James, the brother of our Lord, has some hard words for those who do not live out their “faith”. He calls it dead. He asks if such faith can save anyone. He declares that such faith is useless. These are hard words. It gets even harder when he says that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.
14 What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? 17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.James 2:14-26
18 But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” 19 You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. 20 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.
Is James disagreeing with Paul when he says these things? Paul says that we are not saved by works. He says that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone. He declares that it is not of works otherwise men could boast. What is going on?
The words of James make sense if we think about a quotation from our declaration of Independence. They said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” What a concept: self evident. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are three rights that the founders of our country believed were self-evident realities. James is saying the same type of thing. He is not addressing the question of how we begin a relationship with God. He is addressing the question of what saving faith does in our lives. In other words, James declares that people are not saved by doing good works; however, James points out that it is self-evident that real faith inspires people to do real things.
The examples he gives are so self evident that they are nearly indisputable:
- Are you helping anyone if they are hungry, thirsty, and naked if you just wish them well and do nothing about it? Of course, the answer is no. So, James says, faith is likewise of no use if it doesn’t do real things.
- Can you show me how real your faith is without doing anything? Again, the answer is no. James declares that such faith is about as good as the demons who also believe in God. However, James can easily show his faith by the real things it does.
- How do we know that Abraham had faith? What about Rahab, the harlot? James said that both of them are known not by talking about faith but by doing something. Therefore, Biblical faith must have works.
- When is a body alive? James answer: the body is alive when there is evidence of the spirit. What is that evidence: action (heartbeat, breathing, movement)! So also, he says, faith without works is just dead if it is by itself.
What’s the point? The point is two-fold: 1) It is self-evident that real faith has real results in the life of the one who truly has it. Life just bubbles up. It can’t help itself. If it doesn’t bubble up, we easily know that it doesn’t really exist. Love, abilities, historical figures, and even the human body all show that mere talking about faith isn’t real faith. Faith bubbles out of us and touches others in real ways. 2) What’s the point in claiming a faith that doesn’t affect our lives? Is that a faith that will transform you? Is that a faith that will truly give comfort when you are hurting? Is that a faith that can sustain you when you are discouraged? Is that a faith that is worth having?
James believed that this discussion of faith was self-evident. It is clear that he believed that faith did more. It wasn’t academic. It wasn’t just “spiritual”. Since faith is real, it really acts for good in the real world.
Real faith changes lives. Is that your faith?
Something to think about,
First posted March 2011