But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:22-25)
For months I have been pondering these verses and wrestling with this question: How can I become an “effectual doer” (James 1:25) out of obedience and love without developing a works-based, “checklist” mentality? In other words, how can I carry out all the things that God’s Word asks me to do without treating His instructions like a mere To Do list in need of a check mark?
God’s Word is clear that we are not saved by our works.
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:1-9, emphasis added)
Yet, Scripture is also clear that those who live by faith in Christ Jesus are to care for the poor, the needy, the sick, the oppressed, the orphan, the widow (see Matthew 25:31-46; James 1:27; Proverbs 19:17, 29:7; Isaiah 1:17; Psalm 82:3-4; Deuteronomy 24:17-22). No doubt, there are certain things that Christians are called to do–not as a requirement for salvation (“For by grace we have been saved through faith…not as a result of works.”) but because we are His ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:18-20). And because we are called, we will have to give an answer.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:10)
So, we are not saved by our works; but we are called to do good works, and we will give an account for our works. What this says to me is that just because we are saved by grace through faith does not mean that we can ignore works. I recently read a devotional which addresses this very thing and which captures my own ponderings so well.
“I was afraid to be like those who were trying to earn their way to heaven with good works because I knew that salvation is by God’s grace through faith alone. But out of this fear, I, like many others, stopped working altogether. Somewhere along the line I began unconsciously living a lie that says learning about God, singing about God, and speaking about God is more important than walking like Him. Like so many well-intentioned Christians before me, I had thought I could live out my Christianity in church buildings, in Bible studies, and among friends.”
After months of repeatedly asking myself–and God–how I can be an “effectual doer” without treating His Word like a mere To Do list, I believe I am finally hearing the answer. When God saves us, our desires are changed. We no longer desire to live for ourselves and for worldly pleasures but for Him. We desire to know God more intimately, so we study His Word and we talk to Him in prayer. And, as we do so, we continue to be changed more and more into the likeness of Christ, who “did not come to be served, but to serve” (Matthew 20:28). We are able to love others with the love with which we are loved; and we have as our ambition to be pleasing to Him (2 Corinthians 5:9).
In my questioning, “How can I become an ‘effectual doer’ out of obedience and love without developing a works-based, ‘checklist’ mentality,” I was missing an important point: The desire and ability to be an “effectual doer” is not something that has to be manufactured by me. Instead, it should be a natural outworking of my relationship with my Savior. I can be an effectual doer, not because a checklist told me to do so, but because of Christ in me!
It is my sincere prayer that God would empty me of my selfish fears so that because of my love for Him, I might do the work He has for me.