Works follow Faith
We’ve heard it before. “Faith without works is dead.” (James 2.20) As Orthodox Christians we are challenged all the time by our friends that works will not save us. Of course, what they mean is that fasting and prostrations won’t save us. They’re right, but not because they’re right.
Fasting and prostrations are not works like most Christians think. The problem is some of us Orthodox Christians treat them the same. We live ‘as if’ fasting is the same as feeding the poor. We think our prostrations are ‘just as important’ as visiting the sick. We’re wrong.
Christian works are works of charity to others, not us. We fast and do prostrations for us, not for others. The works we do for others is an expression of our faith in Christ. This is what Saint James meant when he said faith without works is dead. If our faith does not lead to helping others, then our faith is nothing. Here’s another take on faith and works.
Brethren, I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose. O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? Did you experience so many things in vain? – if it really is in vain. Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith? Thus Abraham “believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” So you see that it is men of faith who are the sons of Abraham.Galatians 2:21;3:1-7
Saint Paul spilled a lot of ink on the faith and works issue. The point of today’s blog isn’t whether we help the poor. The point is whether we help the poor because we have faith, or if we think helping the poor will ‘get us into’ heaven. One is alive while the other is dead. Can you guess which?
Abraham didn’t practice the works of the Law to make God happy. He practiced them because he loved God and had faith in Him. If you think helping the poor will make God happy, you’ve missed the entire point of faith. God wants you to love Him. He doesn’t want you to ‘check off’ boxes in the Law.
If you love God, then you will help others. If you need help serving others, then prayer and fasting can help you ‘train your heart’ to be more in tune with God. Neither will make God love you more, but they can help you love God more and yourself less.
Maybe I can put it another way. I love to fish. I’m not very good at it, but I love it. I can practice casting, but practicing casting can’t make me love to fish. It only makes me better at fishing. We love God but sometimes we’re not very good at showing our love. Fasting and prostrations help us get better at showing our love for God so that we can love helping others.
Faith creates love. Love creates the willingness to act. Actions create works. Works follow faith.