Summary: Saving faith is more than something you say, feel, or think, it is something you do.


A. How many of you have heard of the great tightrope walker named Blondin?

1. For many years I’ve used his story to illustrate saving faith.

2. His story really captivates my mind and challenges my heart.

3. Blondin’s real name was Jean Francois Gravelet. He lived from 1824-1897.

4. He first appeared in shows in England, but owed his celebrity and fortune to his idea of crossing Niagara Falls on a tightrope.

5. He made history on June 30, 1859 when at 5 o’clock in the afternoon he began his first walk above Niagara Falls. (Show Slide)

6. For his crossing, Blondin utilized a 1,100 foot long, 3 inch in diameter manila rope stretched from what is now Prospect Park in Niagara Falls, NY to what is now Oakes Garden in Niagara Falls, Ontario. The crossing took 20 minutes, and he used a 30 foot long balancing pole that weighed 40 pounds.

7. During the summer of 1859, Blondin completed 9 crossings, the most difficult one occurred on August 19th when he carried his manager, Harry Colcord, on his back. (Show Slide)

8. According to Colcord, the trip across was a nightmare. In the unguyed section, the pair swayed violently. Blondin was really fighting for their lives.

9. Six times in all Colcord had to dismount while Blondin struggled to gather his strength.

10. One of the most often told stories of Blondin was when he went across pushing a wheelbarrow.

a. He asked the crowd if they thought he could do it, and the crowd cheered “yes.”

b. Then he asked, “How many believe I can push a wheelbarrow across the tightrope with a man sitting in it?”

c. Again, there was a loud response. Blondin then pointed to one of the most enthusiastic men in the audience, and said, “Okay, you get into the wheelbarrow.”

d. Needless to say, the man made a quick exit.

11. Blondin demonstrated that there is often a great difference between the faith we say we have, and the faith we really have.

12. The real measure of our faith is not our “TALK”, but our “WALK.”

13. Saying that we have faith in God and really trusting God are two different things!

14. Incidentally, in case you were wondering, Blondin was 73 when he died in England of natural causes.

B. As we continue in chapter 2 of the letter of James, we see that James expands on his theme of what it means to be doers, not just hearers of the Word of God.

1. James now switches his attention from playing favorites to a faith that works.

2. Three times in this section (verses 17, 20, 26), He declares that faith without works is dead.

3. He is telling us that faith without deeds is “empty faith,” not saving faith.

4. So, let’s work through this passage and see how James develops the difference between what saving faith IS and what it is NOT.

I. First, What Saving Faith Is NOT

A. As James presents God’s truths, he touches on three things that saving faith is NOT. First, Saving Faith is NOT just something you SAY.

1. In verse 14 we read, “What good is it my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such a faith save him?”

2. Notice that James doesn’t say that the person in question has faith, but just that the person claims to have faith.

3. The person just talks about having faith. The person knows all the right phrases.

4. There are a lot of people in our country who say they have faith, but they have no deeds.

5. In 1991 James Patterson and Peter Kim took on the task of surveying America. They tabulated and published their results in a book called “The Day America Told the Truth”.

a. In the chapter dealing with America’s religious beliefs, they stated that 90% of the people questioned said that they truly believed in God.

b. Yet they also discovered that of those who said they believed in God – 50% had not been to church in at least three months and 30% had not been in a service in a year.

6. Pollster George Barna claims that in his surveys, 4 out of five Americans claim to be Christians, yet what they say they believe has very little to do with how they live their lives.

a. How can 4 out of 5 of us be Christians, and yet we have such problems with drugs, adultery, divorce, pornography and crime?

b. The stated faith of the majority of Americans is not positively impacting their lives.

7. Jesus warned us saying, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Mt. 7:21)

8. Not everyone with a Christian bumper sticker has saving faith.

9. Talk is cheap! Saving faith is not just something you SAY!

B. Second, Saving Faith is NOT just something you FEEL.

1. Christianity in our time is really into emotions. And to some degree, emotions should be a part of our religious experience.

2. But saving faith is more than just emotions. We can be emotionally moved in worship, or in our interaction with others, but never act positively on our emotions.

3. We can go to church and get goose bumps, or as some call it a quiver in our liver, but it may never make any difference.

4. James illustrates it with another one of his hypothetical case studies. Verse 15ff, “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.”

5. In one of the classic Peanut cartoons, Charlie Brown and Linus are shown inside all bundled up while Snoopy is outside in the cold shivering in front of an empty dog food bowl.

a. Charlie Brown and Linus are having a discussion about how sad it is that Snoopy is hungry and cold.

b. They then walk outside and say to Snoopy, “Be of good cheer, Snoopy.”

c. I wonder where Charles Shultz got the idea for that strip?

6. Saving faith is more than just feeling sympathy or empathy.

7. How much help is it really to say to someone, “I really feel for you, man…?”

8. If we walk away without helping did our faith really make a difference? Not really.

C. Third, Saving Faith is NOT just something you THINK.

1. For some people, faith is an intellectual trip. It is just something to be studied, discussed or debated.

2. Verse 18ff, “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.”

3. So, James imagines an intellectual objector. This intellectual guy says, “I have faith; you have deeds. That’s cool. You have your thing, and I’ve got mine, and we are both okay.” Right?

4. Wrong! James says that it doesn’t work that way.

5. Saving faith is more then just something you think.

6. Then he brings up the demons. James says that faith that is only intellectual or emotional is like that of the demons. They believe in God and it causes them to shudder. But that’s about it.

7. There are a lot of people who have strong beliefs in God and the Bible.

8. They can recite creeds and catechisms and talk about doctrine, but what they think or believe doesn’t change their lives.

9. Kind of like the Samaritan woman in John 4. Jesus met her at the well and began discussing spiritual things with her. She was well-versed in the spiritual controversies of her day, but she was living an immoral life.

10. The devil and his cohort of demons are not atheists. They believe in God in an intellectual sense. They are great theologians. They know the Bible and try to use it against us.

11. James says that the demons believe and shudder. The Greek word means “to bristle” – to have your hair stand up on end.

12. To shudder is what happens to us when we read a Stephen King novel, or hear a scary story around a campfire.

13. Here’s a humorous thought – what is a scary story for demons? Picture them sitting around a campfire telling the story of Jesus casting the demons into the pigs.

14. Saving faith is more than just having an intellectual belief.

D. So, James is telling us that saving faith is NOT just what you SAY, FEEL or THINK.

II. What Saving Faith IS – It is something you DO.

A. James says, “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.

1. Someone has said that faith is like calories, you can’t see them, but you can see their results!

2. If you or I grab onto a 220 volt wire, something is going to happen.

3. There is no way that we can be connected to someone like the God of this universe and it not have a visible effect on our lives. Right!

4. Saving faith leads to action.

B. Back in verse 17, James said, “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” And verse 26, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”

1. The Greek word nekron is referring to being dead like a corpse is dead.

2. That image certainly gets our attention, doesn’t it?

3. We have all been to funerals and seen a corpse lying in a casket. The funeral director may have done a great job dressing up the body with clothing, and make-up, but there is something very unnatural about a body with no life.

4. The body without the spirit is merely an empty and useless shell.

5. Similarly, faith devoid of works is empty and useless.

6. Many people who have dead faith try to give their faith the appearance of life like the corpse in the casket.

a. They go to church, either regularly or sporadically.

b. Sometimes they place a Bible on the coffee table, or carry it in the car as a kind of “good luck charm.”

c. If you ask them about their faith, they might pull out their baptismal certificate, as if it is their “Get our of Hell Free” card.

7. Saving faith is more than just something we say, or feel, or think, it is something we do.

C. As James drives this point home, he brings up two examples from the history of God’s people.

1. Abraham and Rahab - He could not have chosen two people who were more of a contrast.

2. Abraham is a man; Rahab is a woman. Abraham is Jewish; Rahab is a Gentile.

3. Abraham is a partriarch; Rahab is a prostitute. Abraham is a major character; Rahab is minor.

4. In this tremendous contrast, James is saying that it doesn’t matter who you are as long as you have one important thing – A faith in God that leads to ACTION.

5. I don’t have time to go into great detail on either of these stories, but let me touch on each briefly.

D. Some 40 years before God tested Abraham with the supreme test, Abraham had been called to follow God and was given the promise that through his decedents all nations would be blessed.

a. Abraham’s offspring would be as numerous as the stars in the sky.

b. Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. (Gen. 15:6)

c. The only problem was that Abraham at that point had no children.

d. It would be 25 more years until the child of promise – Isaac – was to be born.

e. Once Isaac was born, everything seemed to be cruising along just fine, until God gave Abraham a very difficult command. (Gen. 22)

f. Isaac was probably about 15 or 16 years old, and God commanded Abraham to take his son to a certain mountain and sacrifice him there.

g. Nothing could have been more troubling and confusing than that command, but Abraham believed God and immediately obeyed him.

h. As you know, Abraham made the altar, placed the wood, then bound his son and placed him on the altar.

i. It wasn’t until he raised the knife to kill his son, that the voice of God told him to stop.

j. “Do not lay a hand on the boy. Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” (Gen. 22:12)

k. Abraham’s faith was demonstrated by his action. His works proved his faith.

E. The other example is that of Rahab the prostitute from Jericho. (Joshua 2)

a. Rahab did not have a long history of godly living when those two spies sent by Joshua entered her house in Jericho.

b. But operating within her was the prompting of the Holy Spirit that alerted her to the fact that these men were different than the men who came to buy her services.

c. She acted on that tiny bit of faith, and hid the spies and then helped them to escape by lowering them out her window.

d. Through her collaboration, the lives of the spies and the lives of her own family were saved.

e. Her willingness to defy her own king, putting herself at great personal risk, singles her out as a person who didn’t merely talk about faith, but was willing to act it out.

f. We don’t know much about her life after this point, but we know that she ends up being a heroine in the Jewish tradition, and her name is listed in the Matthew 1 genealogy of Jesus on the side of his adopted father, Joseph. She was an ancestor of King David.

F. So, what’s the point? In a very real sense God is saying to us, “Talk is cheap. Put your money where your mouth is. If you believe in Him and in His Son, then prove it.”

1. Our faith must be demonstrated by our actions.

2. Actions speak louder than words. Our behavior shows what we really believe.

G. Now, let’s make an important clarification – It would be very easy for us to read this passage and conclude that we must work our way to heaven, but we must never come to that conclusion!

1. What James says in these verses seem to be a direct contradiction of what Paul wrote in the book of Romans.

2. Paul wrote, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.” (Rom. 3:28)

3. James wrote, “You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.” (2:24)

4. What we need to understand is that there is absolutely no contradiction between what Paul and James wrote.

5. They both were inspired by the same Holy Spirit and they both preached the same gospel.

6. The difference is that they were fighting two different enemies. Paul was fighting legalism, and James was fighting laxity.

7. Paul was focused on an argument about the way of salvation – by faith and not by works, whereas, James was focused on the evidence of salvation – faith is proved by works.

8. Both believed whole-heartedly that salvation was by grace through faith, not by works, so that no one can boast. (Eph. 2:8-9)

9. But Paul continued in Eph. 2:10, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

10. Oh, yes, there are good works for us to be doing. They are not the basis for our salvation, but they are the evidence of it.

11. So, picture Paul and James like two lawmen in one of the old T.V. Westerns. They stand back to back in the middle of the street at high noon – shooting in opposite directions at two totally different bad guys.

12. Both have in mind the same thing- Saving Faith – a faith that is alive and active. A faith that works.


A. All that is left for us to do at this point is to ask ourselves, are we demonstrating a saving faith?

B. Is our faith just about saying, feeling and thinking, or is it about doing?

C. What is my faith prompting me to do in worship to God?

1. What is my faith prompting me to do in service to God?

2. What is my faith prompting me to do about fellowship with God’s people?

3. What is my faith prompting me to do about sharing my faith?

4. What is my faith prompting me to do about financial giving to the Lord?

5. What is my faith prompting me to do about holiness and character?

D. May God help us all to have a saving faith. A dynamic and active faith.