Summary: James warns us that faith that does nothing at all is not real faith. Faith can be either dead, demonic, but God is looking for dynamic faith from His followers.
Read Text: James 2:14-26
Over the centuries, the human race has passed along alot of wisdom from generation to generation. “Wise old sayings” are a part of every day life, and we use them without thinking. “A bird in the hand is worth 2 in the bush.” Lots of great insight into life is passed through the centuries this way.
Now I want to ask you a question. Which old adage offers the best council about life in general?
A. “Look before you leap.”
B. “He who hesitates is lost.”
Raise your hand for the one you think is in general the best choice for a philosophy to live your life by. It seems we have some division among the group. How many think “It depends.”
It is interesting, isn’t it. Two exactly opposite adages, yet it really does depend. If you were speaking to a group of cliff divers, you might want to remind them of the adage “Look before you leap.” If you were talking to a farmer whose harvesting equipment is broken this time of year, you might need to remind him, “He who hesitates is lost.” There is some tension between these two ideals.
In the Bible there are also opposing concepts that have a tension between them. It doesn’t make either of them not true, it simply means they are speaking to different situations.
Proverbs 26:4-5 “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.” Two statements that seem to contradict but are both true, depending on their application.
Now it’s not too hard to overlook the tension between old adages and even a proverb about how to answer a foolish person, but it is not always so easy to overlook the situation when it strikes at the core of the faith. You cannot ignore the issue when it is something as fundamental as salvation. But some have tried to say that there is the same kind of tension between whether we are saved by faith or we are saved by what we do (works). They say that there is some disagreement between Paul who wrote Romans and James who wrote the letter we read from earlier.
Open your Bible up to Romans 3:28. Paul writes “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.” Paul says that a person is made right with God (just as if I’d never sinned), by faith. It is a cornerstone of Christianity that if we are to have a relationship with God, it must be based on faith or trust in Him.
Then we read in James 2:24, “You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.” Now over the years some people have said that what Paul wrote and what James wrote contradict one another and they can’t both be true. Martin Luther found a solution to the problem. When he read Romans 3:28 he wrote in the margin of his Bible “Sola Fide” which means “Faith Only.” On the other side he said that James shouldn’t be part of the Bible.
There are many Christians who have followed Martin Luther, not by throwing James out of the Bible, but by saying we are saved by “Faith Only.” Much of Christianity believes Paul and ignores James, when in reality both James and Paul are looking at the same thing from two different sides of the coin. Paul is saying “You can’t work your way to heaven, it takes faith to please God.” James is saying, “You have to have faith to please God, but the only faith that is pleasing to God is faith that does something.” God wants you to have a dynamic faith, not a dead faith!
Let’s spend a little bit of time digging into what James has to say. The passage breaks down like this:
- vv. 14-18 James describes Dead Faith
- v. 19 James explains Demonic Faith
- vv. 20-26 James points to Dynamic Faith
1. Dead Faith
When James is defining the different types of faith, the easiest one to define is the dead faith. It is a faith that thinks “everything’s okay.” It is faith that says, “I believe in God,” but never thinks about how that might affect the way I live. He didn’t have to look far to find an example of dead faith. (14-18) You notice what is going on here. A Christian is standing arm in arm with another Christian. They are talking. The one Christian doesn’t have any clothes and is starving. The other Christian gives a standard good bye (like our “See you later”). “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed.”