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Two Kinds of Faith (published in The Tribune 3/17/12)

posted Sep 7, 2013, 1:17 PM by Fccea Webmaster
As leader of the Reformation, Martin Luther was by definition one of history's great theologians. But he had a tough time with the biblical book of James. He called it a right strawy epistle and never really warmed up to it.

Luther was committed to the concept of justification by faith alone, a clear derivation from Paul's theology. His dilemma with James came from comments like, "What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?" (Jas. 2:14). "So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead" (Jas. 2:20).

So, what gives? Do we throw out James or Luther?

I suggest we hang on to both with a death grip. Properly understood there is no discrepancy.

It helps to understand the Bible presents two kinds of faith -- one real (saving faith); and one not (pseudo-faith). Both deal with the same facts. But one commits to those facts; the other does not.

This differentiation is seen in a fascinating observation made by John regarding Jesus' early ministry: "Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because . . . he himself knew what was in man" (John 2:23-25).

The NT word "believe" (Greek, pisteuo) is simply the verb form of "faith" (pistis). To believe is to have faith. And many "believed" in Jesus as a result of the miracles that attended his ministry. But John observes that Jesus did not "entrust" himself to them. The word "entrust" in the original is also "believe" -- pisteuo. They believed in Jesus, but he did not believe in them!

Theirs was a pseudo-faith, not a saving faith. They believed he was special, but wanted nothing to do with a life-changing commitment.

It is pseudo-faith that James attacks in his comments. His point is that saving faith is more than assent to certain facts. He notes in 2:19, "You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe -- and shudder!" Demons believe, but are not saved! Saving faith makes a commitment that results in fruit -- the good works of a changed lifestyle.

Many today believe the facts about Jesus, but their faith is pseudo, not saving. Paul advises us in II Cor 13:5, "Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith." Test yourselves. Is your faith the real deal?

A student named Ken Davis once spent 20 minutes in speech class explaining the law of the pendulum. A pendulum can never return to a point higher than its release point. He illustrated by swinging a weight attached to a string against the blackboard. The class unanimously agreed they believed in the law of the pendulum but class was not yet over!

They convened to another room where a 250-pound metal pendulum hung from the ceiling. A volunteer was selected, seated, and the weight pulled by pulley to within an inch of his nose. The law said the pendulum, upon release, would swing to the other side of the room and return just short of its starting point, leaving the volunteer in complete safety. Everyone agreed.

But when the pendulum was released, broadly arcing across the room, the volunteer was quick to jump out of its return path. When the class was asked, "Does he believe in the law of the pendulum?" they responded unanimously, NO!

Similarly the Bible recognizes a difference between real (saving) faith, which commits wholeheartedly to Christ, and pseudo faith which accepts the facts in theory, but which runs for cover when faced with the need to commit.

The question is, are we pseudo or are we real?

Dave McNeff is pastor of the First Congregational Church of Eaton/Ault

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