Archives for posts with tag: James

I am back from vacation and the Parish Life Conference, so I hope to keep this blog more regularly updated.  Today I will return to the book of Genesis, chapter 15.

Chapter 15 offers a pivotal moment in the Bible, primarily because in verse 6 Abram (later re-named and subsequently referred to here as Abraham) is “accounted righteous” by God.  Whether we like it or not, in a very real way this one verse has shaped the past 2,000 years of history.  The reason I make such a bold statement is simple: this verse is the cornerstone of the defense/apologia of the Christian movement as seen most explicitly in Acts, Romans, and Galatians.  And, of course, we know that history has been changed because of Christianity.

According to the teachings of Jesus Christ, as thoroughly outlined especially by St Paul of Tarsus, being accounted righteous by God is independent of being perfectly obedient to the Mosaic Law.  I believe it is important for Christians to understand that the teachings of Jesus and Paul–that righteousness is found apart from the Mosaic Law–is not a “new” concept, but one found in the Old Testament.  Put differently, in defending the teaching of Christ, Paul did not invent a new argument or concept, but simply referred back to Scripture to make his case.

In Paul’s time, as in our own, we are tempted to think (even if we profess something different with our mouths) we are righteous because we follow certain rules (insert the rules of a specific religion or denomination).  With religious Jews, it is easy to fall into the trap of righteousness by following the Mosaic Law.  However, as Paul correctly points out, Abraham is deemed righteous by God BEFORE the Mosaic Law even exists.  Therefore, if one is accounted righteous before the Law is given, then righteousness does not come through the Law.  Instead, as Genesis 15:6 indicates, it comes through belief in God.

Now it is important to keep in mind that the word translated “believe” in Genesis 15:6 is more than an intellectual ascent or a simple confession of faith.  Rather, biblical belief in God means you put your trust in God.  I often compare this to kids and their “belief” in gravity.  Give a 3-year old kid a balloon and take him outside.  Watch him let go of the balloon and cry when the balloon flies away.  The child has such a strong trust in gravity he believes whatever goes up will always come down.  The 3-year old in this example has a biblical “belief” in gravity–he behaves according to something unseen based on a trust in that principle.

Ultimately, putting this kind of faith, trust, or belief in God is what leads to us being accounted righteous.  It is our authentic admission that we are insufficient before God, and our recognition that only He can correct that, which leads us to holiness.  Certainly, if we have that sincere faith, action should follow; we should behave in a certain way.  As St James pointed out in his epistle, if our behavior does not match the confession of our lips then it proves we do not have a biblical belief in God, but only the kind of intellectual belief I mentioned previously–and one shared even by the demons (James 2:18-19)!  Yet, we should never permit ourselves to think our actions make us holy.  It is only God who can deem us holy, and only when we are willing to admit our deficiencies and inadequacies. 

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Today’s post, in many respects, is a continuation of yesterday’s post.  Today, however, I will focus on Noah and his obedience to God.

Noah’s Obedience
Noah is introduced as having “found grace” with the Lord (Genesis 6:8). I’m sure this subject will come up again in more depth, but for now let me simply point out that the grace of God comes first–not last. In other words, the grace of God is given to us in advance. The question for us is not if we will receive the grace of God, but what we will do with it

Noah is presented in the flood story as the anti-Adam: “Thus Noah did; according to all that God commanded him, so he did” (Geneis 6:22). Whereas Adam disobeyed the simple commandment of God to refrain from eating of one of the trees, Noah obeyed perfectly all the things God commanded him.  Noah, whose names means ‘rest,’ symbolizes the rest we will receive in the end if we are obedient to God.

As I mentioned yesterday, we are tempted to think of God in abstract terms. We are tempted to think of faith, religion, and God in creedal terms, or in intellectual statements of faith. I “believe” in God in my head–I think or believe He exists. These creedal/intellectual notions of God manifest themselves uniquely in different denominations. We Orthodox and Roman Catholics tend to think of our faith as confessing the Nicene Creed. Evangelicals have their own “creeds,” like the “Sinner’s Prayer.”

Yet, true faith is not in confessing a creed or saying a prayer, but living a way of life. Specifically, true faith is living like Noah, obeying what God commands us to do. As James says in his epistle: “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).