Daily Reform, Day 69
Galatians 2:4-5 & James 2:14-26
From the Reformer
Paul here explains his motive for going up to Jerusalem. He did not go to Jerusalem to be instructed or confirmed in his Gospel by the other apostles. He went to Jerusalem in order to preserve the true Gospel for the Galatian churches and for all the churches of the Gentiles.
When Paul speaks of the truth of the Gospel he implies by contrast a false gospel. The false apostles also had a gospel, but it was an untrue gospel. “In holding out against them,” says Paul, “I conserved the truth of the pure Gospel.”
Now the true Gospel has it that we are justified by faith alone, without the deeds of the Law. The false gospel has it that we are justified by faith, but not without the deeds of the Law. The false apostles preached a conditional gospel.
So do the papists. They admit that faith is the foundation of salvation. But they add the conditional clause that faith can save only when it is furnished with good works. This is wrong. The true Gospel declares that good works are the embellishment of faith, but that faith itself is the gift and work of God in our hearts. Faith is able to justify, because it apprehends Christ, the Redeemer.
—Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians
Pulling It Together
Just as there is the “true Gospel” and “false gospels” there is true faith and false faith. False faith is simply religion. Some people go to church but have never gone to God. This is religion or false faith. Some people have gone to the altar but never sacrificed their hearts to God. They are religious people but have no faith. Some people have been baptized but have never begun to live to God. This is merely religion.
James tells us what we instinctively know: many people insist that they have faith, as the majority of Americans tell surveyors. Polls vary with up to 95% of Americans saying that they believe in God. In other words, they have faith there is a God but their faith is substantiated only by their personal value systems. Most have no idea who God is or how he is involved in their lives. Indeed, the majority believe he is not engaged with the world at all.
People may say they have faith but without works that faith is false. (Jam 2:17) That dead, false faith is not faith at all. I daresay that if James were here saying it, the word “faith” in the last sentence of James 2:14 would be said sarcastically. We might indicate it is not faith at all by writing the sentence in a way the New Testament writers could not: Can that “faith” save him?
Real faith, true faith produces results. But faith does not require them. It is perhaps a fine line but fine lines are important. They are, after all, lines. It cannot be faith in God if it requires anything from anyone else. But it is not true faith if nothing comes of it. You do not need to be baptized to be saved; your faith in Christ saves you. But if it is true faith, baptism will follow (and a good many other things). One is not saved when she makes it to the altar. Saving faith drove her to that altar. One is not saved at the moment he comes up from the baptismal waters. True saving faith drove him to the water of obedience.
Yes, many believers should produce more works of faith. They should get to work. The world might be a better place. Their lives would surely change and their churches become lively. Yes! Get to work. But do not depend upon your work or hold it conditionally over the lives of others. Faith. Alone. Saves.
© Mark E. Ryman, Daily Reform: Devotions with the Reformers