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Pointers along the way #49

Faith vs. obedience?
- Jacob Ninan

There is a large number of Christians who major on 'faith' to the extent that they believe that 'obedience' is legalistic. They relate obedience to the old testament and to the law, and think that faith is the only thing we need in this new testament period. They talk of freedom and liberty in the spirit, and especially of freedom from the law.

As in many cases where there is a conflict about doctrine, this also is a case of over-extending one part of the truth at the cost of another, without trying to see the balance. In this case, it is not really a matter of faith versus obedience, as if we have to choose one or the other. We need faith and obedience, in their own proper places.

The apostle James saw the need to resolve this issue. He went to great length to explain that faith without works was dead (Jas.2:14-26). We understand that the 'works' he refers to are not the works people do by which they imagine God would accept them (Ro.3:20). But these are works which are the result of our faith. Our faith in Jesus makes us acceptable to God (Ro.4:5). Then we begin to obey Him because we love Him (Jn.14:15).

The Bible gives us many examples of what people did through faith (He.11). They were not just being optimistic and thinking that God will make things happen. Faith is optimistic, but is not merely optimism. Faith gives us a conviction of things that are not yet seen (He.11:1), and that conviction leads us to definite choices and action.

What James says is that without this conviction and the resulting action, our so called faith is a dead faith. It is not real. But the more we trust in God and His word, and the more we allow ourselves to be led by His Holy Spirit, the more we will obey God. If we continue to live as we please and yet claim that we have faith, we are only deceiving ourselves (Jas.2:17,18).