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February 1 | James 1:22-27


 

DAILY READING

 

Saved BY Works, or Saved FOR Works?

by Katie Borden

I think as Lutheran Christians it can be easy to develop a sort of “allergy” to biblical passages like the one we read today in James about good works and deeds. We have (rightly!) driven home the truth that “it is by grace [we] have been saved, through faith…not by works” (Eph. 2:8-9). But what I have noticed in my own life is that I have sometimes divorced that Ephesians 2:8-9 text from what immediately follows in Ephesians 2:10 ("...created in Christ Jesus to do good works..."). I can be tempted to think of these verses as almost contradictory platitudes: “you’ve done nothing to earn your salvation!” but also “you need to go do good works and be a good person!”—and it can become a sticking point in the backs of our minds that begs the question, “am I really saved by faith? Or is the Bible also telling me that my good works matter toward my salvation?”

Well, I think our good works really, really matter. But—and hear me very clearly on this—our good works are NOT a means of salvation. In his grace, God has given us saving faith in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, thanks be to God. The gift of Ephesians 2:10 is that of this truth: God created and saved us for good works! It is part of what he created us to do. We are most fully alive and most fully human when we participate in God’s good creation and working toward its peace, justice, wholeness, and flourishing.


Let’s get back to James. When we read today’s passage in James, we can likewise be tempted to think that James is heaping more burdens on us. Rather, I think the author is reminding us that the working out of our faith—those slow, faithful, habitual actions—builds within us the character of God himself, and forms us more in the way of Christ. Thus, we are blessed and those around us are blessed! What good news this is.


If this is bending your mind like it has mine over the years, consider prayerfully approaching this passage with this mindset: rather than asking God “have I done enough?” when it comes to your works, remember that he has already done the saving work. Thank him, and then ask him “will you inspire my choices and deeds, and use them to make me more like you?”


May you know, in a new way today, God’s grace and power, my friends.


PRAYER

Consider praying something like this today: God of life, thank you that you have done the work through Jesus’ death and resurrection to call me to newness and fullness of life in you by your grace and by your Spirit. Continue now to work in me as you have called me to live, day by day, more fully into your community shaped in the way of Christ, that you would restore me and the world around me to all that you have intended us to be. Amen.



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