Faith That Works
Martin Luther, at the dawn of the Reformation, coined the phrase, “Solo fides” – faith alone. The phrase sprang from his study of the book of Romans, in which he discovered that salvation is imputed upon a believer based on a response of faith, and not by any spiritual or moral action conducted on the part of the person.
At the same time, the Roman See was conducting a capital campaign in order to complete the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. One German monk, Johann Tetzel, had proven himself extremely proficient at raising funds through the sale of indulgences. These indulgences were the presumed superabundant leftover merits of prior saints, which the Roman Catholic Church had banked, and would make available to those who desired to reduce their time in purgatory. Tetzel, himself, advocated that “each time a coin in the chest would ring, a soul from purgatory would spring.” Innocent victims of this huckster would gather in crowds to purchase these indulgences for themselves and family who had passed.
Luther considered Tetzel’s selling off of God’s grace a complete distortion of Christian theology. The phrase “Sola fides” emphasized that there are no actions that we can accomplish that will enact salvation on our or other’s behalf. We were and are saved by faith, apart from any work to obtain it.
However, over time the concept of “Sola fides” morphed into a theological position that I believe Martin Luther would not have recognized. A strain of today’s “faith only” theology teaches that since we are saved by faith, and that faith is even a gift imputed by God, works are inconsequential. Faith has absolutely no association with a life of morality or service. Faith can devolve into nothing more than a momentary intellectual acknowledgement. If a person responds to God in faith, it does not matter what they do with the rest of their lives … they can live like hell because heaven is already guaranteed.
The idea that faith and works are, not only two separate manifestations, but two manifestations that have no relationship, connection, or association does not ring true with the words of Scripture.
James responds to such a theological position that seeks to validate faith by a simple statement and a wave of the hand … “I have faith. That solves it!” … by asking to see it! He further presents his argument by saying, “You show me your faith, and I will show you my faith by my actions.” He concludes his argument with the powerful axiom, “Faith without works is dead.”
James clearly thought that there was a decided connection between faith and works. Does that mean that James thought that he earned his salvation by his works? No. But he did believe that faith that did not support itself with actions was nothing more than a lifeless relic, if it was ever faith at all.
The most famous faith chapter in the Bible, Hebrews 11, supports James’ contention that faith is always accompanied by supporting actions. Often this chapter is looked at like a Biblical Hall of Fame, a series of heroic characters and the chronicle of their exploits. Anybody familiar with the chapter is aware of the repetition of the phrase, “By faith …” The phrase occurs 17 times in a 29 verse stretch. Sixteen times these phrases introduce statements of faith articulated by actions.
By faith Abel … offered.
By faith Noah … built.
By faith Abraham … obeyed and went, offered Isaac as a sacrifice.
By faith Moses’ parents … hid him.
By faith Moses … refused, left, kept the Passover.
By faith the people … passed through the Red Sea.
By faith Rahab … welcomed.
Each one of these chronicles is faith put in action, faith lived out. According to the Hebrew writer, faith is only faith when it is put in action. Not a single one of the statements represents faith as an intellectual exercise, or a philosophical or theological acknowledgement. According to these statements, faith is at least as much a practical reality as it is a more a propositional statement. Every chronicle includes an activity that substantiates the presence of faith.
If you are a person of faith, you have a “by faith” statement. It may be as simple as one of mine, “By faith Steve, even though he possessed an overwhelming fear of speaking in public, became a herald of God’s message in the preaching/teaching ministry.”
Maybe your statement is “By faith …
Forgave the sins that were committed against her by her family, and surrendered all of the resentments that accumulated over the years.
Determined to shorten the hours he spent at work, realizing that his first ministry was to his family, and any amount of success would not balance failure at home.
Told his friends, “I have made a decision that I am not going to talk like that anymore, and I would ask that you respect that.”
Volunteered to help the older couple down the street with some needed home repairs, as an expression of God’s love.
Moved the computer into a family access area, so he would have the accountability he needed to help relieve the temptation to feed his lust by frequenting pornographic sites.
Reached out to her neighbor and invited her to church.
Quit his job because it required him to make questionable moral calls.
Gave a permanent home to a child without “a place to call home” and became their family.
The options are innumerable. If you spend a moment reflecting on it, you will probably find that you have more than one. Think through all of the life transformations that faith has brought into your life. Put a verb on them. Write them out. Celebrate that faith has been at work in your life.
If you are having trouble putting together a list, it is not too late to begin. Start writing your list today. Decide on one thing that will change because of the faith that you claim, and by faith live it.
— Pastor Steve