“Am I alive or just breathing?” is a line from one of my favorite songs by a band called TEAM. I find the entire song “Am I Alive” beautiful, but this refrain really strikes me whenever I listen to it. It’s about asking yourself if you’re just going through life in the literal sense and merely surviving or if you’re doing the things you love and really experiencing the world around you. It reminds me of what Jesus said in John 10:10 when He says that he came to give us life more abundantly. And when I thought of this week’s blog, it was the first thing that came to my mind and wouldn’t leave.
James tells us that faith without works isn’t even breathing, it’s dead.
I’ve often said that a relationship with God is like running on a treadmill. You either keep going by moving forward or you stop and get pulled back. In my experiences, you can’t really take a break from God. You can’t just wake up one day and decide to step away for a bit and then come back and pick right up where you left off. Faith is a muscle. It has to be used and worked to stay in the shape it’s in or to grow. If it goes unused, it loses its strength.
Seems pretty simple, right? In order to keep and grow the faith we have, we have to use it, to exercise it. But how?
There’s prayer, for one. Let’s not discount or underrate prayer. It’s our primary form of communication with God, so it’s a very clear way to put faith in Him. By praying, we exercise faith that God is there, that He’s listening, that He cares, and that He can do something about whatever we bring to Him. Prayer is a huge way to exercise faith.
Then, as James points out, there’s works.
James talks about faith and works going hand in hand in 2:14-26. A lot of people misinterpret what James says in 2:14 (NRSV), “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you?” And in verses 17-18, “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.” And in verse 26, “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.” Some people take this to mean that works alone without an already existing faith can earn salvation and redemption.
Doesn’t that cheapen God? Honestly, doesn’t it make it sound like God is someone who can be bought and with our ideas of righteousness and goodness at that? God’s not interested in what we have to offer, nor is He surprised by what we bring to the table. He created us and basically gave us all that we’re offering back to Him. If He was after what we can give Him, what we can use to “earn” anything from Him, He would’ve just kept it for Himself.
No, as always, God is after our hearts. And it is the heart we put into our works that show and grow our faith.
Take what James says in verses 15-16. He writes, “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?” James isn’t saying there’s anything wrong with well-wishes or prayers or encouraging words on their own. He’s saying if we have the means to help someone, to legitimately improve their situation on a real and practical level and choose not to do it, that doesn’t show a heart full of love and faith. It doesn’t show that we have faith that God will use that moment to turn things around for that person. It doesn’t show that we have faith that people will help serve in God’s method to answer the prayers we offer Him for the individual’s case. After all, we could act in a way to help answer such a prayer and we’re not even doing so ourselves.
Alan said Sunday that a faith that works is a faith that transforms. That doesn’t mean that your faith just transforms you and your life. It transforms those you interact with, and it transforms every part of the world that you touch.
Let’s look at faith at two different levels and as two different definitions. The first is belief. To have faith means to believe something or someone. If I say, “I believe in God,” that demonstrates that I have faith in His existence for sure, and maybe depending on how I act or the context of the conversation, it also means that I have faith in His abilities. The funny thing is, even though I’m stating that I believe in God, the sentence somehow says more about me, doesn’t it? Maybe it’s the vagueness of the word “believe.” Or maybe it’s that belief in God is a pretty basic thing. Growing up in the South, almost everyone native believes in God’s existence as much as their own, and we often hear people from various places in the world be sure enough or willing to admit belief in the existence of God. James says in 2:19 (NIV), “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.” So faith in the sense of belief, acknowledging existence or power, alone isn’t that impressive.
The second level and definition is confident. To have faith in someone or something means to have confidence in him/her/it to do something. If I say, “I’m confident in God,” that demonstrates that I have faith that He can and will do something. The structure of this sentence is the same as the other; I am the subject and God is the object. The sentence itself doesn’t change the meaning. Yet this second level and second sentence tells more about God because He’s the recipient of my confidence. “Confident” is a more specific word that requires more faith. What is impressive isn’t that I have confidence; it’s who I have confidence in that matters.
Are you stuck somewhere between belief and confidence? Is your faith alive, just breathing, or actually dead? How much work are you doing for God?
Faith produces works because it spills over in our lives so much that it causes us to want to do more. We feel compelled to show people instead of just telling them. And we instinctively want to make our faith and place in the Kingdom of God active. No, works will never earn us salvation, but they are certainly a product of it.
By Carrie Prevette