Susan C. Anthony

Dennis and Susan in lupinesThe Book of James

It's been a couple of months since I last spoke, and that was the last day I got the newspaper. We were in California, and I haven't yet called to restart the paper. I miss it a little, but I've had more time to study the Bible.

I keep coming back to the book of James, especially James 2:14-26. It really speaks to my heart and I just feel I have to share it.

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by deeds, is dead.

But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds."

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.

In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

You know, Martin Luther considered the book of James to be near heresy because it seemed to teach that we are justified by what we do, and that is directly contrary to what Paul said in Ephesians 2:8:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.

Are we or are we not saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone? If every word of the Bible is God-breathed, how does all this fit together?

Part of the answer comes by reading the very next verse Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:

For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Something we saw on our trip helped me understand this. We spent the first two weeks near the Salton Sea east of San Diego on the desert. It's been one of the wettest and coolest years on record for that part of the country, and our hosts apologized for the bad weather. But there's a bright side to all that rain. The flowers were incredible! One woman who had been there 42 years said she'd never seen anything like it. We heard on TV that it has been at least 100 years since the desert bloomed like this. There were carpets of green and brilliant color on the dry, usually barren hills.

It got me wondering how long some of those seeds have been laying there in that desert soil, seeming to be dry and dead. You would never have been able to tell last year that they were there. Some of them may have lain there for years and years, just waiting for rain. All they needed to bloom and flourish was water.

Jesus Himself taught a parable where seeds represent the Word of God. The church is dedicated to planting seeds, lots and lots of seeds. We study God's Word, which is bread from heaven for our spirits.

But when I read James, I feel a conviction. I know I am saved by grace alone, but that's not the end of the story. The purpose for my salvation is not just for myself. Am I doing good works? Would my Master be pleased with how I'm spending my time and resources? I've been feeling a lot of conviction about this lately. We are supposed to live what we believe so others can learn about God just by being around us.

It's like the old question, "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" Which comes first, works or grace? Clearly, grace comes first. We cannot earn salvation by what we do.

So then, faith is the root of salvation; works are the fruit. Faith is proved and perfected in works. If our faith doesn't produce good works, something is wrong. Maybe there aren't enough seeds. Maybe there isn't enough water. In the Bible, water often represents the Spirit of God. Jesus said that streams of living water will flow from within those who believe in Him. If good works are not evident in our lives even though we are planting seeds by studying God's Word, we should pray for rain. Living water, the Spirit of God, is ours for the asking.

Like rain softens the hard soil of the desert and brings the dry seeds to life in beautiful flowers, the Holy Spirit softens the hardness of our hearts and bring life and beauty to the seeds of love and truth we sow by studying God's Word. Faith becomes visible only when it grows and blooms into works.

Note:  This talk was presented by my husband Dennis at our small church.

Go on to read Locks and Keys
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