How does our faith get us to act any differently than pagans?
To demonstrate how works are part of faith, James pulled two examples out of the bible: Abraham and Rahab. Both are good examples of faith. So much so they got listed in the “hall of faith” in Hebrews 11… for the very same two acts of faith James brought up.
Now, how do we know these two people had faith? Because they acted on that faith. Abraham trusted God so much, he was willing to sacrifice his son to him.
Which I didn’t really need to recap; here’s what James wrote about it.
James 2.20-26 KWL
- 20 Do you want to know, you silly people, how faith without works is useless?
- 21 Our ancestor Abraham. Wasn’t he justified by works
- when he brought his son Isaac up to the altar?
- 22 You see, since Abraham’s faith cooperated with his works,
- the faith was achieved through the works,
- 23 and the scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham trusted God,
- and God calculated it as righteous,”
Ge 15.6and he was called God’s friend.
- 24 You also see, since a person is justified by works, it’s not only by “faith.”
- 25 Likewise Rahab the whore: Wasn’t she justified by works
- when she received the king’s agents and sent them out on another road?
- 26 For just as the body without a spirit is dead,
- so too the faith without works is dead.
If faith is reduced solely to what we believe to be true, even then they’re empty beliefs if they don’t provoke us to act on ’em. Abraham could’ve claimed to entirely trust God. But had his response been, “Wait; I can’t sacrifice Isaac, ’cause you promised he’d be my heir, and produce nations, and… no, this command makes no sense; I’m ignoring it,” so much for that faith.
Likewise Rahab could’ve claimed she trusted God, but had she played it safe and handed the spies over, Joshua would’ve simply sent in more spies, and she and her family would’ve been wiped out along with the rest of Jericho.
And neither of these people would become the ancestors of Jesus.
Faith which takes risks and shows results.
Both these acts of faith took great personal risk. Abraham risked his son’s life. More: His wife’s wrath and his own future. Doesn’t matter that, as a patriarch, he had the power to execute anyone he chose. Nobody trusts a ruler who’s into human sacrifice, and Abraham’s subjects would look for any chance for a new leader. Inevitably the inheritance would’ve passed, by default, to Ishmael.
Rahab risked her own life, and probably her family’s lives: The reason the L
Whereas in the United States, our faith rarely risks our own lives. In fact I know plenty of Christians who take the attitude it never, ever should. If the government ever turns on us Christians, they intend to stockpile weapons and go to war, much like Simon Peter did when he pulled a machete during Jesus’s arrest.
Acts of faith in the face of great personal risk: That’s how we know Abraham and Rahab had faith. And it’s how God knew they had faith.
Yeah, God knows all. Including infinite hypothetical scenarios. He knows how far Abraham and Rahab would’ve followed him, if it ever came to that. But contrary to what Molinists believe, he doesn’t base his relationship with us on what we might do—’cause if we never actually do it, it’d be wholly unjust of God to judge us for it. It’s like saying, “I led you away from temptation,
And since it’d be wrong if God punished us for sins we didn’t do, it’s just as wrong if God rewarded us for good deeds we didn’t do. I may claim I have faith, but till I act on it, it’s academic, intellectual, hypothetical, fictional. And not worth rewarding. Not worth justifying me by it.
Oooh, now we’re getting serious.
As James summed up, a body without a spirit is dead. A faith without works is likewise dead. My trust in God should be evident by the way I visibly follow him. I should be taking risks, making decisions, and acting in ways no pagan reasonably would. If you can’t tell the difference between my behavior and that of any well-meaning pagan, what kind of faith do I have? Does it justify me?
If I have no faith-works, I have no faith for God to declare righteous. Pretty cut ’n dried. Not fun for those folks who want to believe much, do nothing, and expect to get into God’s kingdom regardless.
Do our actions look any more Christian than not?
You know those Christians who intend to return fire on any would-be persecutors: In what way are they any different whatsoever from a vengeful pagan? Shouldn’t Christians behave differently?
In Acts the apostles went on trial, totally confessed they were guilty of proclaiming Jesus, and accepted whatever unrighteous punishments were dumped on ’em for it. Jesus warned us that’d happen,
And sometimes God let angels and earthquakes bust ’em out of prison. Or gave them favor with officials whom you’d never expect to take their side. (Often the very same Romans who killed Jesus.) Act in faith, and God may show up. Act on your own, and you’ll be just another nut with a gun.
We’re not at that point in the United States. If we ever get there, I sincerely doubt it’ll be through the government; I expect, just like the American south during Jim Crow, the people will lynch us while the government turns a blind eye. Same as in Ephesus, when the people rioted over Paul, and the city leaders had to calm ’em down.
So… how’re we doing with the public right now? What acts of faith do they see in us? Do they see us Christians behaving like Jesus, performing his miracles, demonstrating his compassion, acting in his love, inviting them into his kingdom? Or do they see us as hypocrites because our “faith” doesn’t demonstrate any love or grace, and substitutes those things with judgmentalism, and support for godless Mammonist politicians?
If the second batch is all they see, I don’t blame ’em for someday coming after us.