Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Supplement Your Faith

St James and St Peter have quite a bit in common. They were pals in the early days of the Church in Jerusalem, as we read in Acts. I’ve noted a couple of convergences in their epistles over the past few days, and there are still more, like their quoting this passage from Proverbs: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6; 1Peter 5:5). Another agreement, in thought if not in exact words, is their mutual insistence upon the necessity of works along with faith. James is very explicit on the point (2:14-26), while Peter, though more subtle, is no less clear.

Because of St James’ insistence about this, Martin Luther attempted one of the most arrogant attacks on the word of God in history. He tried to remove the Letter of James from the canon of the Bible! He called it a “straw epistle.” Why? Because the inspired Apostle didn’t agree with Luther’s brand of theology or interpretation of St Paul! I’m sure glad that Luther didn’t get away with it, for then it would be open season on Scripture for anyone who wants to cut paper dolls out of the pages of the Bible, removing the parts that don’t agree with their own way of seeing things. We are not to judge Scripture, however, but rather be judged by it.

Here’s what St Peter says on the issue (I’ll include a fairly lengthy text so you have the context): First he says—and this is where we left off yesterday—that God “has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature. For this very reason make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these things are yours and abound, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these things is blind and shortsighted and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. Therefore, brethren, be the more zealous to confirm your call and election, for if you do this you will never fall; so there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2Peter 1:4-11).

First of all, we see that God’s promises have a twofold intent: to help us escape the corruption of the world, so that we can partake of the divine nature by grace. “For this reason,” i.e., that we may escape corruption and partake of God, the Apostle says that faith is inadequate, so we are to “make every effort to supplement [our] faith with virtue…” He lists several here (both he and James are fond of steadfastness), culminating with love. Since he says that if we do this, our relationship with Christ will not be ineffectual or unfruitful, the clear implication is that if we don’t supplement our faith with virtue, we will be ineffectual and unfruitful—and we all know what Scripture says about the destiny of the unfruitful.

He presses the point home: if we don’t supplement our faith we are blind, shortsighted, forgetting the forgiveness of our sins, and hence without that rich provision for entry into the Kingdom of Christ that the Apostle urges us to secure.

I suppose I could have been much more concise by quoting St Paul, who says the same thing in a few words: “Faith works through love” (Galatians 5:6). Again, the clear implication is that without love, faith doesn’t work (he spells it out in 1Cor. 13:2). But I think it’s good to have St Peter expound on the topic a bit, for it is an important one.

Let us realize that our faith must be supplemented with virtue, and especially with love, if we are not to be unfruitful, blind, forgetful of God’s mercy, and hence without sure provision for entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven. We now have the means, says the Apostle, to escape the corruption of the world and to enter into a hitherto impossibly intimate relationship with God. For this reason, make every effort to supplement your faith… be zealous to confirm your call and election… for your entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.