Devotional Thought of the Day:
18 But someone will say, “One person has faith, another has actions.” My answer is, “Show me how anyone can have faith without actions. I will show you my faith by my actions.” James 2:18 (TEV)
Since faith brings the Holy Spirit and produces a new life in our hearts, it must also produce spiritual impulses in our hearts. What these impulses are, the prophet shows when he says (Jer. 31:33), “I will put my law upon their hearts.” After we have been justified and regenerated by faith, therefore, we begin to fear and love God, to pray and expect help from him, to thank and praise him, and to submit to him in our afflictions. Then we also begin to love our neighbor because our hearts have spiritual and holy impulses.
Even more upsetting, the devil can take your best works and reduce them to such dishonorable and worthless things and render them so damnable before your conscience that your sins scare you less than your best good works. In fact, you wish you had committed grievous sins rather than done such good works. Thus, the devil causes you to deny these works, as if they were not done through God, so that you commit blasphemy.
That is why it is important to learn and practice all one’s life long, from childhood on, to think with God, to feel with God, to will with God, so that love will follow and will become the keynote of my life. When that occurs, love of neighbor will follow as a matter of course. For if the keynote of my life is love, then I, in my turn, will react to those whom God places on my path only with a Yes of acceptance, with trust, with approval, and with love.
In the movie Jerry MaGuire, Cuba Gooding Jr.’s character lashes out Tom Cruise’s character with the phrase, “show me the money!” Except it is not about money. It is a plea for Tom’s character Jerry to show how important the relationship is, that it isn’t just about the money that can be made from negotiating a deal.
Inside the Christian faith, our actions often speak louder than our words. They testify as to whether the words we say are true, or whether we are those who call out “Lord! Lord!” and yet don’t have a solid relationship with the Lord, in fact,t hey don’t have a relationship at all.
It is not about our works, it is not about the obedience, it is about the relationship. Works simply testify that the relationship exists. As Pope Benedict XVI wrote, we think with God, we feel with God, and love follows as a matter of course! That love causes action, it creates the work, but the work is never apart from the presence of God.
We know we aren’t saved by works (the Lutheran phrase based on Ephesian 2:8-10) and there is nothing we do that merits salvation, it all depend on the grace of God which precedes anything (which is the way the Roman Catholic Church in the Council of Trent put it in Session Vi chapter V)) Yet the faith that depends on God for salvation will result in praise and worship – the latter being what we do with out lives.
Luther’s concern in the green text above must be heard, if we are to understand his version of “Faith Alone.” He isn’t denying the believer can do good works, or encouraging them to not even bother with the idea. Our good works, done in communion with Jesus Christ, are to be encouraged, extolled, and the glory given to God, whose light we are simply reflecting by those works. An attitude that denied this, that caused us to view the our good works with disdain Luther considered influenced by Satan!
As the Apology to the Augsburg Confession puts it, these works are the result of the impulses the Holy Spirit puts on our hearts. This doesn’t sound like we are denying that the Christian can do good works, does it?
And that is the point we need to clarify, that we need not be afraid of trying to do something the Holy Spirit is driving us towards. It my be simple, like holding the hand of someone struggling with old age and being feeble. It may be sitting and reading the catechism with a child, helping them to know God’s love. It could be something different, like heading to Africa or Asia on a mission trip. It could be… well, you fill in the blank. What is God calling you to do?
Then do it, and we can both rejoice in the faithfulness of God, who is close enough to you to put that idea on your heart, and give you the desire and ability to see it through! AMEN!
Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 124.
Martin Luther, Luther’s Spirituality, ed. Philip D. W. Krey, Bernard McGinn, and Peter D. S. Krey, trans. Peter D. S. Krey and Philip D. W. Krey, The Classics of Western Spirituality (New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2007), 212–213.
Joseph Ratzinger, Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year, ed. Irene Grassl, trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992), 276.