In the last blog series on ‘Under Pressure’ I wrote about temptations. Both trials (hardships, difficult times in life) and temptations are tests in life. Trials have the potential to draw us closer to God if approached with joy, patience, humility and expectation that God will get us through.
Temptations are also rooted in the concept of ‘a test’, but they are very different. They have the potential to draw us away from God because temptations usually become overwhelmingly big giants in life when the comparison trap is activated (their lives seem to be much better than mine), or unholy desires (not submitted to God) are triggered by subtle suggestions of Satan. In that process it is possible to blame God for the bad stuff that might be happening in life which can lead to indulging in a sinful lifestyle, thinking that God does not care. After all, He allowed you to go through the hard times. Which loving father would allow his child to go through hard times?
So, trials and temptations are real, and they have the potential to either mature faith or not. It’s God’s desire for our lives that we are not just saved in the sense of not receiving judgment. That’s one aspect of ‘salvation’. To save means also to ‘make whole, deliver, keep safe and sound’. It has always been God’s desire to transform us into what we were created for in the first place. Yes, it’s true that part of that process will be completed only when we are fully restored either after our life’s journey is completed or when Jesus comes back before that happens. We can’t relegate all transformation to the moment that we are one day with the Lord in Heaven. It’s already God’s desire to start a process of transformation.
Why is this important to know? Well, often people that believe in God go into two extremes when it comes to living the Christian life.
One the one hand, you have those who believe that now that we are saved, we also need to do a lot of stuff that will validate our salvation to be genuine. Often, we think of lists of things to avoid or rather do to grow as a Christian. Even though the heart in this matter may be very sincere, salvation based on works can easily slip in.
On the other hand, you have those who believe that our salvation is God’s sovereign act. We can’t save ourselves, so God must do it all. We are forgiven and free to live our lives now. Works don’t matter that much, because we are saved by grace only. They genuinely believe that, yet, often they also display a lifestyle of which many people, believer or not, sometimes wonder if they are Christian after all.
It’s an old issue that has influenced the church of Christ for many centuries. What is it? Faith alone? Or do we, now that we are saved, also add some of our stuff into the mix?
After all, I said that a Christian could be characterized by a person that is saved by grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ. That almost sounds like works (doing Christian stuff) are not in the picture here.
What does the apostle James have to say about this dilemma? Quite a lot! In James 2 he starts with this:
“My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality.”
So, here it seems that the faith that Jesus taught us also manifests itself in the way we treat others. After all, didn’t Jesus teach us the Golden Rule of Christianity? Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and love your neighbor as yourself? Faith leads to action, but it is the action that is based on this basic Rule of Life.
In the context of the church to whom James is writing, we can understand this. The believers that received James’ letter were Messianic Jews. They now had Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. Most of them were poor and unimportant, socio-economically speaking. In the community where they learned what it meant to be a follower of Yeshua (Jesus), some of them were treated badly by Jews who were not of their new faith or by the richer believers in the faith community who showed favoritism. Favoritism is not loving your neighbor as yourself, so it violates the Basic Rule of Life or the Law of Liberty, as James also calls it (James 2:12). James came against any believer who claimed to believe in Christ but showed a very different lifestyle that did not resemble what the Master had taught them and he applied that to discrimination.
In a rich Australia, it is perhaps hard to grasp the class-mentality. Australia is a very rich nation and most Australians are doing relatively well. The issue might not always be socio-economic standing, but discrimination might come in different forms; perhaps a certain educational level, job status or something else. It is possible to look at people through those lenses as well. I remember in the time I lived in Brazil for 10 years that it came as very strange to me to mentally divide people into certain classes from rich to poor. One time we were organizing a holiday club for the neighborhood, including the ‘children of the church’. And many children came to this event. Some were poor, some were not. Not all parents were too comfortable with this mix of classes (we found out later).
Jesus treated everyone equally and that made Him a revolutionary. He treated tax-collectors with respect. Almost all Jews hated them…Jesus treated women with the respect that most people didn’t have. They saw women as second-rate citizens. Jesus was a very inclusive revolutionary! How revolutionary would this approach to people be today in a world that delights in a mentality of ‘them versus us’!
So, showing affection and love to all people, regardless of their background is a way of showing what you hold to be important. Remember the life motto statement I made earlier? Treat others how you’d like to be treated. It is a variation of the Golden Rule of Life that Jesus taught us. Here belief and action come together. They can’t be separated.
James doesn’t just address the socio-economic situation in church. He goes much further. In the next passage, he zooms in on how faith and works go hand in hand. They are intimately connected, but how?
James 2:14 says this:
“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith, but does not have works? Can faith save him?”
Wait a minute! Aren’t we saved by grace through faith? We can’t save ourselves right!? Is James here suggesting that we still need to do something? The legalist in me (you know the voice in me that says all the things that I need to pull off to be OK with God) immediately shifts into ‘alert-mode’.
“Give me the list! What do I need to do? Not only faith but also….(fill in the blank)?”
Is that what we are talking about here? I don’t think so!
Didn’t the apostle Paul say that we are saved by grace through faith? Nobody can come to God just be being a good person, so what’s the point of now pointing out the need for works? Didn’t we settle this once and for all?
Well, it depends on how you define ‘faith’ and ‘works’.