Faith or Works?

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When I was a kid, my dream was to play baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals. I knew that it was my destiny. I was left-handed, so my little league coaches automatically let me pitch, and I thought, “If I just figure out all of the things I have to do to get good enough, I can go to the big leagues!” Look out Bruce Sutter (nerdy Cardinals reference), I’m coming for your job. 

My dad set up a stack of hay bales behind a shed on our little acreage and spray painted a strike zone on them. I spent hours and hours and hours…and hours…practicing. I had coaches work with me on mechanics. But no matter how much I tried to follow the rules and the forms and no matter how much effort I put in, I never got good enough. It took something extra. Something that was beyond me.

I have lived most of my life in relation to our Heavenly Father like that. Somewhere deep inside I figured, “If I can just obey good enough, then I can be acceptable to him.” Even when I was taught about the grace of God through Christ, those patterns were so ingrained in my whole being that while I accepted God’s grace in my head, my heart was still trying to earn the Father’s acceptance. 

The apostle Paul spent a truckload of time trying to teach the church that we are not forgiven by works. We are forgiven by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ. THERE IS NOTHING WE CAN DO TO EARN GOD’S FORGIVENESS, BUT IF WE TRUST IN JESUS, HE WILL SAVE US.  This simple truth is the gospel. 

But, we are reminded of James chapter 2, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such a faith save him?…You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.” Wait a minute, what is going on here?

I believe James brings up two important points about faith and works. One is the nature of faith. If I claim to have faith in Christ, but am not increasingly growing in following Him, then the reality is I don’t really have true faith in Christ. The second point, when taken in conjunction with Paul’s writings, is the order of faith and works. If I am trying to earn God’s forgiveness by my works, I don’t truly have my faith in Christ—my faith is in myself! But if I work because of the favor God has already given me through Christ, then my faith is truly in Christ! By the way, if my faith is truly in Christ, then I am set free and true Christ-like love will naturally flow out of me! 

Let’s put our trust in Jesus.