Among the New Testament books, the Epistle of James has one distinct feature: the preceptof“faith without works is dead” (James 2:20, NKJV). It is not meant to contend with the traditional doctrine of “justification by faith”. Instead the author’s intention is to encourage believers who have been saved by grace to bear the fruit of good deeds so that they would be worthy of the calling to which they were called. No one can claim salvation through good works, but a person who has been saved by grace will be able to bear fruits of a new and transformed life.
In the New Testament there are many references to the need for believers to do good. Paul states in Galatians 6:9-10 (NKJV), “Let us not grow weary while doing good… Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Likewise in 2 Thessalonians 3:13 (NKJV), “do not grow weary in doing good”. It appears that doing good may not always get us returns of appreciation, encouragement and affirmation. Sometimes our goodwill and deeds may even be taken advantage of and we are deceived in the process, or the recipients may not be grateful. Hence, Paul exhorts believers not to grow weary in doing good despite all this.
I once received a video clip about a cat which had fallen into a pit and was unable to get out. Its playmate, Doggie, heard the cat’s call for help and dashed to the edge of the pit. On seeing the helpless cat, the dog ran off and returned with a thin branch which it dropped into the pit, but it was no use. Soon, the dog found a rope and pushed one end of it into the pit while it clenched the other with its teeth. With the cat grabbing hold of the rope, the dog strained away from the edge of the pit and after a couple of attempts, succeeded in bringing the cat up. Once reunited, the playmates ran off to play in the field again.
I was touched by the video, and was especially moved to see the dog pullingthe rope to haul the cat up. We are shown that even God’s creatures in the animal kingdom are able to help each other. For us humans, therefore, if we still hesitate in doing good, or do not do it even when we know we should, then it is sin (James 4:17).Many are willing to do good today and, regardless of their motives, their good works will bring immeasurable warmth to the needy and give them the courage to live on. It is all the more admirable when, in fact, many who do good do not care if they will ever be rewarded for their kind deeds. The world today is ravaged by evil powers and man’s savagery and brutality. What it desperately needs is for many, many more to be willing to work in different ways to fill it with goodness.
Paul reminds us in Ephesians 2:10 (NKJV),“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them”.
The Rev Dr Chong Chin Chung –was re-elected President of the Chinese Annual Conference (CAC) in 2012 for the quadrennium. He has been a Methodist pastor for more than 30 years and a guest lecturer at Trinity Theological College since 1996.