Our Faith Is Shown by What We Do
The letter from James is written to encourage believers in being faithful disciples. He tells them to rejoice, even when facing trials. He says they are to not only listen to the word of God but to put it into practice as well. In today’s reading he talks about having true faith, and how this relates to the way we live.
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. 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? 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.
Today’s reading is one of the key passages dealing with the relationship between faith and works.
Many people would say they are Christians, that they have faith, but are they? Is saying that you believe enough to be saved? James says, “No”. All too often the Christian faith has suffered because of people claiming to be Christian but not living accordingly. It is these Christians in name only that James is responding to. James challenges his readers and us to show the reality of our faith by what we do, to live our lives in a manner worthy of Jesus Christ.
Wishes a needy person warmth and food
Does nothing to meet those needs
Good wishes do not help the one in need, and by themselves do not save us.
What good is it? James says this kind of faith is dead – similar to today when there is a tragedy and all we say is, “our thoughts and prayers are with you”, but do nothing to help or to prevent a future tragedy. If one is cold and hungry, what good are pious platitudes?
Have knowledge of God
Do nothing about it
Intellectual assent does not save
Faith and actions went together – Abraham had already trusted in God’s promise to provide an heir, and that faith was credited to him as righteousness.
Faith made complete by what he did - His willingness to demonstrate that faith by obedience made it complete.
Both Paul and James use Abraham as an example of saving faith, but for different reasons. Paul was arguing for the priority of faith. James argued for the proof of faith.
Faith and deeds
Faith and deeds
And so he says, “Show me”. James could have come from Missouri today. He’s saying that it’s impossible to show faith without deeds. True faith is personal, but it is never private. Saving faith is that which shows itself in daily life, in the streets, in our jobs. Genuine faith speaks out against injustice, seeks to change the systems in society which oppress the poor. Christian faith leads to feeding the hungry, welcoming the refugee, sheltering the homeless.
Anyone can say that they are a Christian. Jesus even warned that not everyone who says. “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven. How can you tell if someone really is one? Jesus Himself tells us in Matthew 7:17–20, “Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” The fruit He refers to is our actions, the life we lead. The same lesson is taught in the parable of separating the sheep from the goats.
Some people seem to think that they can have faith in Christ without it making any difference in the way they live, that they can call Jesus their Savior without letting Him be their Lord. James’ illustrations are intended to show that such a separation of faith and deeds is not acceptable to God.
Faith and deeds are intended to work together.
One of the main principles of the Protestant Reformation is that we are saved by grace through faith, not by works. James is not contradicting that but showing that the two do work together, with faith being demonstrated by works. Faith is the necessary staring point, for no one will be saved by their works.
Faith without deeds is dead/useless
If a person’s life does not show the works of a Christian then their profession of faith is useless, not real faith at all.
Deeds make our faith complete
They demonstrate to others that we believe, that is, that we trust in God.
Putting faith in Jesus Christ is not a one-time decision but a daily way of life.
What kind of deeds?
What kind of deeds?
The deeds that James is speaking of are works that spring from faith. They are the result of having genuine trust in God. In fact, the first work that God desires from us is to put our faith in Jesus.
Faith in Christ
John 6:29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
The work God calls us to
It’s not that we have to show God that our faith is real. He already knows. What we do need to do is show others what faith is, to be a witness to them, hoping to lead them to real faith.
Helping people in need as in the first example
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
1 John 3:17–18 If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
James 2:8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right.
Maybe we need to ask ourselves once in a while, “What kind of faith do I have? Is it a genuine living faith or is it dead?”
Soren Kierkegaard told a parable about Duckland: It was Sunday morning, and all the ducks dutifully came to church, waddling through the doors and down the aisle into their pews where they comfortably squatted. When all were well-settled, and the hymns were sung, the duck minister waddled to his pulpit, opened the Duck Bible and read: “Ducks! You have wings, and with wings you can fly like eagles. You can soar into the sky! Use your wings!” It was a marvelous, elevating duck scripture, and thus all the ducks quacked their assent with a hearty “Amen!”—and then they plopped down from their pews and waddled home.
May our faith lead us to fly like eagles.