When we separate faith from everything else, we make it into belief. It becomes the assent to the truth of something that cannot be proven by empirical evidence. The Book of James addresses this mistaken thought directly when it says, “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only” (OSB James 2:24).
Paul Would Agree with James
The apostle has been arguing strenuously against circumcision because it binds one to the works of the Mosaic law. Surprisingly in our reading, Paul agrees with this point. But at the same time that he rails against circumcision, Paul speaks of “faith active” in love.
This poignant phrase indicates that Paul would agree with James, who wrote against the idea of “faith alone.” He insisted, “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17). In verse 2:20, the term that The New Revised Standard Version translates as “dead” means “fruitless” (Strong’s #692).
Love Puts Faith to Work
Instead of being useless, Paul teaches that true faith is “active.” The word in Greek means “to energize” or “to work in” (Strong’s #1754). But what is “work.” Work is the energy transferred when a force moves something over a distance. This definition goes along with the sense that love activates faith. Love puts faith to work, transferring the energy of conviction into active caring. Thus, in a sense, love actualizes and implements faith so that it does “work.” Thus, the apostle says of Abraham, “You see that faith was active together with his works, and by works, faith was perfected (James 2:22).
St. Ignatius (35-107 A.D.) wrote: Those who profess to be Christ’s will be recognized by their actions. For what matters is not a momentary act of professing, but being persistently motivated by faith (Letter to the Ephesians, 14:2).