Readings for September 16, 2018
Some of my Catholic brothers and sisters have complained that the Protestant faith doesn’t require action from it’s followers. According to this line of thought, Protestants need only to make a claim of belief in order to be saved, living life on earth however one chooses because, once saved, always saved.
The counter from some of my Protestant brothers and sisters is that the Catholic faith focuses too much on actions and doesn’t do enough to instill true faith in it’s followers. According to this line of thought, rather than trusting the grace of God we Catholics “earn” salvation, using the beads of the rosary like an abacus that totals up heaven points. If true, our self interest, rather than a love of God, drives our actions.
At first glance, St. James seems to lean on the Catholic argument for earning salvation. “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?” he writes. However, it is important not to oversimplify the complexity of his message.
It’s true that James argues for examining an individual’s behavior after they proclaim their belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior. But he never pits belief against actions the way that some of my Catholic and Protestant brothers and sisters have. Rather, he says that they are interconnected whereby a lived faith cannot have one without the other. James asserts that the person with faith but without works professes a lifeless faith. The opposite could be similarly argued. If a person seems to act charitably but does so without faith they produce a lifeless work. Rather than empty faith or empty works, James’ premise is that the real power comes in combining the two to create the verb love.
Jesus lays out the path to salvation. “Deny yourself. Take up your cross. Follow me.” It is, for certain, a difficult path to consider and one that is unsustainable without a belief that Jesus is the Christ. He warns about suffering and dying for the gospel. And he tells me I need to live for something other than my own needs. These instructions are a clear call to action. Yet they cannot be done with any authenticity without being done in love.
Telling my wife, “I love you” and then letting her do all the work at home and with the kids makes my sentiment hollow. To truly live out the love I profess for my wife, I need to show her I love her by my actions. Conversely, if I help out around the house and with the kids but do so with a grimly dutiful attitude, my actions are loveless and hollow. Similarly with God, I must both profess my love and faith for Him in church, and consciously act with that love outside of it. Short of doing so, what I say or do will be hollow.
Personally, I do not want to live a hollow life. I want to feel the joy of this life flow through me no matter what my day may bring. And only in love can I “consider it pure joy” when I face hardships. (James 1:2) Only in love, in letting go of myself, living the love of Christ with others around me, offering to carry their cross even as I struggle with my own, will I find salvation. Not because I’ve “earned” heaven, but because I’ve lived grace. Pure joy is only possible with a faith that is not dead but is lived in an active love.
Lord Jesus, you are the Christ. You are the Word made flesh, manifesting the grace of God the Father so that I might live in pure joy. Make my heart burn for love of you and for love in serving others. I ask this in your name, who sits at the right hand of God the Father and reigns in unity with God the Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen