In this section of James we are called upon to add to our faith, works. We like to say we are people of faith, but James asks us, are we also people of good works. Faith by itself will not accomplish anything to advance Gods kingdom. We must be willing to do something.
I was coaching a soccer team of boys aged 12 and 13. One game we played in Oakdale where the soccer field actually was built on a slight hill. After half-time our team was going downhill, so I told the halfbacks on the team that when they approached midfield, about 50 yards out, they might have a shot at a surprise goal since the ball would descend in its flight at the same time the field was descending underneath the ball. My 12 year-old son Chad was always the good student. Sure enough, he approached midfield, and kicked a booming shot that flew into the upper right corner of the goal before the goalkeeper realized what had happened. After that goal, a number of the other halfbacks tried their hand at the same idea. Now they may have all originally had faith that what their coach said was true, but only Chad added action to his faith and scored the goal which helped the team win the game.
Many of us are like those soccer players. We believe that Gods ways are true, but we will never experience the reality of our faith until we take some action and prove our faith.
Lets examine what it means to add works to our faith. James gives us some compelling arguments.
What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?
James is asking a question can someone say he has faith but not have works? Many people claim to be believers, but do their actions show it?
While visiting the zoo, a man was asked, "Do you believe that Daniel spent the night in a lions den?" He answered, "Yes, I believe." Next he was asked, "Do you believe that the lions mouths were shut by angels?" He said, "Yes, I believe." Then he was asked, "Do you believe that God could still do that today?" He said, "Yes, I believe." Finally he was asked, "Would you be willing to go in the lions cage?" He answered, "I dont believe that much." Theres a difference between saying you have faith and doing something about it.
Here in this verse, James is not saying that we are saved by works. James 1:17-18 shows that he understands that salvation is not earned by our works. As Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8-9, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast." We see that our good works do not save us. In fact the very next verse after saying we are not saved by works, Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:10, "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them."
MacDonald wrote, "James is not saying that we are saved by faith plus works. To hold such a view would be to dishonor the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ. If we were saved by faith plus works, then there would be two saviors Jesus and ourselves. But the New Testament is very clear that Christ is the one and only Savior. What James is emphasizing is that we are not saved by a faith of words only but by that kind of faith which results in a life of good works. In other words, works are not the root of salvation but the fruit; they are not the cause but the effect."
Now James explains exactly what he is talking about.
If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?
James is giving us a good example of what it means to add to our faith, works. We may see a person in need. If we really care for them, we will try to help them. This is not only true for physical needs. There are many people with emotional needs and of course spiritual needs. When we see those who are afflicted and hurting, we need to minister to their hurt. This may mean meeting their physical needs, it could also mean supporting them emotionally or encouraging them spiritually. God does not want us to only pray and go to church. He also wants us to reach out our hand to others. As Paul wrote in Timothy 6:18, "Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share."
Annie Johnson Flint wrote this poem exhorting us to good works.
Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
Now this is a remarkable statement by James faith without works is dead. MacDonald wrote, "A faith without works is not real faith at all. It is only a matter of words." We claim that we are people of faith, but are we also people of works? Do we put some action behind our beliefs? Are we willing to sacrifice our time for the sake of others? Or are we too busy to get involved? What kind of a faith do we really have?
Jesus said in Matthew 5:16, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven."
But someone will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
James is arguing that faith and works cannot be separated. If we have true faith, we will put our faith into action. James challenges his unknown skeptic to show his faith without his works. How can we reveal any faith if we have no actions behind it?
Wiersbe comments, "Even in the early church there were those who
claimed they had saving faith, yet did not possess salvation. Wherever there is the true,
you will find the counterfeit. Jesus warned, Not every one that saith unto me, Lord,
Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father
which is in heaven. (Matt. 7:21) People with dead faith substitute words for deeds.
They know the correct vocabulary for prayer and testimony, and can even quote the right
verses from the Bible; but their walk does not measure up to their talk. They think that
their words are as good as works, and they are wrong."
You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe; and tremble!
You say you have faith and believe in God? Big deal. Even the demons believe and tremble. Certainly demons will never be accused of doing good works. So what good is it to say we believe if our actions dont follow? MacDonald comments, "When a person truly believes on the Lord, it involves a commitment of spirit, soul and body. This commitment in turn results in a changed life. Faith apart from works is head belief, and therefore dead belief."
But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?
Once again James re-states his theme faith without works is dead. It seems to me we need to examine our own life. Are we putting action behind our faith, or are we believers in name only? Ninety percent of all Americans say they believe there is a God. But how many of them actually serve Him? We can say we believe with our lips, but do our hands, our feet, and our actions say that we believe? As Hebrews 10:24 teaches us, "And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works."
Mortimor Adler is one of the great philosophers that Christian theologians quote because of his fine philosophical arguments for the existence of God. But in one of his books he reveals that even though his wife is a devout Presbyterian, he has only gone to church a few times in his life and he himself is a pagan. Thats what he calls himself a pagan. The startling fact is he says the right words, but he doesnt really believe.
Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?
Now James gives the example of Abraham. In Genesis 15:6 we see that Abraham believed in the Lord, and God accounted it to him for righteousness. So we know Abraham had faith. But 7 chapters later in Genesis 22, Abraham obeys God concerning his son. So works followed faith. And what does James say about Abrahams action "by works faith was made perfect." By being obedient to God, Abrahams faith was tested and strengthened. When we take action for God and obey his commands, our faith may also be tried, but it will also be strengthened.
And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.
We see in Abrahams case his works testified to his faith. What do our works say about us? Are we doers of the word, or are we lazy and complacent Christians?
McGee commented, "This is a choice illustration of the fact that you demonstrate your faith by your actions. The action of this man was that he believed God."
Paul wrote in Titus 3:14, "And let our people also learn to maintain good works, to meet urgent needs, that they may not be unfruitful."
Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?
Now we have the example of Rahab which we studied a few weeks ago. Remember, Rahab believed in the God of Israel, but she was forced to take a stand and to hide the spies. Her faith was revealed by her good works.
J. Vernon McGee comments on Rahabs actions in his unique style, "She did not say to the Israelite spies, Ill just stand on the sidelines when you enter the city and sing, Praise God from whom all blessings flow. She did not just say, Jesus saves and keeps and satisfies. She did not say, Hallelujah! Praise the Lord! She said to them Im going to do something. I will hide you because I believe God is going to give the people of Israel this land. We have been hearing about you for forty years, and I believe God. My friend, she believed God, and she became involved."
How much do we believe God? Do we believe God enough to start to put actions to our faith? This is what James is trying to get us to do.
For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
For the third time James tells us faith without works is dead. This time he gives the example of the body without the spirit. Now we know that when the spirit departs a persons body, he is dead. But as long as the spirit dwells in the body, that man is alive. Is the Spirit alive in us? Or are we dead? Are we doing the works of faith, or is our faith dead?
Warren Wiersbe writes, "True saving faith leads to action. Dynamic faith is not intellectual contemplation or emotional consternation; it leads to obedience on the part of the will. And this obedience is not an isolated event: it continues throughout the whole life. It leads to works."
What kind of good works does God want us to be doing? I believe there are 3 categories of works we can examine: action to those outside of the church, action to those in the church, and action to our family.
We need to share Christ with unbelievers. We need to tell them the Good News of the Gospel. But there will be times that in order to minister to a persons spiritual needs, we must first minister to their physical needs, or their emotional needs. Let us always be ready to reach out to others in love.
We need to share the joy of the Lord with believers. We do this through support and encouragement by praying for one another and helping when someone is going through a difficult time. We also do this by being involved in the ministry of the church. How many of us remember a Sunday School teacher or a former pastor whose profound influence on our life helped us to keep our commitment to Christ? Every time we come to church, we should look for opportunities to minister to others. And not only in this church. There are many other believers in our city that we come in contact with every day. May God help us to let our light shine wherever we go.
Finally, we need to live our faith with our family. We can show love to everyone at church, but are we hateful and angry with our own family? We can spend a lot of time doing good works in the church or in the community, but do we have time for our children and our spouse? We need to let our faith become active in the closeness of our family.
This study on James 2:14-26 © 1997 by David Humpal. All Rights Reserved
MacDonald: Believers Bible Commentary, New Testament volume, pg. 1044 © 1990, Thomas Nelson Publishers
MacDonald: Believers Bible Commentary, New Testament volume, pg. 1044 © 1990, Thomas Nelson Publishers
Wiersbe: Be Mature pg. 76 © 1978, Victor Books
MacDonald: Believers Bible Commentary, New Testament volume, pg. 1045 © 1990, Thomas Nelson Publishers
Genesis 15:6, "And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness."
Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, vol. 5, pg. 651 © 1983, Thomas Nelson, Inc.
Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, vol. 5, pg. 651-652 © 1983, Thomas Nelson, Inc.
Wiersbe: Be Mature pg. 81 © 1978, Victor Books