Saturday, June 8, 2024

Keeping the Balance (James 2:14-16)

"Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead" (James 2:17).

Anytime you teach about the priority of righteousness in the Christian’s life, anytime you exhort believers, as Paul did, to keep in step with the Spirit, and anytime you warn people of the dangers of falling into sin, the question of assurance inevitably arises. Keeping the balance between urging believers to pursue righteousness and remaining faithful to our total dependence on Christ’s righteousness for our salvation is probably one of the most difficult tasks of the Gospel minister. People either stress the need for righteousness so much that they become burdened with “earning” their salvation, or they stress their freedom in Christ, their reliance on His righteousness so much that they neglect the Christian’s responsibility to “work out his salvation with fear and trembling.” When the need to be doers of the Word and not merely hearers is stressed to the point that we forget that we have been justified by God’s grace, we will inevitably lose our assurance of salvation. But if we focus so much on justification by faith that we forget that those whom God justifies, He sanctifies (which is a life-long process of putting on Christ and crucifying the flesh), we can become presumptive about our salvation.

When the Reformers declared that we are justified by faith not by works, the Roman Catholic Church called the Reformation leaders “antinomian.” The Catholic Church was concerned that if it were taught that we are saved solely by God’s grace then the motivation to pursue holiness would be lost. The Reformers were sensitive to the Catholic Church’s concern, and they declared that we are “justified by faith alone but not by a faith that is alone.” In other words, you are saved by the grace of God from first to last, you are justified by faith alone; but God works out your redemption by transforming your life from one of sin to one of holiness.

This was the point James was trying to get across in his epistle. His audience had fallen into the antinomian trap, thinking that once they were justified by faith, it did not matter how they lived. James wrote against this error by saying that true faith is active faith, it produces good works. You are not justified by those works, but your faith is not true unless you are working out your salvation just as Abraham did by offering his son on the altar.

Consider your own tendencies. Do you neglect God’s commands to pursue holiness because you have a distorted view of freedom in Christ? Or do you tend to be so self-absorbed and consumed by your sin that you forget that it is by God’s grace you have been saved? The balance is hard to obtain. Pray you will find that balance.