Faith, Dead or Alive?

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In my recent conversation with Michael Horton, he raised a question that I did not get a chance to answer in the course of our discussion. He had a problem with the fact that I had said somewhere that “works is the animating principle of faith.”

By saying this, I do not mean that faith is one thing, and that works are another, and that when you put the two of them together, you get an autonomous basis for commending yourself to God in the day of judgment. We are saved by grace through faith, period. But what is the nature of that faith? Is it alive, or dead? And if it is alive, then what is the qualitative nature of that life?

The answer to that question can be found in James 2:26, using James’ theological vocabulary (and not Paul’s!). “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”

For James, the spirit is the animating principle of the body. Without the spirit, the body is unanimated, i.e. dead. This relationship is identical to the relationship of faith without works (James tells us). Faith without works is like a body without the spirit. In this analogy (which is in the Bible), faith is compared to the body, and the works are compared to the spirit. I was simply trying to be faithful to what James said.

I recognize that James and Paul have differing stipulated vocabularies. “Works” is a word that does not refer to the same thing for the two men. Paul is at war with dead works, and James is at war with dead faith. We are the heirs of both men, and ought to be at war with both dead works and dead faith. The enemy is death, not faith or works. Works for James is fruit for Paul. But within the clear usage that James gives us, it is indisputable that works is the animating principle of faith.

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