Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏹️

Faith without works, chalk pastel by Tobias Mayer, 2022

But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? / For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
James 2:20,26

The line, faith without works is dead, cleanly summarises the whole theology of this epistle, and perhaps the whole Christian movement of the time, resonating strongly into modern times. The book of James was instrumental in the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous,1 with the twelve step program being firmly rooted in the theology expressed in this epistle, in particular the idea that faith requires works in order to be useful and meaningful.

The AA program is described as "a simple religious idea and a practical program of action".2 The first part is described in steps 1-3 and the second part in steps 4-12.3 Like the founders of AA, the writer of James was not interested in words or thoughts, but in deeds. The Christian movement would grow through action, and only through action. The same is true today. The Christian movement does not need to grow, but we Christians certainly do. I certainly do.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, says a more recent proverb, reminding us that our reasons are not enough to justify what we do. Saying "I didn't mean to spill the milk" is not as useful as cleaning up the spill. I'm quite skilled at noticing this difference and pointing it out to my children—or even other adults. I am much less good at looking at myself, and acknowledging my own lack of works. It is perhaps for this reason that I am so drawn to the phrase faith without works is dead, even using it as my email footer for several years back in the early 2000s when I first got (seriously) sober.

If we consider faith to be a living thing then action is its spirit. Action allows faith to grow and flourish, while lack of action will cause it to wither and die. There is no equilibrium, no stasis. Faith, like a plant or animal is either growing or dying. I must always be in action of one sort or another to nurture my faith. It is a precious thing.

1 James, along with Matthew 5-7 (the Sermon on the Mount) and 1 Corinthians 13 together contain all the wisdom and advice of the AA program.
2 'Alcoholics Anonymous', p 9
3 The 12 Steps of AA, originally published in 'Alcoholics Anonymous', pp 59-60