In practice we may detect the subtle (and often unconscious) substitution when we hear a Christian assure someone that he will “pray over” his problem, knowing full well that he intends to use prayer as a substitute for service. It is much easier to pray that a poor friend’s needs may be supplied than to supply them. James’ words burn with irony:
Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? (2:15-16)
And the mystical John sees also the incongruity involved in substituting religion for action:
If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence (1 John 3:17-19).
A proper understanding of this whole thing will destroy the false and artificial either/or. Then we will have not less faith but more godly works; not less praying but more serving; not fewer words but more holy deeds; not weaker profession but more courageous possession; not religion as a substitute for action but religion in faith-filled action.
And what is that but to say that we will have come again to the teaching of the New Testament?