(…continued) One of the keys to this is in our understanding of faith. Here too there is a tension in how the Bible defines and presents faith. Is faith itself something we do, or, is it a gift of God? We can find Bible passages that seem to describe it both ways. Ephesians 2:8 says that even faith is God’s gift, and not “from yourselves.” Luther included this truth in his catechism explanation to the third article of the Apostle’s creed when he wrote, “I believe I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in my Lord Jesus Christ or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel.” But in many other places, including many of Jesus’ own words, we are commanded to have faith, and to be faithful, implying that faith is something that we do.
Ephesians 2:8 says that faith is “the gift of God.” But a gift can be rejected. A gift can be ignored. A gift can be left on the table and not even picked up. So even though faith is a freely given gift, we still have to be faithful. And this brings us back to what James is saying in his little book. He says faith without works is dead. Another way we might say that is to say that faith without works WILL DIE.
The faith is freely given. Salvation is ours “without any merit or worthiness on our part,” as the catechism says. But if one repeatedly refuses to pay any attention to God, carelessly disobeying God without any regret or any confession or even any thought of God; if one insists on turning away from God; then the gift is rejected and faith will die. The Bible does not spell out exactly how and when that happens. In fact Jesus says that on the last day there will be many surprises among the saved and the unsaved. The Bible doesn’t give the specifics. But the Bible is constantly going back and forth between the promises and the warnings. The promises are wonderful: the love of God, the forgiveness of sins, and life everlasting– all freely given. Salvation is all by God’s grace, so we can have complete assurance. We can know without a doubt where we stand with God. But at the same time, the Bible issues warning after warning, and command after command: don’t turn away, don’t disobey, believe, have faith, and stand fast.
It is not that God will reject and turn away from us, but by continued disobedience and unbelief, we may, in time, turn our backs on God. God has given us the awful freedom to be able to do that.
John 14:12a — (Jesus said), “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing.”
I Corinthians 16:13 — Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.
James 5:8 — Be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.
I Peter 5:8-10 — Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
Revelation 14:12-13 — This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus. Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”
You alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners:
Grant Your people grace to love what You command and desire what You promise;
that, among the swift and varied changes of the world,
our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
—Book of Common Prayer