One of my all-time least favorite phrases is, “good Christian.” I think it irritates me because there really is no such thing as a “good Christian.” That’s the whole point of Gospel: we can’t be good. If we could be good then Jesus wouldn’t have had to die on the cross. It’s not good people who go to heaven and bad people who go to hell. It’s forgiven people who go to heaven – those who have placed their faith in Jesus’ death. And yet James challenges us with the notion that faith isn’t enough because true faith will result in works (hence the phrase “good Christian”). I think the secret lies behind what the psychologists call “cognitive dissonance,” or the idea that when our beliefs and our actions don’t match up then it creates stress within ourselves and results in either changed beliefs or changed actions. James is pointing out in this verse that faith cannot exist without works because once a person has received the life-changing work of Christ in his, he cannot not behave differently. The life lived in submission to God and to the Holy Spirit will change and will be different because one of the Holy Spirit’s responsibilities is to convict our hearts so as to bring our actions into conformity with God’s will. They are two peas in a pod: faith and works. They dwell together in the life of the Christian. A person who claims to have faith but whose life doesn’t reflect a change over time and more Godly living doesn’t have faith after all.
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Seth is a pastor, author, and speaker who lives in Batesville, Indiana. He is married to Kari, and they have two daughters, Madelyn and Noelle.