Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense? [James 2:14-17 (MSG)]
Which can you do without? The right side of your heart or the left? Which blade on the scissors wouldn’t be missed? What is more important? The front wheel or the back one on your bicycle? The gas pedal or the brakes on your car? The right wing or the left of an airplane? Faith or works? Neither! None of these things can operate without the other. We need two blades on the scissors, two wings on the plane and we can’t be Christians without both faith and works.
We sometimes use the word “Christian” simply as an adjective to describe good, generous, moral or loving behavior. I have Jewish, Muslim and non-believer friends who easily could be described with those same adjectives. Good works alone cannot be used to define Christianity. On the other hand, I know people who say they believe in Jesus and call themselves “Christian” who appear to be sorely lacking in the good, generous, moral and love departments. So simply saying we have “faith” in Christ doesn’t seem to define Christianity either.
Our faith makes us Christians but that faith is far more than intellectual belief. Because the Holy Spirit comes along with faith, our faith is God at work in us. True faith changes our hearts, minds and souls. Since the Holy Spirit can’t help but do good works, if we have faith, neither can we!
Works follow from faith and yet faith, without works, cannot be faith. We can neither think our way nor can we work our way into heaven but, by the grace of God, with faith, we will live our way there!
Faith without works is like a bird without wings; though she may hop with her companions on earth, yet she will never fly with them to heaven. [Francis Beaumont]