Tag Archives: Faith Without Works

What it Means to Believe

One of Christianity’s foundational doctrines asserts that a belief in Jesus is necessary for eternal life. Which raises a crucial question: what does it mean to believe? Many of us think it’s nothing more than cognitive acquiescence – if we say we believe, then we believe. We are convinced that on Judgment Day God will simply ask whether we believe in His Son, and if we respond affirmatively then we are whisked away to enjoy eternity in heaven.

Imagine that approach playing out at your local courthouse. The bailiff brings a defendant before the judge and reads the charges. The judge asks the defendant how he pleads and whether he committed the crime. If the defendant replies ‘not guilty’ and affirms his innocence then the judge sets him free. No trial takes place. No evidence is presented. The judge requires no corroborating proof to support the defendant’s claim of innocence.

We scoff at the absurdity of such a scenario and express relief that courts issue verdicts only after a rigorous examination of the evidence rather than simply trusting the defendant’s plea. And so it is with God. He doesn’t ask if we believe and then ignore any evidence to the contrary. Instead, he examines our lives in great detail – every thought, word, and deed. Not to determine whether we are worthy and have earned a place in heaven. None of us are worthy and heaven cannot be earned.

But our thoughts, words, and actions do evidence what we really believe. Authentic belief transforms our hearts and our souls. That’s why the apostle Paul encourages us to, ‘Examine ourselves as to whether we are in the faith,” and to “Prove ourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5). He tells us that unless evidence supports our claim of belief then we have become disqualified – Christ does not abide in us.

James addresses this issue with the early church declaring, “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe – and tremble” (James 2:19, NKJV). The demons not only believe in God but tremble in fear of Him. But none of them will spend eternity in heaven. James is not suggesting that belief in Christ is insufficient. We know that by faith alone we are saved.

What James asserts is this: “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17, NKJV). Godly works, thoughts, and words always accompany genuine faith. In their absence a fraudulent faith exists – one that cannot withstand God’s scrutiny. James summarizes that view with this rhetorical question, “If someone says he has faith but does not have works, can that kind of faith save him?” (2:14). The obvious answer, of course, is no.

Take time this week to examine your life. Does a growing body of evidence support your claim that you believe? Is your life increasingly marked by the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? If not, ask God for authentic faith that transforms your heart and every facet of your life.

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Sacrificial Love.

God is love. That truth represents one of the overarching themes of Scripture. It courses through every book of the Bible and finds its ultimate fulfillment in Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross – to redeem mankind from sin and reconcile us to God.

That act of selfless obedience gave us more than eternal life, however. It also provided us a model for how we are to love others and demonstrated the supremacy of love both in God’s kingdom and in His people. More than that, we learn elsewhere in Scripture that genuine love evidences the presence of Christ in our hearts and the Holy Spirit in our lives.

The apostle John informs us, “Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10, NKJV). Take a moment to read that verse again and consider what John is saying. Those who fail to love the family of God reveal His absence in their lives. Said another way, anyone who claims to follow Christ but does not love God’s people is exposed as a liar. They have no part in God’s kingdom and will not experience eternal life. It is impossible, John tells us, to truly know Christ and not love His followers.

So what does love look like? Is it merely expressed in words? Is it enough just to claim love for others? Of course not. The apostle James tells us that words alone are useless in isolation; they prove nothing. Actions must work in concert with words for love to truly flourish.

In his first epistle John tells us, “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16, NKJV). Ah, now we’re getting somewhere in our quest to define love. Jesus shows us how to love others. He sacrificed His life for us because His love for us is so great. He wanted to reconcile us with God so we could enjoy eternal life in His presence.

John declares that we ought to love others in a similar manner – especially our brothers and sisters in the Lord. Just as Christ prioritized our salvation above His temporal needs (safety, comfort, long life), we ought to do the same for others.

Though the form that takes varies by believer, it always mirror Christ’s example in terms of sacrifice and selflessness. John provides one compelling example of demonstrated love in the next verse when he tells us. “Whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?”

The question is rhetorical. You cannot truly love God and allow those in His family to suffer in need. Whoever has this world’s goods, if he or she is a Christian, will share generously with those in need, especially those from the household of faith. How much you ask? Consistent with Christ’s model; that is, sacrificially. Anything less is mere lip service, which John rebukes as inadequate. “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (verse 18).

The apostle James gives the same message in his epistle. “If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:15-17, NKJV).

God calls us to love sacrificially, love substantively, and to reveal Him to others as we love on His behalf. There are countless needs in this world, among believers and unbelievers alike. At the same time, our country enjoys an unprecedented level of wealth that could meet many of those needs. But that will only happen when we, as God’s people, set aside our selfish desires and train our resources on meeting the spiritual, physical, and basic needs of those across the globe.

Take time this weekend to consider the following questions. How is God is calling you to love sacrificially. In what ways does selfishness preempt you from following Christ’s model of love? Who specifically is God prompting you to inundate with love? How can you ensure that acts of selfless, sacrificial love become a part of your daily routine?