Living a life of faith without works or action is like trying to build a house without building a house. The idea might be good but if it is not expound upon it remains just that, an idea, and as with most unused ideas, if not used will eventually fade. Just a knowing without living is ineffective so is having faith without the proper works to accompany it. James 2: 14- 26 deals with how faith unaccompanied by action is a stunted, unprofitable, and dangerous place to be. For example lets say I have cancer. Praying and having faith for God to heal me is only full effective if I am acting upon it and taking advantage of the resources I do have to fight it. Chances are if I sit and pray to be healed it is unlikely healing is going to come. Can God do that. God can do anything He wants. Is it wise to test God without taking the steps of medical treatment? Not at all. As we study these passages we will see what it means to live a life of faith and works while complimenting one another.
James 2:14- “14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?”
To start James poses the question of a believer being saved by faith without works. First of all forget the word “saved” as the Christianese modern interpretation of it. With this Epistle being written to believers it is obvious the issue here is not salvation. What James is saying is not about faith saving us from Hell but the effects of sin. Someone who is struggling with lust can have all the faith in the world they will not stumble but unless that act upon that faith they are just as susceptible to giving in to the flesh as any of us. Secondly if James were speaking on a work based salvation it would become incredibly consistent with the rest of Scripture. As we through faith are responsive to our position in Christ and God’s Word those works will become manifestation of such.
James 2: 15- 17- “15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
Moving on James provides for us an example of what faith without works can potentially appear to be. Not only can unresponsiveness to our faith by action negatively impact our lives and walk with the Lord, but also the lives of those around us. Often we respond to others needs by telling them we will pray for them or attempt to find some falsely affirming words, only to not deal with the problem, and to feel as if we have done something. The reality is that because of our faith, obedience to it means responding to those people and situations no matter how little or how much we can do. Just as those affirming words will no assistance to back them up is ineffective, so is have a faith without action or works.
James 2:18-19- “18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!
Playing devil’s advocate James then creates a fictional nameless character who asks a question in opposition. His point for this dialogue is to refute those who believe faith and works have no connection. This made up persons drive is that both demons and believers both have faith in God, but even with that being the case the response of the two are vastly different.
James 2:20-26 “20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.”
20- Here James states that even though the argument is fake it is still ridiculous and one that can possibly be given by other believers.
21- James first example and response to faith and works being intertwined is Abraham. Abraham was justified by faith, but at the same time his obedience to God is what caused him to act upon it. Looking at the life of Abraham you see that when he acted on his faith God always responded, but when he did not and tried to do things for himself he would be hindered. Because of Abraham’s faith in God and doing tasks a result of it ,his road was hard, but he was able to know God and His love in tremendous ways. Because Abraham responded in faith and showed obedience he was justified by God.
22-23- Faith and works are not separate, but a balanced system that acts one off the other.
24- Our justification comes from faith, but also from the action taken because of faith. I believed in Christ, but I still had to make the choice to follow Him and cultivate that relationship.
25-Rahab responded to faith by action just as Abraham did. She did not respond by using words and leaving it at that, or telling the spies she would pray for them, as the went on their way, or even attempting to give advice, but what she did do is, she took action. Not only did her faith justify her but her obedience to God by acting on it caused those around her to be impacted. Rahab’s choice not only helped those spies, but it also would save her as well as her families lives.
26- In the same way our body cannot survive without the spirit neither can our faith without action or works. By not responding to our faith we are being disobedient to God and living inconsistently with our position in Christ. Allowing our faith to be hindered and underdeveloped by not acting it upon it enables us to be easier bound by sin, separated from our fellowship with God, and can leave us spiritually or even physically dead. Our responsibility is to respond in faith no matter how hard or easy it may seem. If following God were easy, there would be no point in it. The people of scripture and the history of believers that stepped out in faith no knowing what would happen is endless. Life , dependence, and faith in Him is not about knowing what is going to happen or having the means , it is about following Him and walking in faith even when we have nothing.
Having said that, is knowing and faith in God something in our lives that more often than not remains head knowledge or is it something something we respond, live, and are obedient to? How many of us allow our faith to be the source of what we live? Whether worldly things, or lack of drive , whatever is killing our faith it is between ourselves and the Lord alone to restore that fellowship and live the things we know and believe.