READ: 2 Chronicles 13-15, Psalm 130, Mark 13, James 2
Martin Luther was evidently not very impressed with the book of James, allegedly calling it “the epistle of straw.” James’ contention that faith alone cannot save (James 2:14) seems to run counter to the whole Reformation message. James and Luther are probably still hashing it out over some new wine, and I suppose they have come to heavenly agreement. In my view, James is simply saying the following:
Faith (noun) Works (verb = labors): James points out to us that Christianity is not the lazy man’s way to heaven. We can not say “I believe” and then sit back and live a lazy, carnal life. In this sense belief is insufficient as “even the demons believe–and tremble” (James 2:19). Faith is not a nominal mental assent to what Jesus has done or who Jesus is; faith is a down and dirty active response to what God has done. James puts it this way: “Faith was working together with [Abraham’s] works, and by works faith was made perfect” (v. 22). Faith sweats. Faith walks through the trenches of life and exerts energy in responding to what God has initiated. Faith goes to doctors. Faith drinks boiled water. Faith buys life insurance. Faith does not deny facts and faith does not lazily depend on God.
Faith (adjective) Works (noun): Paul shares James’ thinking of works that are done in faith. Writing in 1 Thessalonians 1:3, he commends the church in Thessolonika for their “work of faith.” Some things are done in trust. We step out actively without guarantee or insurance. We build arks, we leave our homelands, we step onto the water, we pray for the sick–all these and many more are works done in faith. There is a beautiful union between God’s promises and our action. The follower of Jesus is constantly doing things (works) by faith (trusting, not knowing).
Faith (noun) Works (verb = succeeds): It is on this partnership of faith and works that Luther and James invite Abraham to their table and together clink their gilded goblets. Faith succeeds. James puts it this way: “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. And he was called the friend of God” (2:23). When we trust Jesus we obey Him. His is the greater work, but we have a part to play, we must trust and obey. When we do, faith is complete, all things are possible, and we are considered friends of God. There is no greater success nor reward.