Works born of faith become more than projects

It happens all too often: We get into the car to go out to eat, and one of us asks, “Where do you want to go for lunch?”

“I don’t know; where do you want to go?”

A heated discussion follows, and eventually one or the other makes the decision, but a little stress hovers over our lives the rest of the time.

That’s life — decisions, decisions. You can’t avoid them. Sometimes they’re not major ones, but sometimes they demand immediate attention. Sometimes they are simple, such as where to go on a weekend drive, what restaurant to eat at, or which clothes to wear today. Others are significant, perhaps as much as life or death, choices.

The Bible is filled with examples of choices, times of decision. Adam chose to accept the forbidden fruit. Noah responded to God’s call to build an ark. Moses, Isaiah and Jeremiah chose to respond to God’s call for action, as did the disciples of Jesus and the apostle Paul.

The challenges of God continue each day of our lives. Every person goes through life making decisions. Is what we do good or bad? Right or wrong? Constructive or destructive? Especially crucial is the choice of whether or not to accept the call of God.

In the New Testament book of James, chapter 2, verse 14, we are presented with a significant question: “My brothers and sisters, what good is it if people say they have faith but do nothing to show for it?”

Or we might consider it another way: “What good is it if you have good works, but no spiritual base to develop good works upon?”

There are a lot of wonderful organizations that do good works, but is it possible that they are basically projects? I don’t discount what they are doing. The world is often made better for what they do. Even some churches become engrossed in what they call “programs.” But is it possible that programs become “pseudo” works, apart from faith?

An eternal question we ask is, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” We’re not sure if anyone has come up with a substantial answer to that question, but the James passage can be raised in the same way: “Which comes first, faith or works?” Do works create faith? Or, as in my case, does faith lead to works?

I like to believe that through faith, God opens doors to potential ways to serve, to enrich life, to provide the good works God wants — not simply good and worthy things without God’s empowerment.

I truly believe that true faith in God’s eternal power, leading to good works, is what Jesus would do. In the words of the old song, “I have decided to follow Jesus / No turning back, no turning back.”

Bruce Mitchell is a retired United Methodist pastor living in Greenfield. This weekly column is written by local clergy members.