What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
Have you read the book or seen the movie A Christmas Carol? If cold-hearted selfishness was embodied, it would be the main character of the story, Scrooge. I used to watch Scrooge from a distance and judge his selfishness. I appreciated that he had to face his past, present, and future before being transformed at the end of the story. Justice first, then mercy, right? Especially when it comes to hard-hearted misers like ol’ Ebenezer.
A Christmas Carol is a story of grace and growth. It’s not all happy holidays to watch, but it’s full of hope in the end. And the best part? It’s about someone else that needed to change from the inside out—not me. Oh wait.
James 2:16-17 makes it crystal clear that faith without good works can’t coexist. This is not to say that salvation in and through a relationship with Jesus Christ requires us to be good, do good, and so on. Rather, true faith can’t help but live out God’s goodness in response to His unconditional love. When we recognize that His Son sacrificed Himself on our behalf, paid our debt of sin, and gave us eternal life, our hearts soften and shift toward serving God and others.
I know I can’t meet every need that comes my way, but I have a responsibility toward friends and strangers to pass God’s goodness along their way. Simply saying, “That’s a bummer. Hope you don’t freeze and find some food,” isn’t enough. I’ve not always done this but these days I often pause and consider how I can serve in the moment. Am I able to get the person what they’re asking for or need? Who do I know that can? Where is the best place for them to get connected to resources? Is God inviting me to give or drive or pray or make a call or just listen? I don’t get interrupted in this way frequently, so I try to take each opportunity to live out goodness seriously.
Remembering Scrooge’s pre-transformation self, along with the bold teaching in the book of James, challenges me to change inwardly and care outwardly more freely, fully, and faithfully.
If you’re not familiar with the multi-faceted compassion ministry of the Willow Creek Care Center, you need to check it out. Consider giving or volunteering there, or somewhere similar, this holiday season.