Summary: This sermon is an encouragement to put our faith into action.
James 2:14-26 "Dead, Useless Faith"
By Pastor Mark Hiehle
At the end of every year, businesses pause to evaluate themselves. How did they fair over the last year? Did they make a profit, stay the same or did they lose money? What successes did they achieve and what mistakes did they make? Based on their past performance during the year, what changes are needed and where are they headed in the new year? Just as businesses take time out to evaluate where they have been and where they are headed, so it is wise that we look at our spiritual lives as well. In evaluating my own life, I can see growth but I also see areas where growth is needed and changes must be made. How would you evaluate your spiritual life? As I watch people live their lives, I see so many struggle with powerlessness and spiritual luke-warmness that leaves them frustrated and disappointed. If you would look at your life and say that you are not satisfied with your level of spiritual growth or the amount of power you experience, then this message will give you the help you need.
Just as a car needs gas to get you where you want to go and a light bulb needs electricity to be useful, so God tells us through James that there is something that needs to be added to our faith for it to be energized and made powerful and effective. If you want to experience a dynamic faith that is growing and one that is powerful, it must be accompanied by works. As James will tell us, if your faith is not accompanied by works, then your faith is dead and utterly useless. Do you often feel as though your faith is void of power, empty and meaningless? Does your faith get you out of trouble? Does your faith sustain you and does it make a difference that people can see? When people look at your life, can they humanly explain away how and why you do what you do? Does your faith make any real difference in your life? If there is no power or growth in your life, the reason is because you have not joined faith and works together.
But I thought faith was all I needed you say? What about what Paul said in Ephesians 2:8-9? There he said, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast." Is there a contradiction here? Does the Bible say two different things? No, not at all. When James says in 2:14, "if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds, can such faith save him?", James is not talking to the same group of people as Paul was addressing. We can see this in the beginning of verse 14 as James first says, "What good is it, my brothers..." Paul was speaking to sinners who needed to be saved from their sin and James is speaking to saints who need to be sanctified. So, there is not a contradiction here but a second step beyond salvation for the believer.
Billy Graham had this to say about faith and works and their relationship to each other: "There really is no conflict between faith and works. In the Christian life they go together like inhaling and exhaling. Faith is taking the Gospel in; works is taking the Gospel out." Actually, what James is saying is: you can’t have one without the other.
The book of James balances off this matter of faith and works, and reminds us that the Christian must have both. True, we are not saved by works, but James reminds us also that we are not saved if good works do not follow. Some people argue this point so vehemently that it almost becomes like the old argument of which comes first, the chicken or the egg. The word "believe" comes from two words, "be" and "live". Faith helps us to "be," spiritually. But after we receive life, it is to find expression in Christian works and deeds. To show that there is no conflict in the Scriptures between the two, Paul, the advocate of faith speaks of "being rich in works," and James, the exponent of works, says, "rich in faith." Why be content with either when God has provided for, and says we must have both?
To prove his thesis, James gives an example. Suppose someone comes to you and asks you for something to eat because they are hungry. Instead of feeding the person, you tell them about God’s riches and His supply. You give them example after example of how God met people’s needs throughout scripture from Genesis to Revelation. You tell them about how God fed the Israelites manna from heaven while they traveled in the desert. You tell them how He fed Elijah by ravens at the brook. You tell them how He fed the widow at Zeraphath. You tell them how Jesus fed 5,000 men not counting women and children with five loaves and two small fish. You say that God can meet your every need and then you pray for them and close the door. James asks the question, What good was all that right information to the person who came to your door because they are still hungry?! The person didn’t need a sermon but a sandwich. Verse 15, "In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.