The Faithful Life! — James 2:14-26
By Pastor Lee Hemen
June 8, 2014
Latin for “always faithful,” Semper Fidelis became the Marine Corps motto in 1883. It guides Marines to remain faithful to the mission at hand, to each other, to the Corps and to country, no matter what. It is too bad that the soldiers of the Lord could not adopt the same motto for their lives as well; to be always faithful to the Lord no matter what the cost. Christians are to have an unwritten motto that states, “Sola fide” or faith alone. However, in the constant confusion and societal blurring of today’s walk with Christ, many have forgotten what the meaning of a faithful life is supposed to be.
Just as the law of love gives no excuse for disregard of individuals, so one’s faith gives believers no excuse to quit doing good works. A believer must not only demonstrate one’s love by readily accepting others, but we must also demonstrate our faith by helping those around us. James went on in his letter to emphasize the demonstration of a faithful life, to outline the confirmation of a faithful life, and to finally give us illustrations of a faithful life. Let’s see what he teaches us concerning the faithful life…
The poet Edgar A. Guest wrote, “I’d rather see a sermon, than hear one any day; I’d rather one should walk with me, than merely tell the way.” What he was writing about is the fact that most folks want to see if one’s faith is real or not. The best means to do so is to actually see one’s faith revealed through what they do in life. James gives us…
I. A demonstration of a faithful life! (Vv. 14-17)
1. I do not know about you but I would rather have someone demonstrate their love for me rather than just say they love me. Yet there are those who say they love Jesus, but they hardly ever demonstrate their “love”. We would call that kind of faith “hypocritical” and this is why James relates, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?” The answer is of course, “No!” James’ emphasis is not on the true nature of one’s faith but rather on the false claim of one’s faith. It is the spurious boast of faith that James condemned. Such “faith” does no “good” and is worthless. James’ rhetorical question is followed by a realistic illustration, “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.” Notice he uses the example of a fellow believer, “brother or sister”, not just someone in the world. James’ focus is on how we as believers treat fellow disciples! If we say we love Jesus but treat our fellow followers in the faith horribly, what does that say to the world about our faith? James is also discussing the basic bare necessities of sustaining life. Warm fuzzy platitudes of feeling one’s pain is not going to do any good. As the Mommas and the Papas sang in the sixties, “Words of love, soft and tender” won’t win the heart of anyone if there is nothing behind them! Much of today’s faith has a lot of worn out phrases and longing gazes, but little in actual action! James concludes, “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?” The answer again is that it is no good whatsoever! Paul remarked, “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion… Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:1, 4 NIV)” We can send folks to foreign fields, but if we are not taking care of our own as we should, something is drastically wrong! I am not supporting an “us four and no more” attitude, but rather the total disconnect of some believers not tithing or serving to support their own congregation they spiritually suckle from! “In the same way,” James would declare, “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action” towards fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, “is dead.” James teaches that the faithful life will give a demonstration of a faithful life!
EXAMPLE: When service dogs are being trained they stay with host families first in order to get some basic things down before they enter into their more rigorous training. Then they go to training centers where they learn more on how to be the service dogs they are supposed to be. One of the final tests is they have to demonstrate their skills in leading, serving, or responding to the folks they will service. Not every dog, no matter how smart they are, is a service dog. Christians should be mentored as well and they should be able to demonstrate their faith. Those who have truly professed their faith and trust in Jesus Christ will demonstrate their faith! James teaches that the faithful life will give a demonstration of a faithful life!
One can try to counterfeit their faith by continually doing a lot of great things in life. In fact, there have been a lot of folks who have done just that, when in fact their faith wasn’t worth a plug nickel. They actually thought they could fool folks into thinking they were godly simply by their actions. God is not fooled however and James also teaches us that there has to be…
II. A confirmation of a faithful life! (Vv. 18-20)
1. This is probably one of the most misunderstood passages of the New Testament. Some think James disagrees with Paul, but he doesn’t. Instead they are looking at the same problem from the same perspective, namely, that faith is what saves us but there should be some kind of accompanying action to prove its existence! James knew that in our sinful hearts there would be “someone” who condescendingly “will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.'” And his response would be, “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” James understood that true faith always leads the individual into action! Paul encouraged the Thessalonians by reminding them, “We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 1:3 NIV)” He would tell his young protégé Titus, “In everything set them an example by doing what is good. (Titus 2:7 NIV)” Being good or doing good things never has saved anyone, but if you believe in Jesus who came to sacrificially serve, then you will serve sacrificially as well. There are a lot of folks who claim, “I believe in God!” Yet they live lives that are on the level of the ungodly world. James’ response to these folks is, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” It isn’t enough to simply say one believes there is a God; one has to be spiritually changed by their submission to God’s redemptive act through His Son Jesus. So, to “believe” in one God may be good so far as it goes, but it does not go far enough. The demons do that. In fact not only do they believe (the same verb, pisteuō); they even “shudder,” or “bristle up” at the fact. Works of Christ are the evidence of one’s faith, not the means of salvation. To just say you believe, well anyone can say anything, but the proof is in the pudding, so-to-speak. James continues by berating his imaginary opponent by retorting, “You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?” James was more than willing to go toe-to-toe with someone who actually tried to claim they knew God when their actions said otherwise. James understood that in the faithful life, he knew there would be a confirmation of a faithful life!
EXAMPLE: When I was in officer training we had to prove we could use a compass and sexton, we could not just say we could use them; we had to prove we were proficient in them. Navigation with electronic equipment, GPS, and satellites is one thing but being able to navigate by using the position of the sun, the time of day, and setting our direction with a compass proved to be quite challenging. And, we were challenged to get to a certain point in the Boston whaler we were rowing on the open ocean, because if we didn’t we would not be in time to eat! When we showed up on time it confirmed our proficiency. The individual cannot just say they believe in Jesus, they need to confirm it. James knew that the faithful life, there would be a confirmation of a faithful life!
There are always those who would try to argue their standing with God by relating a long list of their achievements. The Pharisees of Jesus’ and James’ day did just that. Jesus told them, “You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart (one’s life) the mouth (our actions) speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.” (Matthew 12:34-35 NIV) This is why James gives us…
III. An illustration of a faithful life! (Vv. 21-26)
1. As a final proof of his argument, James gives us two examples. One is the pinnacle of Hebraic thought, Abraham, and the other is a lowly prostitute named Rehab. Like any good debater he anticipates his opponent’s agreement to the questions he proposes. “Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?” And, the answer of course would be, “Yes.” Paul’s statement that Abraham’s faith, not his works, caused God to declare him righteous (Romans 4:1-5) seems contradictory to James’ argument. However, Paul was arguing for the “priority of faith. James argued for the proof of faith.” Paul declared that Abraham had faith, and was therefore declared righteous, prior to his circumcision. James explains that Abraham’s faith was evidenced in his willingness to follow God and sacrifice Isaac, knowing God would provide. “You see,” James declares, “that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.” In fact, James vigorously argues that “the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ and he was called God’s friend.” Abraham’s faith was the motivating force behind what he was willing to do; just as it should be all believers’ lives. We do good things because we love a great God. As Paul would insist, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. (2 Corinthians 5:14-15 NIV)” James and Paul quoted the same passage to prove what faith meant. “You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.” Abraham was justified by faith and his faith proved that justification by his actions! “In the same way,” James continues, “was not even Rehab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?” And of course she was! So, as far as James was concerned, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” He understood the basic truth that the faithful life will be a living illustration of a faithful life, just like Abraham or Rehab!
EXAMPLE: My sister wanted to get away with not doing the housework she was supposed to do. She tried blaming Ed and me for her not getting it done; and when that did not work she tried blaming the dog, the day, and anything else that came to mind. My father told her, “Your actions speak louder than your words.” “The lady doth protest too much, methinks” is an apt quotation from the 1602 play Hamlet by William Shakespeare. It has been used as a figure of speech, in various phrasings, to indicate that a person’s overly frequent or vehement attempts to convince others that the opposite is true, by making the person look insincere and defensive. Let me ask you, do others see Jesus in you or is your life one big compromise. If you are trying to say you believe in Jesus, yet your actions say otherwise, your actions are speaking louder than your words. Perhaps you “protest too much.” James understood the basic truth that the faithful life will be a living illustration of a faithful life!
James teaches that the faithful life will give a demonstration of a faithful life!
James understood that in the faithful life, he knew there would be a confirmation of a faithful life!
James understood the basic truth that the faithful life will be a living illustration of a faithful life, just like Abraham or Rehab!
This article is copyrighted © 2014 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.