"What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you?" Excerpt from James 2:14-26
Often parts of the Bible seem to contradict one another. I prefer to think of them as being in conversation. And the short book of James is always having a conversation with the letters of Paul.
Paul emphasized the importance of faith. He reassured us that we do not have to earn our own salvation by our own good works. We can receive God's grace as an undeserved, unearned gift.
James shoots back in the conversation with a warning. Don't use your faith as a "get out of jail free" card. You still have to do good things in the world, and faith alone won't do it.
Which one of these guys is right? I think they both are, and together they make for a rich conversation.
Paul is right to remind us that we don't have to earn God's love. We really can quit trying to be perfect. Jesus came for the imperfect people. He can save us, even after we have done terrible things. Everybody gets to grow and change.
And James is right to remind us that how we behave really matters to God. We can't just pray for the homeless to enjoy life in heaven. We also need to think about their shelter and food in the here and now. What kind of faith would ignore people's suffering?
Paul gets more airtime in the Bible, with all his many letters. So today, let's give James the last word and let his challenge fill our prayer.
God, you are the giver of faith. So when my belief is unsteady, lead me to concrete work I can do on your behalf. I want my faith to be alive, so rather than fixating on that faith, let me do the practical work and service that will draw me closer to you. Amen.
Lillian Daniel, author of When "Spiritual But Not Religious" is Not Enough, has a chapter in the upcoming anthology, What My Mother Gave Me: Thirty-one Women on the Gifts That Mattered Most. Follow her on twitter @lillianfdaniel.