Hear this carefully: An act done in faith can be saving.
Consider the example of Naaman in the Old Testament. He was told to DO something that he thought was ridiculous:
“Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” (2 Kings 5:10 ESV)
At first he was angry and refused to comply, not seeing how such a simple act in such an insignificant river could accomplish anything of lasting value.
But then his servants intervened and convinced him to heed the word that was spoken to him by the prophet.
“So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.” (2 Kings 5:14 ESV)
Faith is often expressed through obedient acts.
The parallel to baptism is fairly obvious:
“Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21 ESV)
When a person is baptized it is not the mere physical act which saves them, it is the “appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
It is FAITH that saves, but faith is almost always demonstrated through a particular act.
This is the very point that the Apostle James is labouring to make in James 2.
“Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” (James 2:21–24 ESV)
James is not saying that a person is saved by faith PLUS works, he is saying that a person is saved by faith THROUGH works, or rather, faith manifesting itself IN works. It is often suggested by liberal scholars that this represents a different approach to faith than the one we observe in the Apostle Paul but that doesn’t hold up under careful analysis. In Romans 10 Paul says:
“For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (Romans 10:10 ESV)
Confessing with the mouth is an act and manifestation of saving faith.
Evidently James and Paul are in agreement: real faith manifests in observable action, or as John Calvin put it, “It is therefore faith alone which justifies, and yet the faith which justifies is not alone”.
Because our own hearts are deceitful and fickle above all things the Lord often ordains observable and memorable actions for the display and development of our faith. We must of course guard against even a hint of ritualism or legalism, but we must likewise guard against an equally devastating sentimentalism or intellectualism.
And lepers swim in the Jordan.
Thanks be to God!
Pastor Paul Carter
To listen to Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast visit the TGC Canada website; you can also find it on iTunes.