There are many interesting stories told about the 16th century Protestant Reformation leader, Martin Luther. Although he was a monk, Luther struggled with many of the theological positions of the Roman Catholic Church. His own salvation came as he wrestled with the concept that we are saved by grace alone. He saw spiritual works (like the indulgences that were so championed by the church), as secondary in worth and value.
One story has him literarily tearing out the pages in his Bible that contained the book of James. In reality, he just relegated that book to a second tier of Biblical material. He saw it helpful but not on par with books like Romans or Ephesians. So, he pretty much ignored the book of James.
Luther got saved with a focus on the passage in Romans 1:17 where the Lord declares that the just shall live by faith. Since he was so overwhelmed by the goodness of God’s grace, he rejected any efforts to esteem the value of spiritual service. But I think he missed a very important point.
You see, we need to define our terms. There is a Biblical faith that saves. And it is a saving faith that works, as we serve Him with “fear and trembling.” But contrasting that Biblical faith, there is a dead, useless faith that demonstrates no repentance or obedience to God. Its only for show.
Some people try to earn their relationship with the Lord by works. But James clearly understood that that effort doesn’t save anyone. Salvation is by faith alone. Period. Full stop.
But AFTER our salvation, we are called to good works. Matthew tells us that we are to let our light shine before men, so that they may see our good deeds and praise the Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). AFTER we have received the free gift of salvation purchased by Christ on an old rugged cross, THEN we do the good works out of a heart of gratitude and love.
The Biblical writers, Paul and James seem at first glance to be at odds with one another, but they aren’t. There is an important place for spiritual works. God delights in seeing His kids do His work. But that happens AFTER our salvation, not in order to earn our salvation.
So, if Christ is the Lord of your life and your salvation by grace through faith is secure, now is the time to engage in spiritual work. This week, maybe we all ought to practice seeing our jobs as a service to the Lord as we care for the people in our office. Maybe we ought to see our neighbors as the Lord sees them and reach out with a big platter of cookies.
Maybe our service should center around ministries of our church. The kid’s program always needs help; the youth always need some financial support; the evening programs that care for the hurting need prayer. Every believer’s personal calendar ought to highlight his or her works of love.