Perfecting Faith, or Attracting Flies?
Several years ago, I preached a sermon on the absolute necessity of obedience for salvation from sin (Matt. 28:18-20; 1 Peter 1:22; Heb. 5:8,9 James 2:14-26), and a woman came up to me after the worship service was closed and said, ”You know Tim, you can attract more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.” I, of course, said “I didn’t know I was trying to attract flies.”
The Bible is a beautiful, attractive book, whether you are talking about the absolute necessity of God’s love for our salvation or the absolute necessity of our obedience for our salvation. They both work together to save us, and understanding this much is necessary in order to find harmony in the Bible that He gave us.
I was studying the Bible with a man and woman a couple of weeks ago who both insisted James 2:14-26 was a contradiction of Eph. 2:8,9 where Paul wrote, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Incidentally, they also insisted they believed the Bible is the inspired Word of God. I guess they should point out God’s mistake to Him where He says, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). They say it is a contradiction. Or James 2:14 where He told James to write, “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?” Or Jesus’ mistake in Matt. 7:21 where He still says, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.”
James 2:21,22 say faith is made perfect by works. They work together to save us from sin. In other words, works are useless without faith, and faith is useless without works. In yet other words, one who believes must obey to be saved. This does not mean we earn salvation simply because we obey our Creator. It simply means we are doing what He put us here to do, and accepting the gift, like the Israelites did when they obeyed God and crossed over Jordan and fought to take His gift of the promised land. Eph. 2:8,9 harmonizes perfectly with James 2:26 when you look at the whole picture of things, instead of just seeing what you want to see. To understand the Bible, one must study to know God’s will for his/her life, not to find loopholes for making excuses not to obey Him. Of course you will find contradictions when all you are looking for is loopholes. Contradictions are just a minor consequence of your misunderstanding.
To refer to this as “vinegar” or “negative preaching” is the same thing as saying, “What a bummer! I want to go to heaven, but I shouldn’t have to bother with obeying Jesus.” It is like the “rich young ruler” in Luke 18:18-23. It tells us there that the man walked away from Jesus extremely sorrowful because Jesus told him he needed to perfect his faith by obeying Him; by giving what he had to the poor and following Him. Jesus offered the man eternal life in heaven, and it only made the man sorrowful because he had to obey Him. He understood it as “vinegar” ― “negative preaching”.
Preaching that is done the way Jesus did it, and the way God intends for it to be done, isn’t done to attract flies. It is done to save lost souls who He loves. We are to “reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:1-4), because the day of judgment is coming. Flies are attracted to garbage, and to them, garbage is positive. Those who love the Lord will see His Word in the Bible as positive, will obey what He says, and their faith will be made perfect (complete) by their obedience for salvation.
Timothy A. Sundlie
Minister/ Evangelist for the La Crosse church of Christ