"You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works;"
Sometimes I think theologians "overthink" passages like this. I've been sitting here staring at this for the longest time trying to make it say something profound. Really all it says is that faith requires an action in order for it to be anything more than theoretical. By implication it is also saying that you wouldn't be tempted to call something you do to a "work" unless you were a believer.
The first statement is easy: you wouldn't even bother to own a TV unless you believed in radio waves. But just believing in radio waves and owning a TV won't get you any closer to receiving the information that's available on the tube. What gets you the information is a "work" -- getting out of your chair and turning the darned thing on! Well... actually... these days you can use the remote. But it is still a "work" motivated by faith in radio waves. In fact, I've seen people who know perfectly well that the power is off or there's a problem with the cable actually sit in their chair and periodically push the button, so strong is their faith in the power of radio waves to bring information and entertainment into their homes.
I had a friend once who, when he was a teen, you'd walk into his home after school and the TV would be on in the den... and in the kitchen... and in his parent's room. That wouldn't be all that strange, except that no one was home. You might say, "Wow. What an exercise of faith! They believe so much in the power of TV that even when they're not there they leave it on in the hope that someone may come along, see the TV and become a believer themselves!" Personally, I'd say, "Wow... what a waste of electricity." You can be the biggest believer in the power of TV and yet still totally waste the effect of it.
Now, the converse is a little harder to see. What is the value of "works" apart from faith? This is the whole question of where we derive what our modern age calls "meaning in life." These days there's a terrible contradiction going on in our culture. Everyone is searching for the meaning, so they join the Peace Corps, become environmentalists, give away large sums of money to social causes (ie: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation), start colleges, go to museums, have families, love people. But many of those same people believe deep in their heart that when you die, you're dead and that's the end. They believe life as we know it is just the random product of the most colossal stroke of dumb luck and well... here we are. But if there is no God -- in fact, if there is not YHWH, the one God who is personal and created the universe into nothing and sustains it by the word of his power -- if THAT God is not there, then what is the meaning?
"For the betterment of humankind." Screw humankind. I'm not that virtuous. If God hasn't spoken truly in His word and through his Son... "To become one with the universe?" Thanks, I'll pass. It isn't that impressive anyway. And so I have to agree with Pastor Tim Keller (Redeemer Presbyterian Church, NYC) when he says, "If your origin is insignificant and your destiny is insignificant, have the guts to admit that your life is insignificant."
The moment we seriously work our way through these thoughts, we are led to the conclusion that works without faith is meaningless. It just can't be an either/or. It MUST be a both/and; faith and works walking hand-in-hand, or neither makes any sense at all in this world.
Pastoral Relief and Retreat
- Wethersfield, CT, United States
- I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.