong, BUT FOR SOMETHING I’M NOT DOING!

    so, i went home (jeffreys bay, for those who care about good surf), and prayed, Lord, use me. please grant me the opportunity to serve you (a good calvinist prayer, even though i do not go by that tag).

    God does as he pleases, says His word (Psa 115:3). He does not need us. He is self-sufficient. But He is gracious enough to let us partake in works He has prepared for us to walk in (ephesians 2: 10 somewhere). We must ask Him, and ask like a beggar. plead with Him, to use us for His glory, which He can defend Himself.

    Josh Mack referred to spurgeon, who paraphrased elijah, saying to an atheist: “The God that answers by orphanages, let Him be Lord.” sadly, i’ve wanted to use this in arguments before, but was shut up by my own lack of evidence of love for the weak and lowly! how sad is this! that what was standard practice in church not long ago, is a lost tradition; something super-Christians do. may we once again take up the burden that came with the gospel message, to proclaim Jesus not only in word (though this be important too), but by our SACRIFICIAL lives.

    My heart burns for this. we must count our lives lost, for the sake of Jesus, who, whether we see it or not, is a diamond (as steve fernandez once preached). o God help us lose ourselves!

  3. I don’t want to disagree with your call to work but I want to add something which, I think, we must be careful not to disparage.

    Orthodoxy is never dead.

    There is a caricature that emerges of the doctrinal precisionist as a curmudgeonly bookworm whose backside has indelibly engraved his desk chair. A memorial to faith without works. This misses the mark.

    True propositions understood and believed are vital and life giving. As Christ said ‘the words that I speak, they are spirit and they are life…if any man heeds my doctrine they shall never see death’. Or as was said elsewhere In John ‘sanctify us through your truth, your Word is truth’ (cf. Psalm 1). And as I have heard another say, if your doctrine deadens then you have the wrong doctrine.

    Works are the outworking of belief, whether the belief is true or false. But works as the fruits of belief occur within the context in which we exist, in which we are limited by time and place. In other words we can only help those around us and how we can. Realising also that there are proportionate claims upon us for help. This is the same reason why localism is superior to globalism (see Richard Weaver & Wendell Berry)

    Truth, however, is eternal, unrestrained by time, place and age. The same words which give life to one will give life to another and undiminished. The more they understand and the more they believe, by God’s grace, the more able they become to live where they are.

  4. Rick,

    The answer is simple, and yet profound…

    Look to and walk with Jesus.

    When Peter looked away from Jesus he was in peril; but while He was looking at Him he did the so-called impossible. Indeed, it is easy to assume that we can’t answer to the high calling of God when we look to failure; but when we look to He who knows no failure we suddenly discover that what we thought was impossible is a walk in the park for Him.

    If we really want to live like Jesus we will walk like Jesus. But before we can even begin to walk with Jesus we need to envision what Peter saw when he was walking on water. In other words, we have to acknowledge that Jesus can do the so-called impossible. When we begin to do this we will walk on water too, so to speak.

    “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.” (1 John 2:3-6 NKJV)

    Blessings to you…

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