Belief and Action

Dear Reader,

It has occurred to me lately that a lot of our problems come from a division we seem to make between our beliefs and our actions. What we believe or say we believe often does not seem to follow through into what we do. I had thought that maybe this was a modern problem. That as a society we have become so entranced with ideas and theoretical constructions that we forget to let those ideas trickle down into practice.

And if belief does not translate into action, is it really belief? An example our pastor likes to give is if he says to you, “The house is on fire” and you say “I believe you” but don’t get up from your chair and leave the building, you do not really believe. If we really believe something, it should affect how we live. This is what James was speaking of when he wrote:

“But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?”

                                                                                                                                                                     (James 2:18-20)

We who emphasize God’s grace so much (and who love to debate theology so much) often stumble over this point. We do not want to think that we are in any way saved by our works and so we deemphasize them. But James calls us back from this error. Our works do not save us. But if we are saved, if we truly believe in our sinfulness and Christ’s sacrifice for us, if the Spirit of God is in us, we will do good works.

I said at the beginning that perhaps this is a modern problem, but I do not think that is so. We were discussing in our adult Sabbath school class why the Israelites were sent into captivity in Babylon. There are a lot of charges laid against them by the Old Testament prophets. But the core, I think, is this: they had the outward appearance of religion but it did not touch their hearts. They made sacrifices, but they did not care for the poor. As Isaiah (Isa. 6:9-10) said, they heard but did not understand. Something there did not sink in; it did not get below the surface. And so it seems our problem is nothing new.


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