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  • Writer's picturesonnyholmes


There are puzzling elements of life. Assembling the various pieces is usually a challenge, especially for spiritually estranged humans. Pulling it all together is one of those life debates people standing in the various corners are eager to pursue. A secular worldview touts a physical and emotional path to wellness. My worldview says that is incomplete.

Certainly faith fills the spiritual void in the human experience. There are puzzles here too, though we should avoid the temptation to make orthodox Christian belief so complex that normal people could not grasp it. One of the paradoxes is the tension between faith and works. Paul wrote---

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing;

it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Ephesians 2:8-9, ESV

When James wrote about this tension, there was a powerful addendum...

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have

works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking

in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,”

without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also

faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

James 2:14-17, ESV

There they are, the two polarities that have divided good Christians for more than two millennia---faith is not of works, but without works is dead. This tension was a central point of theological debate when the Reformation changed the face of Christianity in the sixteenth century. Equipped today with the doctrines of sola fide and sola gratia and sola Christi the place of works in the Christian experience should be settled and defined. But, still a world of nominal Christians, a basically impotent church, and the moral declines of worldwide culture have many of us wondering about the cheap and costly grace Bonhoeffer wrote about or the place of works in the Christian experience.

Perhaps there's the idea of completion in this consideration of faith and works. When James was writing about it he used father Abraham as an example of the tension that brings completion to the reality of faith. He wrote---

You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by

his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it

was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God.

James 2: 22-23, ESV

There are no asterisks or additional explanations to this idea of completion. It could only mean that Abraham's faith became more than intellectual assent when he offered Isaac in obedience to God's command. It is the biblical truth that faith without works is dead, that faith and reliance on God's promise and provision is sufficient to guide us toward absolute obedience.

Surely I can add nothing to Christ's atoning death as the ransom for my sinful soul. The sufficiency of Christ is a theme woven through the New Testament to give us the assurance of Christ as "the way, the truth, and the life" and the certainty that "No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 24:6, ESV). Yet, there's this nominal Christian thing again and the truth that many people today view themselves as believers without the accompanying works that bring completion to our limited humans ideals of personal faith. It brings to us the truth that faith without works is dead. It is the idea that works bring completion to our concepts of faith.

Many of us start the journey today but are far from complete. Our call is first to love God and obey him, and then to love others and serve them (see Matthew 22:36-40). This obedience and service is what we call "works". And, through them, our earthly ideal of faith is made complete.

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