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Faith and works
- Jacob Ninan
One of the common mistakes many Christians make is to take verses from the Bible and interpret those verses by themselves as promises or as doctrines. They don't realise that while these verses may be completely true--all the verses in the Bible are not 'truths' just because they are in the Bible, especially when they quote what some people said--they may not represent the complete truth. If we want to know the truth more completely, we will have to look at the other verses in the Bible too. "It is written" has to be matched by "It is also written" before we can get the balanced truth.
For example we know we are saved by God's grace through our faith in Jesus who died in our place, and not by trying to be good or doing good works (Ep.2:8,9). This was a truth that generated the Protestant reformation. But some people have emphasised this truth so much unrealistically that even faith on our part is seen as some sort of work that we have to do, and they believe that God will do everything for us. If anyone talks about repentance from sin and turning to God, these people will cry foul and say they are works! But isn't it true that if it was only up to the grace of God all the people in the world would get saved (1Ti.2:4), but because it also depends on people to believe and receive the truth, very few actually get saved?
Once we come to God through faith is it like getting a ticket to heaven after which no matter how we live we will finally be in heaven when we die? No. James points out that faith which doesn't result in godly works is a fake--a dead faith (Jas.2:17,26). Many people are aghast when James says that we are justified by works and not by faith alone (v.24)! What he means is very simple, which can be seen from the whole passage. Where there is a genuine faith, God will begin to do a miraculous work in our heart by which we get a new heart, new desires, new values, etc., (Ez.36:25-27), and as a result of that our external life will begin to show the corresponding changes. What James says is that a so-called faith that does not show these changed works is a dead, useless faith.
Many people who don't understand this use wrong applications in their lives. For example, when there is a problem in their married life or with their children, they pray to God 'in faith', without making any effort to understand what is going on, discussing issues, seeking for counsel, etc. And when the problems don't get resolved they blame God and even turn away from faith because they think God has failed them! Actually they were 'passing the buck to God' and shirking their own responsibilities, and suffering as a result. A balanced approach would have been to ask God for grace and wisdom and then to deal with the challenges in their lives.
God works in our lives to give us new direction and the strength to proceed, and then we need to carry it out (Php.2:12,13). This is to 'work out' our salvation, and not working 'for' our salvation.