iSoul In the beginning is reality

Faith and works

“Faith” is usually contrasted to “works” as if there were an antithesis, which is said to come from the second chapter of the Epistle of James.  Someone works for something they don’t have but hope to gain.  To work for something one cannot gain would be foolish.  It would also be foolish to work for something one already has.  So works relate to something that someone (w1) does not yet have and (w2) has reason to believe they will gain by works.

Faith is analogous because it relates to something that someone (f1) does not fully appear to have but (f2) has reason to believe they do have and will fully appear to have in the future.  The difference is that in faith there is an apparent divergence between circumstances at two different times whereas for works there is a real divergence between the circumstances at two different times.  What changes over time for faith is the appearance but not the underlying reality.

Faith also lacks the idea of gain which is a key element of works.  For works the change is effected by something one does to gain the desired object.  For faith there is no underlying change.  Whatever gain there may be is in the past for faith but in the future for works.

One may say in faith, “I have this now and even though it does not fully appear that way, it will be obvious to all sometime in the future.”  For example, when a Presidential election takes place in the USA, the person elected does not take office immediately but is inaugurated a few months later.  Between the election and the inauguration the President-elect does not yet appear to be the President.  But they can and do begin to take on aspects of that office such as increased security guards, press entourage, and new significance of their words and actions.  The President-elect may speak and act in faith about their administration as if it were a reality.

Not acting may also have consequences. President-elect Abraham Lincoln received many requests to speak or comment on the unprecedented crisis of Secession, but refused and remained publicly silent for several months until he gave speeches while enroute to Washington, DC, for the inaugural ceremonies. Some historians argue that his seeming passivity while president-elect helped precipitate the Civil War.

When James asks someone to show him their faith (James 2.18), he is asking for something behind and beyond the appearances to come out.  How can one demonstrate faith?  By doing things that others would expect to see in order that the appearance and reality are not divergent (or at least less so).  If you say you have faith, then show it by your actions.

James goes on to assert that if someone does not show some of what others would expect to see if they were saved, then the appearance must accurately reflect the reality that they are not saved.  On the other hand, if someone does show some of what others would expect to see if they were saved, then the appearance must accurately reflect the reality that they are saved.  So a complete divergence between appearance and reality is not possible.  James concludes in verse 2.24, “You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.”

Thus a Christian asserts by faith in Jesus Christ that they are saved and, while acknowledging that the appearance and reality are not fully synchronized, asserts that the appearance will match the reality sometime in the future.

January 2008

Post Navigation