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God’s Word for You

James 2:18 I will show you my faith

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, July 24, 2020

18 But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without works, and by my works I will show you my faith.

Our coach James has another good point to make. A hypothetical man thinks that his works are as good a way to heaven as faith. “I have one, you have another. Let’s agree to differ.” But James hasn’t been talking about the way to heaven. Only faith saves. Works are evidence of faith, not the alternative to faith. So, by saying this, James has dug up the tough old root of the false hope man has in earning his way to heaven.

For us to see this more clearly, let’s think of a car and its tires. How will I get where I’m going? “You have a car,” someone says, “and I have new tires.” Fine. Show me your tires without any car and see how far you get, like Sisyphus rolling four stones up a hill all at the same time. I will show you my car which also has tires, and we will see how far I get.

Another side to the hypothetical man James quotes is the possibility that he sees the good works of other Christians and supposes that by those works they somehow merited or achieved salvation. Because of this supposition, he imitates them. He imagines that those good works are like the combination of a lock, and that by turning his life to the same numbers on the lock he will open what was opened for them. God doesn’t want certain good works in a certain order from us. “Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me” (Psalm 50:12-15). Imitating someone else’s good works to achieve salvation is a delusion. It clouds over the glory of Christ which Christians give to God out of thanks for their salvation. More than that, the hypothetical man doesn’t find any peace in his conscience over his works. If he is honest about the condition of his heart and his life, he will only become terrified by his good works because he will know (at least secretly) that they are all stained with sin, and that because of this his works get him nowhere. The law always accuses them and brings God’s wrath (Romans 2:15). Still further, they never attain the knowledge of God because in their terror (or in the anger than comes on the heels of prolonged terror) they flee from God’s judgment and they never believe that he hears them. “Instead,” the prophet says, “they followed the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts. They went backward and not forward” (Jeremiah 7:24).

“Faith gives assurance of God’s presence when it is sure that he freely forgives and hears us” (Apology IV:205). This assurance that faith gives comes in the form of good works. Faith is not replaced by works. The works are simply the window shade thrown open to display what is already there in the heart.

  We are the Lord’s; then let us gladly tender
  Our souls to him in deeds, not empty words.
  Let heart and tongue and life combine to render
  No doubtful witness that we are the Lord’s. (Christian Worship 427:2)

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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