Not All Faith is Saving Faith1
As you can see from the first article posted yesterday, I believe the key to understanding James is not only found in the recognition that he and Paul are arguing against different theological opponents but also in the recognition that they are talking about two different kinds of so-called “faith”. Continue reading . . .
As you can see from the first article posted yesterday, I believe the key to understanding James is not only found in the recognition that he and Paul are arguing against different theological opponents but also in the recognition that they are talking about two different kinds of so-called “faith”.
Let me illustrate my point, or better yet, the point that James is trying to make. Try to envision me holding in my hand two small objects, both of which I claim are seeds. If you were to take them in your hand you probably couldn’t tell any difference between the two. They weigh the same, smell the same, feel the same, and look the same. But only one of them is truly a seed. The other is a pebble, a lifeless, inert piece of matter that looks a lot like a seed and could for a time pass as a seed. But merely claiming to be a seed doesn’t make it one. Mere saying it is a seed doesn’t transform its nature. I might insist that this object is a seed and in time will bring forth plant life of some sort. But it won’t.
So how do you know which one is the seed and which is the pebble? You plant them in the ground and water them and make sure that they receive plentiful sunlight. The seed will eventually grow and produce a plant or fruit or perhaps a flower. The pebble will lie lifeless in the ground and produce nothing. Ah, you say, now I know which one is the seed. I draw my conclusion based on the fruit it produces. I know the other object was a lifeless pebble, no matter how loudly someone insists it is really a seed. And I know this because it produces nothing.
This is what James is saying about the nature of that faith which alone brings us justification in the sight of God. And Paul would say it as well. Some people have a religious experience and call it faith. Some people are raised in church all their life and refer to their Sunday routine as faith. Some people sign a decision card or even get baptized and point to each and call it faith.
But James says that if this thing you call “faith” doesn’t produce works of obedience, it’s probably a pebble. Real faith, the sort of faith that justifies and saves and reconciles us to God, is like a seed when planted and watered: it produces fruit; it produces a life in which one’s heart loves the things of God and desires to walk in obedience to the revealed will of God. It doesn’t produce perfection, but it does result in passion for God and a pursuit of holiness.
The point James and Paul are making is that not everything that calls itself faith or passes itself off as faith is the sort of “faith” that justifies and saves. Some so-called experiences of “faith” are nothing more than intellectual assent. By this I mean you agree in your mind with the truth of some claim or some event.
Other experiences that people call “faith” are nothing more than emotionally charged reactions to a moment of religious euphoria. Perhaps you attended a worship service at your church and were deeply moved by the music. You were swept up in the highly charged atmosphere of the evening, you may even have wept and felt the presence of the Holy Spirit. But unless that experience leads to genuine repentance from sin and active, joyful, sincere trust in who Jesus is and what he has done on the cross for sinners, it’s no different from the pebble in my hand. It accomplishes nothing. It saves no one. Not the loudest protests in the world will change that. Not the most vigorous declarations that this person has believed in Jesus will change that pebble into the seed of saving faith.
And the only ultimate test for whether or not this thing you call “faith” is in fact saving, justifying “faith” is what happens when you plant it and water it and make certain that the sun shines upon it. Likewise, the only ultimate test for whether or not this experience of yours is true faith, the faith that Paul says alone can justify the sinner in the sight of God, is whether or not it produces a life of obedience and love for holiness.
To be continued . . .