James 1:22-25, 2:21-22
Faith And Works

Authored By Rev. Chen Tientsu, Taiwan Presbyterian Church, Taiwan

1.  Back when the gospel was first told in Taiwan many christians were scorned as people who "believe in a barbaric religion," They believe in a teaching of wheat meal," "They believe in a teaching where you don't cry for the dead," "They are turning their backs on the ancestors," and so on.  They were mocked for being people who "hear propositions (truth)."  As the presbyterian church I go to is one of the branches in the reform tradition, we certainly value hearing the word of God in worship.  However, rather than understanding a lot of truth we feel action is more important.  Some day, because of the pure actions of christians, I am happy to think that many people might switch from calling us "people who hear words" to "people who do the words."

2.  In Paul's epistles to the Romans and to the Galatians, he emphasizes that we "are justified by faith."  Some have misunderstood James as having emphasized that we "are being justified by works" and have thought that he was in opposition to Paul on this.  But actually in James' explanation of faith and works, faith points to the inner source of works.  If one has faith deep down in one's heart, it will always show up on the outside.  [Faith] is the attitude one has towards God.  It's like the coin with its face and flipside.

3.  In Galatians 5:6 Paul says, "If you are joined to Christ, being circumcised or not is not the issue, but a faith that includes the practice of love is most important."  The views of both men are mutually supportive.  If I [could] put the meaning of verse twenty more simply, it would be that faith is the motivating power behind good works and the good works that come from faith is proof of a real christian.

4.  Both Paul and James take up Abraham as an example, but Paul states that Abraham was justified by faith and James offers proof that the works of Abraham justified him (verse twenty-one).  Therefore, the text says in verse twenty-four, "As you understand this, since a person is justified by works it does not come by faith alone."  James did not deny that faith was important in salvation, but he does say that "it does not come by faith alone."  If I [could] explain it, it would be that faith does not exist all by itself, true faith is not mere understanding of truth, it always includes works.  [It is that] works naturally emerge out of true faith.

5.  Since that is so, we see that "hearing his word" and "doing his word" have the same importance.  If only one side is emphasized, it becomes nonsense.  So, in verses twenty-two and twenty-three James writes, "Be a doer of God's word.  Don't deceive yourselves by stopping with hearing alone.  If a person only hears the word and doesn't do it, he is likened to a person gazing at his face he's born with reflecting in a mirror."

6.  For a number of years, recently, I have reflected and searched wide on this topic of why the church around the world is not growing.  Is it because we have a number of problems?  Our faith is weak?  We have no works?  The knowledge of our faith is insufficient?  We've gone secular?  We've turned God into material things?  It has become a private individual thing without our realizing it?  Worship has turned formal?  Or the followers in the church have changed into adherents of formality?  What in the world is happening to the church today?  Many people are satisfying the ideals in their hearts.  But, not many works have been showing up on the outside.  In verse twenty-three James says, "If a person only hears the word and doesn't do it, he is likened to a person gazing at his face he's born with reflecting in a mirror."

7.  The old time philosopher from China Wang Yangming claimed "The Unity Of Knowledge And Action," but the modern Wang Yangming (that is, the church teacher) seems to claim the opposite, "The Disunity Of Knowledge And Action."  Because the person of today still "doesn't do it though he knows it."  James fills in the apostle Paul's teaching of "Being justified by faith" with "Faith needs the evidence of works."  That is to say, the faith life that brings glory to God is perfected by the true inner faith showing itself in outward activity.

8.  When James was teaching his disciples, he quoted the example of faith which Abraham practiced, who is called the father of the faith.  We can see from both Abraham's faith and works the practice of "The Unity Of Knowledge And Action."  Thus, we must not just be christians in the know (thinking it), but we must be christians on the go (doing it) at the same time.  If we were to wonder which of the two was more important, I would think most christians would answer that both were just about equally important, but the way it really is there are some churches that push just the knowing side of faith and some churches that push just works.  A true christian is one who values the theoretical [aspect of] faith and who values practical works.

9.  If we take a really good look at the church today, we'd get the feeling that the church is not under any hidden critical trials or testings.  In James 1:22-23, he says, "Be a doer of God's word.  Don't deceive yourselves by stopping with hearing alone.  If a person only hears the word and doesn't do it, he is likened to a person gazing at his face he's born with reflecting in a mirror.  Even though he sees the image of himself reflected in the mirror, when he goes away, he soon forgets the way he was then."  Today a number of churches are becoming formal through secular influence.  A typical congregation hears only the word of God and can be obedient in mouth only.  They cannot transfer it into actions (they may even think it is unnecessary to.)  A great many people come to church but don't stay in church.  There is more than a few who have been going to church for decades every week, but even still they don't know the basics of the Bible and there are many who don't see how that the church and the world are connected.

10.  So many people go all out to be healthy, but unless they first heal from [this] chronic disease [of imbalanced faith and works], they will not acquire renewed health, it is important that we not only hear the word of God, but that we truly work according to it.

 
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