Another example of how things can get out of balance can be seen in the life of Martin Luther. The Reformation started based on the teaching of faith—that our salvation is by faith in Jesus Christ, not by works. “The righteous will live by faith” (Romans 1:17, NIV). “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6, NIV). This was a great revelation to Luther because his church at that time was preaching a salvation based on works and good deeds.
But when Martin Luther read James, he saw that it talked also about works. “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? . . . Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself” (James 2:14, 17, NASB). Luther could not grasp this. He grappled with the message of the book of James to such a degree that he didn’t think it should be part of the Bible. He had come out of the works position into the faith position, and he could not see the whole picture.
In reality, there is a beautiful balance between faith and works. We can see a picture of it in the life of Abraham. Around the age of 75, Abraham was promised a son. Twenty-five years later at the age of 100, his body was “as good as dead,” and his wife’s was also (see Romans 4). Physically, they were too old to have children. So how did Abraham and Sarah get their son? It was not a virgin birth. Abraham had a part to play. God used his body, his energy, and his blood to bring forth a son. Abraham could have said, “God promised, so He’ll do it,” and just sat there. But he didn’t do that. That’s what it means when it says faith without works is dead. When Abraham offered his son Isaac, it was a real offering up—a work. He took Isaac in his own hands, laid him on the altar and raised the knife. Real faith has action; it is visible; it is a faith with works.
Over and over again we see this balance in the Scriptures. God’s throne is built on the foundation of mercy and justice. It is not built on mercy alone or justice alone. There is balance. He is the God of Jacob, who was a crook, a deceiver and a liar. Yet He is also the God of Israel, which means “prince of God.”
There is both work and rest. The two are not incompatible. In fact, Jesus speaks of the two existing simultaneously. “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30).
In all of our maturing and growing in understanding and living as the Body of Christ, we need to be continually called back to balanced thinking. And that proper balance is given to us through the Word of God.