Faith Without Works

Q. I’d like to read your interpretation of James 2:14-26. Do you think a believer can live a life with no change in his lifestyle and really be a true believer?

A. After being saved, a person’s life will be different than it was before in many ways. James correctly said that true faith will manifest itself in action. The problem is that some believers take that to mean we can evaluate the lives of others and come to a conclusion as to whether they’re saved or not. In at least three instances the Bible warns us against doing that. (Matt. 7:1-5, Luke 6:36, and 1 Cor. 4:5) One reason is that we can only evaluate visible actions while the Lord evaluates hidden motives. Another is that we’re not objective in judging others, often holding them to standards we ourselves don’t meet. The legal profession calls this the clean hands principle. It holds that we shouldn’t accuse some one else of violating the law when we ourselves stand guilty.

That doesn’t mean we have to accept or tolerate behavior that’s clearly wrong. There are steps to take in those cases. For example, Matt. 18:15-17 says we can speak privately to a brother who sins against us and provides follow up steps as well. This is for times when we have been personally harmed by the actions of another believer. It isn’t meant for behavior we simply don’t approve of. 1 Cor. 5:11 tells us to avoid associating with believers who are engaging in open sin, and gives examples. And 1 John 5:16 says we should ask the Lord to forgive such a person. None of these things involves making judgments about another person’s spiritual condition. The Lord said to leave that to Him.

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