Recently I’ve been having lots of talks about faith and its connection to our obedience to God. This is in part because our church has been studying the Book of James, which says that dead faith is the kind that is not accompanied by works (Jam 2). In these discussions, the tendency has been for us to assume that if faith must be accompanied by works, we should work hard in order to prove our faith. I am personally not satisfied with this conclusion. And as I think about it more, I don’t think James would be satisfied with it either.
James 2:8-9 says, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall LOVE your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”
The focus here is not just on doing, but doing well. Doing well how? Doing well by loving. Why is showing partiality such a huge problem? Because it reflects a violation of the requirement to love, which is the royal law. So if you’ve failed to love, you aren’t really doing, although on the outside you might be doing lots of good things.
Yes, faith must be accompanied by works. Faith is only genuine if it produces works. But more than that, genuine faith produces genuine works — works of love. Or put more simply, faith loves and love does. Or another way to say this is, “Genuine faith loves well.”
Here’s one thing that frustrates me: We talk a whole lot about holiness but little about love. Can true holiness exist where love does not? No! Never! After all, sanctification is a loving response to what God has done for us in salvation. And sanctification is also the work of the Holy Spirit, who renews us so that we become increasingly more like Christ, who is love incarnate.
The question we need to ask with regard to holiness is not, “Are you doing good things and avoiding bad things?” Rather, the question must be, “Are your affections becoming increasingly more directed towards love for God and love for others?”