Keep Both Oars in the Water

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. –James 2:17-18

The story is told of an old man who operated a rowboat for ferrying passengers between an island and the mainland. One day, a passenger noticed that he had painted on one oar the word, “Works” and on the other oar the word, “Faith.” Curiosity led him to ask the meaning of this. The old man replied, “I will show you.” Dropping one oar, he began rowing only with the oar named “Works.” Of course, the boat just went around in circles. Then he switched oars, picking up “Faith” and dropping “Works.” The little rowboat went around in circles again–this time in the opposite direction. After this demonstration, the old man picked up both oars, “Faith” and “Works,” and rowing with the two oars together, swiftly coursed over the water. He looked at the passenger and said, “You see, that is the way it is in life, as well as in rowing a boat. You’ve got to keep both oars in the water, otherwise, you’ll just go in circles.”

Rowing a boat can be compared to being a growing, useful Christ-follower. You need two important things to make the Christian life work: faith and works. Without faith, works may be helpful to other people, but they don’t make you a Christ-follower. Without works, faith is sterile. There would be little or no growth in your life and you wouldn’t demonstrate to others a life transformed by Christ. Faith and works together will cause your Christian life to grow by leaps and bounds. Your life will have purpose and you’ll find yourself moving in the direction you want to go!

My challenge today is to check your life. Are both of your “oars” in the water? If you find yourself going in circles, be sure to employ both faith and works together.

1. What does “faith by itself… is dead” mean? What makes works without faith just as dead as faith without works?

2. Think of a time when you tried to navigate life in your own power without relying on God — without faith. What happened?

James 2:14-26; Galatians 5:6; 1 Thessalonians 1:3

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Jim Liebelt

Jim is Senior Writer, Editor and Researcher for HomeWord. Jim has 40 years of experience as a youth and family ministry specialist, having served over the years as a pastor, author, editor, consultant, mentor, trainer, college instructor, and speaker. Jim’s HomeWord Culture Blog also appears on Jim and his wife Jenny live in Quincy, MA.

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