Take a look sometime at a $20 bill. How do you know it’s the real thing? There have always been special features to help authenticate currency and frustrate counterfeiters, but in the most recent redesign, the government took these measures to a new level. To name a few: color-shifting ink, a watermark that’s part of the paper itself, a security thread that glows green under ultraviolet light.
That piece of paper holds ways for us to be sure it’s authentic. It also can teach us something about real Christian faith. What is saving faith, after all?
In Ephesians 2:8, Paul tells us, “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God…” And yet James throws down a challenge to those who would claim that faith is all head and heart, no hands. Is salvation by simple belief? Is it by works?
The first thing that authenticates a bill is what’s printed on it. The right words, adornments, seals and pictures must be present. If it’s all there, except that Harry Potter’s mug is in Andrew Jackson’s place, there’s a problem. If Old Hickory is present, but the note is issued by Gringotts Wizarding Bank, still no good.
The right stuff printed on the bill is like the faith we profess. Some things aren’t negotiable: the trinity, the divinity of Christ, His redemptive death on the cross and conquest of death by His resurrection. If we’ve gotten these things wrong, nothing else is going to help us. But if we’re just mouthing all the right words, is that enough?
Here’s where it gets tricky. If we undertake good works as a way of adding to the work of Christ, to make it all add up to salvation, we’ve missed the point of the cross. But if good works, right living and the fruit of the Spirit are absent from our lives, then merely professing the right beliefs is like printing all the correct markings of a $20 bill – on Kleenex. When it’s held up to the light, the fake will be exposed.