“Can that kind of faith save him?” James 2:14
The green bean casserole is a standard of Baptist practice. Ranking in importance just under the wafer and juice, the green bean casserole shows up at dinner on the grounds, the homes of grieving families, Sunday School fellowships, and just about every other place where at least two or three Baptists gather together. So common is the dish that some people mock it. Heresy! I can make the argument that the green bean casserole is a pure form of good religion and the kind of action that all of you reading this GraceWaves today can take today.
To start, let’s think about the word “faith.” Everyone agrees that faith is important, but for some people, faith is a little bit slippery. It ends up having a gauzy feel to it. Faith becomes a feeling, a notion, a mystical force. We reduce it only to “belief,” and “belief” apart from action is incredibly hard to pin down.
In the Bible, faith is not at all hard to pin down. It is so plain, simple, and matter-of-fact that even with a little bit of it we can move mountains! The challenge is differentiating between “faith as a feeling” and “faith as action.” James, in his letter, tackled this problem head on.
Some of the most difficult passages about faith are in James. Notice again the passage for this week’s GraceWaves. James had described a wealthy man in church who had ignored a poor visitor. This favoritism offended James, and so he asked the question that is usually translated as “can his faith save him?” That little innocent question has created centuries of debate about salvation by faith versus salvation by works.
The problem disappears, however, when we look closely at the Greek text. The pronoun “his” is not actually there. Instead we have a single letter Greek article that could better be translated as “the” or “that.” James’s question then becomes “can that kind of faith save him?”
James objected to “the kind of faith” that is merely a set of beliefs. “Even the demons believe and shudder” (2:19). He advocated a muscular faith that changed the way a person lived and looked at the world. What constituted good religion for James? Visiting the orphans and widows and embracing the ethical standards of the kingdom (1:27). Not showing favoritism (2:1-17). Avoiding the pretense and façade that often come with wealth (1:9-11). Speaking purely and not gossiping (3:1-12).
I could go on, but do you get the point? An important but often neglected component of great faith is simple actions. More than one prophet taught that the Lord wants us to do things like pursue justice, love kindness, and walk humbly before the Lord (e.g. Micah 6:8). Simple.
Sometimes I hear the Christian faith proclaimed in such extraordinary and lofty terms that I wonder who can attain it? We are supposed to change the world, and be passionate, and desperate! Every exhortation comes with an exclamation mark! Or two!! One result is that we pursue a synthetic enthusiasm in our worship services that is simply impossible to sustain Monday through Saturday. We then end up with a load of discontent. Is that really from the Lord?
And that brings me back to the green bean casserole. Yes, Christians are here to change the world, but usually that means doing things that won’t end up on the cover of Christianity Today. We are to wash feet, serve the poor, speak graciously, live ethically, and do the things that we might not even recognize as qualifying us to be sheep instead of goats.
So when you finish reading this GraceWaves from your office cubicle, or at home on your lap top, or wherever you might be, breathe a prayer of commitment to God to be His son or daughter for the remainder of the day. Look for a simple way to be kind and help a coworker, friend, or family member. You might even bake a green bean casserole, and wonder of wonders, you would be great in the kingdom of heaven.
Dr. Terry Ellis