Show me your faith! – James 2:14-26
By Pastor Lee Hemen
October 13, 2013 AM
Some adult believers have the wrong idea about faith and works. Some feel good works are necessary to maintain their Christianity. Thus, they always try to keep busy doing something good and feel guilty if they feel they are not doing enough. They do not understand their salvation is secure on the basis of faith, not good works. For other Christians, this security creates a different problem. Their attitude can be, “I don’t need to do anything I don’t have to do.” They are content to enjoy the blessings of salvation now and to look forward to heaven one day. They do not understand genuine faith always leads to good works.
James understood that believers who perform good works for the wrong reasons and those without good works need to evaluate themselves to see whether their faith is real. God wants us to do good works that demonstrate our faith in Christ. Some Christians are far to content to let others perform works of ministry. Monetary contributions are no substitute for personal acts of service. Others feel they must earn and maintain their good standing with God through good works. James challenges us by saying, “Show me your faith!”
James moved from dealing with the sin of showing favoritism to the relationship between faith and works. He declared faith without works is “dead”, it is more than just “feeling” someone’s pain. In fact, James writes that if you want to show your faith, it is…
I. More than just talking! (2:14-17)
“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 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? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
1. James asks, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?” God’s grace brings redemption, and the redeemed live out that unearned grace. Actions taken on others’ behalf demonstrate Christ’s love. James’ question called for an obvious answer: An inactive faith accomplishes nothing. James’s second question is a key to understanding the rest of these verses: “Can such faith save him?” Faith that does not bring forth good works is not saving faith. Why? Perhaps it is counterfeit, a false faith, or one based on emotionalism instead of total trust. Only faith demonstrated by works will bring a favorable verdict in the last judgment. Paul does not contradict James’ words about good works. Paul opposed those who taught salvation results from having faith and performing works of the law. He declared salvation is by faith alone. His focus concerned the fact that people are saved by faith and not by rituals such as circumcision. James wrote to counter people who taught works were not necessary in a Christian’s life. Both stressed that saved people do good deeds. James gave an illustration of the emptiness of words without actions. It echoes Jesus’ teaching, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Matthew 25:35-36 NIV). James asks, “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?” A believer who is in a position to help refuses to and instead responds with useless words! Words are cheap. A cheap faith results in cheap actions. James drew the parallel between words without actions and faith that produces no good works: “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” Mere words, no matter how well meaning are no substitute for helpful actions. Showing one’s faith is more than just talk!
EXAMPLE: “Thank you, Jesus!” “Can I get a witness?” Praise the Lord!” If all we do is talk about having faith, we may not have saving faith. We can know and use all the right religious words, but without compassionate actions, they have a hollow ring. Kind of like a resounding gong or clanging cymbal bonged in an echoing cave! Francis of Assisi purportedly said, “Preach the gospel always, and if necessary, use words.” Francis’ “faith” was steeped in acts of kindness because of what Christ had done in his life. Saving faith engages in a lot more doing than talking.
James continues to emphasize that a professed faith is useless if actions do not demonstrate its genuineness. Faith and works are inseparable. He writes that showing one’s faith is…
II. More than just “believing”! (2:18-20)
“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. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder. You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?”
1. Throughout his letter, James employed a method of injecting an objection to his argument and then answering it. He anticipated someone in his audience would counter his strong assertion that faith not expressed in works “is dead”. His statement suggests a division of ministry in which some people perform good works and others encourage them. James would have none of it. James challenged the objector to give proof of faith. Is our vocal expressions sufficient evidence of our commitment to Christ? Can our correct and pious religious terms prove faith; perhaps emotional fervency or emphasis of tone, or, maybe by our strident repetition? None of these ways provides convincing evidence, for none demonstrates visibly our inward attitude of faith. The reality of faith is shown in a lifestyle characterized by ministry to others in obedience to Christ. Faith cannot be separated from daily behavior. James then used the basic affirmation of Judaism (Deut. 6:4-5) to illustrate that real faith cannot be mere intellectual acceptance of a creed. To accept God’s oneness is well and good. Yet, “Even the demons believe that–and shudder. “ Accepting a fact does not mean one has redemptive faith. James used a little humor as he pointed out demons shudder in light of the one God’s awesomeness—their hair bristles or stands on end in terror. Unlike people who profess faith and do no good works, at least demons tremble as an outward expression of their belief! James’ forcefulness in addressing his opponent reflects the issue’s crucial nature. Saving faith and good works cannot be separated; genuine faith consistently issues in actions of ministry to others in fulfillment of the royal law. Anyone who thinks works are unimportant is, according to James, “foolish” He asks, “Do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?” The lesson this “empty headed” person needed to learn was that faith without works is useless. James emphasized that unproductive faith is a contradiction in terms and is a sham. Showing one’s faith is more than just “believing”!
EXAMPLE: If all we do is claim to believe scriptural truths, we have a useless faith, not a saving faith. I have had dozens of folks over the years tell me they “believe in Jesus” but that is a meaningless statement if one does not see Jesus in their actions. Genuine faith is dynamic, active, and productive. You will see Jesus in one’s active faith! During His earthly ministry, Jesus “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38). Being His people means following His model. Showing one’s faith is more than just “believing”!
Abraham and Rahab are examples of people who demonstrate the kind of faith that makes people right with God. Their works gave evidence of saving faith. Showing one’s faith is…
III. Justifying faith! (2:21-26)
“Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”
1. James asks his readers, “Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?” They all knew the story of Abraham. James and Paul used the word “justified” in different ways. Paul used it in the sense of being made right with God by grace through faith instead of by “works of law” (Romans 3:28). Paul’s contention was that legalism played no part in salvation. James made a different point: Abraham’s obedience in being willing to sacrifice Isaac demonstrated the genuineness of his faith. His faith issued in obedient actions. The patriarch already had been made right with God; his obedience came out of his faith relationship with God. James concludes, “You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.” Abraham’s willingness to offer Isaac perfected the patriarch’s faith in realizing God’s intended purpose–the goal of obedient action. “And the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ and he was called God’s friend.” Faith’s purpose in a believer’s life is to produce good works; without good works, faith is incomplete. Good works demonstrate faith’s integrity and maturity. The patriarch’s faith worked with his actions to demonstrate obedience. James was reinforcing his contention that faith and works are inseparable: “You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.” A person who is right with God does good works. An absence of good works calls into question a profession of faith. Then, James turned to the dregs of society for his second example of faith demonstrated by works. “In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?” Her actions were evidence of her having a right relationship with God. James well may have meant to make a point by contrast. Abraham, the father of the faithful, could be expected to perform good works out of his faith. Yet at the other end of the spectrum, a Canaanite prostitute also demonstrated her faith by her actions! James concluded with an analogy involving the human body. “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” Such faith has no life; it is reduced to a walking corpse or perhaps in today’s vernacular, a zombie! James teaches us that showing one’s faith, is justifying faith!
EXAMPLE: We show our faith is genuine when it leads us to do good deeds. Opportunities to engage in compassionate ministry to needy people are all around us. We need determined good will, generosity, and sensitivity to grasp some of those opportunities. We cannot do everything and help everybody, but none of us is exempt from translating our faith into concrete actions. James teaches us that showing one’s faith, is justifying faith!
1. If all we do is talk about having faith, we do not have saving faith.
2. If all we do is claim to believe the truth of the Scriptures, we have a useless faith, not saving faith.
3. We show ours is a genuine faith when it leads us to do good deeds.
This article is copyrighted © 2013 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.