Pastoral Perspectives

What Does Faith Look Like in This Pandemic?

Recently I was preparing a sermon based on James 2:14 -26 for a combined worship of 2 churches. The theme is “Faith in Action” and here’s where I discovered that Martin Luther, the great reformer who battled the Catholic church over the issue of how to receive eternal life, called the book of James, “Epistle of Straw” meaning that there was nothing in it but wood, hay and stubble. He was so insistent on justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ, that he had trouble reconciling these truths with the teachings of James. This argument over “Salvation is by Faith Alone” or “Salvation is by Works Alone” is nothing new to us. There seems to be like a contradictory theology between Paul and the apostle James. Even scholars have struggled with James’ writing in relation to faith and works.

Examining James 2 will put us all to shame in our discipleship efforts. The pandemic brings to light the flaws of the institutionalized church. The Barna research warns us that one in three practicing Christians has stopped attending church during the pandemic. This is so troubling that we have for centuries telling people to “come and see” as a gathered church and fail to show them that we need to “go and be” the missional church, where faith can be seen in action.

While Paul is right to stress that “Salvation is by Faith alone”, he is looking at the root of our salvation in Rom 3:28 (How is Salvation received?), and James is looking at the fruit of our salvation here (How is Salvation verified?). What Abraham did in offering his son in Genesis 22, is the outworking of his faith described in Genesis 15 and proved his faith was complete, alive and useful! We might say Paul’s purpose is instruction; he is theological. James’ purpose is exhortation; he is practical. What is implied by all this is, if our faith is not producing some change in our behaviour, we had better take a look at what we are calling faith.

Now that we are still in the midst of a pandemic, our lives and life-styles have drastically changed. It no longer can be business as usual but “unusual business.” Driven out of our churches (we mean Church building) helps us to rethink what are we doing in church every Sunday. Even though now that we’ve started to have 50 people worship, it was never the same. We struggled with coming to church first having to register for a seat, to have our temperature taken, all masked up and no singing. What’s more the liturgy have to be “chop-chop” all done within an hour and then off we go with little or no time for socializing.

Under such circumstances, James questions to us is still relevant today – What good is it? (James 2:14a). It’s no good! Here is a person who professes to believe, and has given an orthodox account of his faith in Christ. The problem is, this spoken testimony has left something unsaid: he has no works. His claim to faith is not supported by concrete evidence in his life. This is why James says, “this man claims to have faith…” His claim might be a correct statement, but the correct statement is not supported by a changed life—a life that evidences faith.

Then James asks another important question: Can such a faith save him? No! v. 14b. We are justified by faith alone, but not by faith that is alone. Living faith is accompanied by deeds. Looking back, have we not failed in our discipleship in the church, helping our people to “Love God and make disciples”  In this season of pandemic, faith in action will ultimately cause you to roll up your sleeves and do good! This brings us back to James’ original question, “What good is it?” It’s like asking, what good is it to have a driver’s license if you don’t drive? What good is it to be an actor if you don’t act? How can you say you are a parent, if you don’t parent? Warren Wiersbe said, “No man can come to Christ by faith and remain the same, any more than he came into contact with a 220-volt wire and remain the same.”

In the last 17 weeks since the Circuit Breaker, is there anybody who might put off Christianity because of you? Or is there anybody who would be surprised if they found out you are a Christian?

The devil is more threatened by what you do, when you make an impact on others by a godly, upright life, a life that cannot be criticized for lack of love. James gives us one more illustration in James 2:26. The body without the Spirit is nothing but a corpse. Likewise, faith without deeds is as dead as a corpse. In case we haven’t gotten it yet, James is not implying that deeds are the actual source that gives life to faith, but again reminding us that faith and deeds are inseparable. If there are no acts springing from faith, that faith is no more alive than “the body without the spirit.” Allow me to end with this classic true life story:

A young Christian called Alan Redpath, a successful accountant regularly attended church but was not particularly active or committed to the Lord. One day a friend said to him “Alan it is possible to have a saved soul but a wasted life”. This comment struck Alan Redpath so hard he couldn’t get it out of his mind. That night he happened to be travelling by train to play a rugby game in another city and as he lay listening to the sound of the train’s wheels on the track all that kept ringing in his ears was: “saved soul wasted life, saved soul wasted life, saved soul wasted life”.

The next day when he was playing in the rugby game, it seemed as if the pounding of the feet of players around him was also saying “saved soul wasted life, saved soul wasted life”. That evening after the game he was at a party and the band seemed to drum out the same message – “saved soul wasted life, saved soul wasted life”. When Alan Redpath got back to his hotel room he knelt by his bed and surrendered his life to God. He wanted to give himself fully to His Lord. He later became a much loved pastor, preacher. author, president of a missions organization, and a dean of a Bible school. He served the Lord until the end of his life.

It’s possible that some of us could have a saved soul but a wasted life. In other words, you have the assurance of heaven, but you’re wasting your life here on earth. You’re not serving Christ to the fullest. Let’s be the scattered church of TWPC to be Christ’s ambassador, His hands and feet out there during this pandemic – Faith was designed not only for our salvation but also for our godliness and our obedience. Good works do not produce faith in action , but faith in action does produce good works.

Rev Tan Cheng Huat (Non-resident Missionary to SQ)

August 9, 2020