Works Without Faith Can be Deadening, Too

Works Without Faith Can be Deadening, Too January 9, 2019

James tells us that "faith without works is dead," but works without faith can become compulsive, directionless, and fruitless.Within the Christian context, most of us know the passage in James that says “faith without works is dead.” And that is certainly true. But what I observe in many churches (especially progressive liberal ones) is that “works without faith are deadening.”

Both are true — they are two sides of the same coin. We are over the age-old conflict that pits contemplation and action against one another (activists complaining that contemplatives need to get off their meditation cushions and get to work, and contemplatives complaining that activists need to get on their meditation cushions, slow down and listen to what God may be saying for a change).

Where do you fit?

As much as those of us who hate dualism want the two sides to learn from one another, it appears that each of us leans toward one end of the spectrum.

Are you the action-oriented person of faith?

Or are you the faith-oriented person of action?

We need each other

The denomination I’m ordained into — the United Church of Christ (UCC) — leans toward action-oriented people of faith. I’m drawn to this denomination because it’s inclusive, compassionate, and seeks to follow Jesus as he “overturns the tables of injustice” wherever they are found.

These injustice-fighters are fiercely wholehearted and necessary to the body of Christ.

They are also exhausted. Because works that are not balanced with attention to faith, inner spirit and listening to God tend to become compulsive and can easily lose their focus.

Key question #1

Is what I am doing ultimately giving me life and renewal within or is it draining me of life?

While my contemplative struggle is to find where and how I plug into social activism with integrity and energy, the activists’ struggle is to find time to stop and take spiritual inventory.

This is a very hard question for activist Christians to ask themselves. The first reaction from them is “it’s not about me, it’s about the cause.” Problem is, we can’t take on every cause. Energy is finite and choices have to be made. So maybe it is a little bit about you!

Key question #2

To those who are exhausted from works that have become disengaged with faith and spiritual practice I usually have one question: What exactly has God called you to do right now?

If you’ve spent considerable time in prayer and reflection and if you find you have the energy to continue the work, great. It’s probably in alignment with what God is asking you to do. If you have not spent time in prayer and discernment and you are losing energy, working compulsively and ignoring your own inner needs, then maybe it’s time to take a short sabbatical and find renewal.

You don’t have to do it alone

These kinds of questions are what I love about being in a spiritual direction relationship. When we become unbalanced, our spiritual directors can help us find out where the imbalance is. And once we are aware of it, we can make changes so that our faith has works and our works have faith.


Interested in learning more about the practice of spiritual direction? Contact me at teresa@teresablythe.net. Also, I am currently taking on new clients, so if you are in the market for a spiritual director, let’s talk.

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