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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, Rick Beck­man 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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Rick Beckman