Ugh. So I totally missed last week’s chapter in the James read-along. As chance would have it, I missed out on the discussion of faith and works because I was busy putting a whole lot of faith in all the work I was doing trying to get a certain Pre-K student back on track with her school work. I figured out last week that she’s picking up just as much from her sister’s right-on-track kindergarten practice of sounding out all words as she is from her own class. So, when Emma’s teacher asked her what the letter M is, she proudly proclaimed, “I don’t know!,” then went on to tell me that it was a “mmmmm.” And an S is a “sssss,” and an H is a “huh.” Honestly, this phonetic approach to the alphabet will be great NEXT YEAR when she’s learning to read, but right now? She needs to go back and learn that the letters do indeed have names. (Though I have to admit, she writes her “mmmmmm”s and “ssssss”s so beautifully.) She and I have backtracked all the letters she’s learned so far and are learning them for real this time, here at home, on top of reviewing the new material she’s learning every day. We’ve been busy bears (that’s bears with a B, Emma, not a “buh”) around here as a result.
Which is a really roundabout way of explaining why I totally missed last week.
If the second chapter of James COULD be summed up (which it can’t), I would sum it up like this — we are not saved by works; we are saved for works. I know that this issue is one of the main reasons why the book of James was so heavily contested as part of Scripture during the Reformation (along with the whole non-apostle authorship), and while I think our early church fathers knew what they were doing when they included it in the Bible, I think we have to be VERY careful when we speak with a lost world about faith and works and what part they play in salvation. I may be more sensitive to this than need be, because I’m so deeply embedded in a Bible belt culture that turns saying a prayer and walking an aisle into a saving work (both of which, in all reality, can be done completely apart from the saving work of Christ). If salvation depended on our works, we’d all be in a heap of trouble, because our good sure doesn’t outweigh our bad, no matter how “good” we really are. That said and with that (my works do NOT save me) clearly understood, I agree 100% with James — my real, authentic faith in the grace and goodness of Christ SHOULD manifest itself in works! If my life doesn’t include real fruit of God’s Spirit, then I should have a serious look at my faith. If my faith is in myself and my ability to do good works, then I have an empty faith. If my faith is solely in Christ and His grace, then works and fruit will abound.
That leads right into the third chapter, where James addresses our speech. I honestly don’t have a rough a time with SAYING damaging words… but I have a REALLY rough time when it comes to THINKING damaging words! And, as Christ made abundantly clear, thinking it is just as real as doing it. I was reading from an ESV Study Bible (you should totally get one — it’s great!), and there were so many helpful clarifications/observations in the notes. Here are a few of my favorites…
“A person’s words reflect his character and thus are a key to his whole being.”
“Just as no tree would produce two kinds of fruit, so also a true believer would not produce both blessings of God and curses toward others.”
“The legacy of those who bring peace rather than conflict is a harvest of righteousness. The ‘fruit’ that comes from peacemaking in the Christian community will be the righteous conduct that God will bless.”
If my words are indicative of bad fruit, the condition of my heart is in question. If the words I say (or think!) are poisonous, then surely my heart is full of poison as well. Wes and I have said it often — we all ferment with age. If you’re a sweet, kind, godly, sincere person in your youth, that fruit will age like fine wine, and you’ll be even sweeter, kinder, godlier, and more sincere in your old age. If you’re bitter, sarcastic, envious, and divisive — well, you’ll just get more and more unpleasant as time goes on. So, not only will your words rip apart your relationships and rob God of His glory in your life, but it will only get worse as time goes on. What a scary thought for someone who thinks as critically and negatively as I do!
I’m really challenged to examine my own life as I read through these two chapters. Examine the fruit that my life is producing. Examine what that says about my faith and my relationship with the Lord. Not that we should question the power of Christ to save us and keep us in His grace, but we should question whether our hope is in the works we do and the prayer we prayed and the aisle we walked, rather than solely in what Christ did on the cross. If our words and thoughts are displaying bad fruit, then we must go back to the very basics — knowing Christ and welcoming His transforming power over EVERY part of our lives.
Looking forward to chapter 4!