Monday, October 15, 2007

James 2:14-26: Faith and Works

"For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead." ~ James 2:26.

This is one of the most notorious sections of the New Testament. Martin Luther, convinced that confession alone was sufficient for union with Jesus, called the Book of James an "epistle of straw" and (apocryphally) tore it out of his personal copy of the Scriptures.

The link above raises two crucial points: first, that Luther held nuanced views about the Book of James; second, that most Protestants see God, and not humans, as the Author of their works. "Not me, but Christ through me", the old saying goes. To outsiders, this distinction may seem like hair-splitting legalism, but to believers, it is a practical confession of helplessness and hopelessness apart from the triune God.

Still, I disagree with Luther's critique and side with James. Confession is not enough; repentance is necessary, too. Luther argues that repentance precedes confession; the sinner who is not sorry and has not already taken baby steps to change his or her life cannot confess Christ. But, in a society like ours, where Christianity is privileged, confession tends to come first, then repentance - and it's easy to confess Christ hypocritically, even though confession without repentance is useless.

So, because we are Jesus-worshipers, we are to clothe the naked and feed the hungry (v. 15), sacrifice our most precious gifts like Abraham (vs. 21-23), and keep ministering even when we have fallen short like Rahab (v. 25). Alleluia!

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