Twisted bunny trail this morning which doesn’t really end up at a final destination. Just ends up where He has me, today. Now.
It began with the Epistle and the rub this passage surfaces that goes all the way back to our Christian beginnings. The rub between faith and works; between righteous faith and declarative faith. Faith that glorifies God or faith that makes you look good. Are we right with God because of what we say we believe or because of what we do?
Both and? Yes and no. Paradox again.
James’ letter, which is grounded on the principle that once your heart is truly transformed, your behavior will evince the transformation, is often held up in opposition to Paul’s teaching (cited primarily in Ephesians 2.8-9:For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God) that only the profession of belief is required to be right with God. We are sanctified – some will say, saved – by our faith, alone.
It’s an age-old argument that distracts, I think, from the point. Indeed, contemporary biblical scholarship has taken the historical interpretation of Paul’s words to task and makes a strong case that the Holy Spirit is teaching us about faithfulness, not belief, in Paul’s letters. That is, Paul is saying that the people of God must stay in faithful relationship with God and if so, hearts and minds and behavior, will naturally transform. Christ in us.
With this interpretation the Holy Spirit breathes into the words of each apostle, giving us today space to know that we are right with God when we live in relationship with Him and in relationship with Him what we do will be of, from, with and for, Him. Our works will follow.
But…a distraction is what I believe the whole faith vs works debate is about – a comfortable distraction.
This passage from James describes what I’m coming to understand as Christians who look to Jesus and the Word as a “behavior-improvement” plan that will get them to heaven. Behavior improvement and Final Destination Christianity. Behavior guided by the Law, and professing a belief in Jesus Christ as a personal Savior for salvation. A formula of sorts. A program. Hmm. I wonder.
This idea is not mine. It comes from Dr. Andrew Farley, pastor and Texas Tech linguistics professor, and author of The Naked Gospel.
Rather than paraphrasing his take on this particular issue (faith vs works), I am posting an interview here (two parts) recorded a few years ago when Farley’s book was first published. I think if you were to listen to this interview and then read the selection from James, you might understand it more fully – might be able to see the holy space breathed into the archetypal ‘faith without works is dead,’ passage by the Spirit.
Christianity is not a behavior improvement plan with a final destination. It is much more and at the same time, much more simple than that. We love God (glorify Him), love our neighbor. And we do that now, because the realm of God is now.
Glorifying God? That is the question before each work, behavior, decision I make. That is my bar – my litmus test – is this something that glorifies God or is this something that glorifies me? Makes me look good? Keeps my reputation in tact as whatever others know me as? Is this work a faithful one?
And the second part of Farley’s idea – the ‘final destination?’….well, Jesus told us, the Kingdom of God has arrived – is here. Now.