An Appraisal of Authentic Faith
The value of a work of art hinges on its authenticity. To assess its worth, the art undergoes the process of appraisal. This exploration into its validity is ultimately done for one purpose: to help identify its true artist.
A similar concept exists in the New Testament book of James. Nestled in chapters one and two is the concept of an authentic faith or a faith that clearly demonstrates Jesus as its true artist. In chapter two specifically, we find that a mere verbal profession of faith does not equate to a saving faith. In other words, an authentic [saving] faith inherently entails action.
This notion of a genuine faith is inherent to the frequently asked question, “Is Belief Enough?” discussed in the first episode of Woodside’s Everyday Theology series. A spiritual shallowness is often intrinsic to this question as it sometimes is inclusive of a broad assortment of religions. Conversely, Christianity is fundamentally exclusive with particular aspects that helps appraise the authenticity of their faith.
The book of James helps with this self-evaluation. It is a book focused on practical faith. We find echoes of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and the sage wisdom espoused in Proverbs throughout this book. But in chapter two, a counterfeit vs. authentic faith is assessed through the prism of one’s deeds.
“But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe — and shudder!” — James 2:18–19
The relationship of faith to works and their effect on salvation has been a frequently discussed theological theme for centuries. Though this article won’t delve into all its nuances, the Bible verse above hints at this idea. But our focus is on the latter part of those two verses, where an example is given with demons as the subject: “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe — and shudder!” (v.19)
The belief that “God is one” reflects a core Christian doctrine called monotheism. This concept would have been very familiar to James’s Jewish Christian audience because they regularly recited this basic belief in the Shema. The Shema was a daily ancient Israelite prayer rooted in Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” It was used as both an oath of commitment and a song of praise.
Though this core Christian doctrine is vitally essential, James makes the point in verse 19 that mere verbal assent or knowledge is not enough. He states that even the demons are aware of and agree with the Shema. As Christians, this is an important observation because it shows that we can acknowledge the core principles of Christianity and even have a theologians knowledge base, and our faith lack authenticity.
It’s important to be clear with what James is saying and what he’s not saying. James is not advocating for a works-based salvation or the idea that our deeds affect our salvation. He is saying that good works are a natural outflowing of a genuine trust in Jesus. James is offering an appraisal of an authentic faith.
So how would you live up to that appraisal? Are good works inherent to your Christian life? There will certainly be hills and valleys during our walk with Christ; times of unmitigated zeal, and occasions of spiritual apathy. But verses like this provide us with opportunities to gauge our faithfulness. The late Pastor Adrian Rogers of Love Worth Finding ministries once said, “It’s not the perfection of your life, but the direction.” As fallible human beings, we will undoubtedly veer off the Christlike road at times, but the Bible gives us many reflection verses and stories to help us regain focus and get back on the right pathway.
If you believe this is an area where you’re struggling, here are some helpful tips:
1️⃣ Keep praying. Prayer is our primary mode of communication with God. It shows our ongoing need for Him in all aspects of our life. Ask for discernment and opportunities to serve Him and others.
2️⃣ Read your Bible. Life gets busy for us all, and we occasionally have seasons where we are not reading and studying our Bible as we should. The Bible helps us grow in our fellowship and communion with God by growing in our understanding of Him and many aspects of the Christian life.
3️⃣ Seek opportunities. The second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. This involves intentionality. We should seek opportunities to love others, no matter their religious backgrounds, because all people are image-bearers of God [Gen 1:27; Mark 12:31].
Authenticity is crucial whether in the arts or in the Christian life. It not only reveals the true artist but honors them. While art has various kinds of monetary values, human worth is incalculable. Abdu Murray once said that you know the value of something by how much you’re willing to pay for it. Christ showed us that we’re of immeasurable value by paying the ultimate price on the cross. Living an authentic faith honors our divine Artist.