What code[/philosophy] do you live by?
– Survival of the fittest
– Whoever dies with the most money wins
– Do unto others as you would have them do unto you
– The 10 commandments
– Dance like nobody’s watching
– No regrets
– Make everything around you beautiful
What code should Christians live by? What is the ultimate philosophy to live by?
St Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, repeats from the OT a code by which God’s people are to live by.
“The righteous shall live by faith.” Galatians 3:11
This is stated and restated throughout the Bible. It’s obviously very important. “The righteous shall live by faith.” But what does it mean?
It’s very abstract isn’t it? What does faith look like?
Here are some images as food for thought.
King: Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.
Yancey: I have learned that faith means trusting in advance what will only make sense in reverse.
Augustine: Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.
Augustine’s quote takes us to the heart of Biblical faith, which is belief.
And what is essential when we’re talking about both belief and faith is that they don’t exist on their own. By nature they require an object. You can’t just ‘believe’. You have to believe in someone or something. If you go up to someone in the street and ask them if they believe, they will have to ask you ‘believe what?’ because you can’t just ‘believe’.
In the same way, you can’t just ‘have faith’. You have to have faith in someone or something.
So as Christians, who or what we believe in is very important.
v2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard?
v5 again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?
v6 So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
Clearly the essence of true Christian faith is belief – belief in God and belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died an atoning death and resurrected from death to new life.
The essence of Galatians 3 is that you cannot be made right with God, you cannot receive the Spirit of God, you cannot do work that pleases God by keeping the old testament law. Simply, you can’t earn your salvation. Salvation is a gift of grace received and lived out by faith.
Paul confirms this in his letter to the Romans (3:28): For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.
Have I made this clear?
Okay, now we’re ready to go on to James’ letter. James writes (2:24): You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
?? What are we to make of this? It seems to be a complete contradiction of what Paul was writing to the Romans and the Galatians.
I asked before, what does faith look like? I ask this because if faith is essentially belief in God, then how can you look into a person’s heart or mind to see if they have genuine faith? It’s all very vague and intangible, right?
True faith is very clear and tangible, manifest in the way that we live our life. The full context of this passage from James explains this (and this is why context is so important when reading the Bible).
You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 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. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
Faith alone saves. But there is no such thing as faith alone. This is what James means when he says that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. It’s because there is no such thing as faith alone. True faith must have outward manifestations. True faith must produce works by which we can recognise the faith.
Now here’s where it can get a little bit tricky.
You can have good works without faith. Good works doesn’t always mean there is true faith. But true faith will always produce good works.
Let me give some examples to demonstrate this.
•A husband (or wife) can provide for his family – good works – without loving his family. He could be a cheating, lying, abusive man who provides for his family. But if he loves his wife and family, he will certainly provide for them. In fact, if he (or she) says he loves them but doesn’t provide or care for them, something is wrong with his love.
•It’s quite possible (and maybe common) for a person to read the Bible and pray but not love God, but he cannot love God and not read the Bible and pray.
Our faith must start with/be built on belief in God and what God has revealed to us about Himself.
And it must produce good works “which God prepared in advance for us to do”. (Eph 2:10)
Upon this foundation of belief, we receive the Spirit of God, and we build our lives.
What do these lives – these good works – built on faith look like?
The sort of living faith that James is talking of will impact every part of our lives.
A living faith will impact the way we conduct ourselves/our behaviour.
Set an example for [other] believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. 1 Tim 4:12
A living faith will impact our obedience and our willingness to follow Jesus.
Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. John 14:12
A living faith will impact the way we trust Jesus.
“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” Mark 9:23
A living faith will impact the way we pray.
“The prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well” James 5:15
A living faith will impact the way Jesus can move in our lives to change us and to heal ourselves and others.
Because of their unbelief he couldn’t do any mighty miracles among them except to place his hands on a few sick people and heal them. Mark 6:5
We’ve been looking at three passages today: Galatians 3, Romans 3, and James 2 – which all deal with faith and works. Let’s look how these sections conclude – by lining final verses side by side, we can seeing the uniformity of this vital teaching.
26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ…29 and [are] heirs according to the promise.
(Because we are justified by faith and not by works)
31 Do we nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.
26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
So there’s an agreement that when we are in Christ, we live according to the promise of new life, upholding the law, producing deeds and behaviours and power which confirm the reality of our faith.
This is what faith looks like. This is the face of faith.
Let’s believe the gospel with all our hearts and allow God to produce fruit – good deeds – in us as a result of the Holy Spirit’s power which we received by faith.
Let me finish with two questions:
What can you do to clarify and strengthen your belief in Christ?
What good works does God want to produce in you as a result of your faith in Him?