I've been part of an online Bible study the past month where we're going through the book of 1 John a verse or two each day. Two weeks ago we were in the beginning of chapter 2, and the verses that stuck out to me specifically were verses 3-6:
We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.
I liked what my Life Application Study Bible had to say about v.6: "To 'walk as Jesus did' or living as Christ did doesn't mean choosing 12 disciples, performing great miracles, and being crucified... To talk today as Christ did we must obey his teachings and follow his example of complete obedience to God and loving service to people."
Then in church we're going through the book of James, and yesterday's message was about chapter 2 verses 14-26:
What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that — and shudder.
You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
Some of these verses seem to walk a tricky line. Works (deeds) are not required for salvation -- belief in Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross for our sins and his resurrection are all that is needed to spend eternity in heaven.
Yet James says faith without deeds is dead.
The life of a Christian is a process. When someone makes a decision to follow Christ, believing in His death and resurrection, that is the beginning of the process -- it doesn't end there. The actions and deeds and obeying God that follow are what show that our commitment to God is real. They help complete our faith -- they alone don't define it.