Is our faith living, or dead?

by K.W. Leslie, 29 May

James 2.14-17.

So now we’re at one of the more controversial passages in Christendom: The notorious “faith without works is dead” bit.

Properly faith is a synonym for trust, and when Christianity talks about faith we mean trusting in God. We figure there’s something of substance holding up our beliefs: God himself. He’s real and reliable, and will do as he said he’d do. It’s not just “faith in faith”—that we imagine what we want, believe really hard, and stuff will happen. That’s how magic is supposed to work, and we all know magic isn’t real. But you’d be surprised how often people think faith works that way. (Or that magic is real.)

Now if faith is based on something solid, it means we should be able to stand on that faith, right? Should be able to act on it. Should be able to do stuff based on our trust in God. If I trust in a stepladder I should have no trouble standing on it; seems kinda stupid if I never use it because I really don’t care to test it. What’s the point of owning a stepladder then?

Same argument James made here: What’s the point of “having faith” if it never comes to anything? If we never use it? Is that even faith?

James 2.14-17 KWL
14 What’s the point, my fellow Christians, when someone says they “have faith,”
yet doesn’t take action? Can “faith” save them?
15 When a Christian brother or sister starts to become needy and go without daily food,
16 and one of you tells them, “Go in peace: I declare you to be warm and full!”
yet doesn’t give them anything useful for their body, what’s the point?
17 This “faith,” when it’s all by itself and takes no action, is dead.

Obviously he answered that question: Nope. Not faith. If it’s fruitless, it’s nekrá kath’ eaftín/“dead by itself.” (I moved the “by itself” to earlier in the sentence.) It’s not just faith without works that’s dead. Faith without anything is dead.

Note this situation James described in his example, where “one of you” tells a needy Christian, “Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled.” Jm 2.16 KJV It’s not a hypothetical situation. It still happens all the time. This is when Christians wish blessings upon one another. “Oh it’s so sad you don’t have a job, but y’know what? I’m gonna declare for you that you will get a job. That my God will supply all your needs according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. Pp 4.19 KJV You just trust in God now; he will take care of you.” And then, just like every sucky intercessor, that well-wisher does nothing to help God take care of them.

So, this kind of so-called “faith”? Dead.

Yep. Every compassionate-sounding Christian who says, “Aww,” at all the sob stories, yet lifts not a finger to do anything, and all they have are best wishes and warm prayers: Hypocrites with dead faith. Pretending it’s faith—pretending they believe God’ll take care of people—but y’know, we Christians are meant to be how God takes care of his needy. Remember when the first Christians had needy people in Acts? No you don’t, ’cause they didn’t:

Acts 4.32-35 KWL
32 The number of believers were one in thinking and lifestyle.
Not one of their possessions was said to be their own.
Instead, everything of theirs was commonly used.
33 The apostles gave their witness of Master Jesus’s resurrection in great power.
Great grace was upon them all, 34 for they had no needy:
Whoever among them owned land or houses were selling whatever was sellable
35 and placed them at the apostles’ feet. This was passed along to everyone—whoever had need.

When’s the last time someone in your church sold a house and gave the proceeds to the church to help out the needy? When’s the last time you ever heard of a church doing that on a regular basis? Face it: We suck.

Platitudes instead of help.

I’ve been needy. Some years ago I was really short on cash. Bills were paid, but I hadn’t a cent extra, and really wanted to visit my family. So I shared my request to my church’s prayer group.

I think I would’ve been happy with the equivalent of “Be ye warmed and filled.” Instead I got privately lectured by two different pastors about how I really needed to get a better-paying job. Well duh. But exactly like the folks who wish you well and do nothing, they offered me no job contacts. Didn’t say, “Hey, I need my garage painted; wanna make $50 this weekend? Didn’t straight-up give me $50, like some Christians will. Screw generosity; they had advice. ’Cause that’s what the needy want, advice. Ambrose Bierce once called advice the smallest current coin, and with all due respect I’d say it’s often the only coin with a negative balance. ’Cause it sucks the joy out of you.

For about a month I debated whether I oughta bother to even stay in that church. But I forgave them, and stayed… till I lost my job the next year, and was obligated to move away.

Can I point to this church, give a testimony of its generosity, and rejoice in it? Nope. In fact it doesn’t exist anymore, and that’s likely best. Churches without works are also dead.

But churches without works are full of good advice. That’s how they convince themselves they do so have faith: Their advice sounds so faith-based! “Just trust God. He’ll work everything out for you. If you have needs turn to Jesus. Put your hope in him.” And I do. But here’s how we know it’s hypocrisy: All this “faith” that God’s gonna do stuff, means they needn’t bother to lift a finger. So they don’t.

This faithlessness also tends to manifest in these churches in all sorts of other ways. They’re short of fruit of the Spirit, fr’instance. Not a lot of generosity, grace, nor compassion, obviously. Nor love, nor kindness, nor patience. Without fruit of the Spirit, they’re also gonna be short of gifts of the Spirit, so fewer miracles, faith-healings, prophecy, revivals, and people coming to Jesus. That church I mentioned? Didn’t see a lot of that stuff. Not that the leadership didn’t try, but I remind you the church is its people, not its leadership. Lose the leaders and too many churches have barely any relationship with Jesus. And no faith.

Whereas if we truly put our hope in Jesus, we’re gonna follow him. We’re gonna do stuff based on that hope, right? I’m gonna give to those who ask, Mt 5.42 even though there’s no reason I should expect payback from them. (More likely my payback’s gotta come from God, who’s way more generous than I am. Lk 6.38) I’m gonna act. And sometimes the Holy Spirit is gonna empower me to accomplish way more than I could on my own. Miracles follow. Faith grows.

Good works aren’t merely a byproduct of faith; they’re what faith bloody does. If we Christians don’t do them, we’re useless. There’s no point to our Christianity: We’re a drag on the kingdom, an embarrassment to God, and a hinderance to the world God wants to save.

“Faith’s not a work!”

As I’ve previously written, I grew up among Christians who believe they’re saved by faith. They misinterpreted “for by grace are ye saved through faith” Ep 2.8 KJV and emphasize God graciously saved us through faith, and skip all the grace stuff. It’s why they seriously suck at grace.

But to their minds, faith means the stuff we believe. Our system of religious doctrines. Our theology. The reason they insist we gotta get all our beliefs straightened out, is because we’re saved by having them straight. They’re like the tumblers of a lock, and Jesus is the key, and he can’t open up salvation if the tumblers aren’t properly arranged.

It takes work to get all these beliefs straight. But because the King James Version is way more obvious about how we’re not saved by works, Ep 2.9 they’re pretty darned insistent faith isn’t work. None of this effort they’re doing to sort out their doctrines counts as work. Faith’s not a work. ’Cause if we’re saved by faith and not works, it can’t be a work.

Hence they don’t know what to do with James. To them it’s a massive contradiction in their system. Everything James tells us about faith must be wrong—and probably shouldn’t even be in the bible, though you’re never gonna get them to publicly say so.

So what do they do with these passages? Not a lot. Either they don’t teach on James at all, or claim the whole letter is old-dispensation thinking.

Or—and yeah, this is weird—they do teach on these passages. They fully teach that faith without works is dead. But they try to make it very clear by “faith” they mean their doctrines, and by “works” they mean fruit. If you believe the doctrines super hard, God will reward us by gradually growing us into better people. We’ll follow the Ten Commandments more. Cuss less. Watch less TV and stop listening to evil pop music. Men will shave and cut their hair short. Women will wear makeup and pantsuits less often.

You notice none of these “fruits,” such as they are, have a direct correlation to the faith they’re supposedly practicing. Unlike any of the examples James used in his letter. But they’re not really teaching about James’s letter; they’re just trying to explain how “faith without works is dead” isn’t all that contrary to their wayward belief system. Even though it still is.

The correct understanding is we’re saved by grace. Not works.

And faith is totally a work. ’Cause workless faith isn’t faith. Faith, when it’s all by itself, with no effects, no actions, no direct consequences, nothing by which it can spread to others: It’s dead.

A workless church has no faith. And is also dead. It may look alive, but it’s much like a dead parrot nailed to its perch which a shopkeeper attempted to pass off as living. Any squawking it may do is only the appearance of life, but because it doesn’t actually do anything, it’s in fact no more. It has ceased to be. It’s expired and gone to meet its maker. And so on.

You don’t want a dead church or a dead faith. So ask yourself: What’s the point of claiming we have faith if we take no action?