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WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOU BELIEVED A TORNADO TO BE IMMINENT?
by Philip Owen

           Faith is invisible, right? It cannot be seen, residing within the heart (not the physical organ, but the metaphorical expression of the core of a human being’s personality). So how can I be certain that I or someone else has faith? Believe it or not, a secular writer offers a valuable insight that helps us answer that question. Dr. Tony Alessandra, in an article entitled, “Time Management for Sales People,” observed: “If it is not affecting your actions, it is doubtful you believe it.” Actually, the Word of God removes the “doubtful” word from Dr. Alessandra’s assertion. James states unequivocally that “faith without works is dead” (Jam. 2:26b).

           Do we have a conflict, then, between James and Paul? Does the Bible offer contradictory statements about this most fundamental and essential doctrine regarding salvation? After all, Paul’s unambiguous assertion is that “by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8, 9). It’s difficult to imagine a clearer and more succinct way of declaring that works plays no part in salvation. First, Paul asserts that salvation is “by grace,” which is by definition “unmerited or unearned favor.” That excludes works. Second, it is “by faith,” a word meaning “to believe, to trust.” Something apart from human deeds. Third, Paul says that salvation is “not of yourselves.” So man’s actions play no role in his salvation. Fourth, “it is the gift of God.” By definition, a “gift” is something freely bestowed, not something bought, earned, or merited. Fifth, Paul states that human effort plays no part whatsoever in salvation: “not of works.” Then, Paul puts the icing on the cake. Sixth, “so that no one may boast.” If you or I had done anything to procure our salvation, however small, we would have cause to boast. But human boasting is absolutely precluded because God has done all the work through Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross in payment for our sins.

           Then James comes along (actually, he wrote his epistle prior to any written by Paul) and says that “faith without works is dead.” So what do we make of that? Again, to paraphrase Dr. Alessandra, our actions are governed by what we believe. If I believe the meteorologist’s announcement that my house lies in the immediate path of an approaching tornado, I am going to take shelter in a corner of the basement or beside an interior wall away from any windows. If I believe the sign that reads: Bridge Out Ahead, Detour à, I will follow the arrow. What I believe determines my behavior.

           By no means is James arguing with or contradicting Paul. In fact, he writes an explicit statement that indicates his agreement with the apostle: “In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures” (1:18). If salvation results from God exercising His will and bringing us forth by His power, is James, then, contradicting himself as well as Paul? Of course not. James is avowing that though faith is invisible, it produces visible works. There is an absolute and inevitable correlation between what we believe and how we behave. The Lord Jesus stated the same truth twice in these words: “You will know them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:16a, 20). Is it possible to see faith? No. Is it possible to see the Holy Spirit who indwells the believer? No. But the character of God in the Person of His indwelling Spirit begins to be expressed invariably through the attitude and behavior of the one who has genuine, but invisible, faith. Just as surely as every person who is born into this world manifests the fact that he is a sinner by his sinful actions (whether “immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these” [Gal. 5:19a-21a]), so every person who is saved manifests his genuine, though invisible faith, through visible “fruit”—actions that result from God-generated “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22b-23a). My lungs are invisible. The fact that I have two that are working is proven by the words I’ve written here. Faith is invisible, but inevitably it produces works that glorify God. Paul and James agree. Is your faith genuine? Is the Spirit of God generating holy works in and through you?

 

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