Summary: To help you determine the authenticity of your faith, James gives two spiritual litmus tests in James 2:14-26. James gives two very practical and challenging marks of genuine faith.
In research done by Darley and Batson at Princeton Theological Seminary in 1973, a group of theology students was told that they were to go across campus to deliver a sermon on the topic of the Good Samaritan. As part of the research, some of these students were told that they were late and needed to hurry up. Along their route across campus, Darley and Batson had hired an actor to play the role of a victim who was coughing and suffering.
Ninety percent of the “late” students ignored the needs of the suffering person in their haste to get across campus. As the study reports, “Indeed, on several occasions, a seminary student going to give his talk on the parable of the Good Samaritan literally stepped over the victim as he hurried on his way!”
That is what James is addressing in today’s text. James wants us to know how to develop a faith that really works. He wants our actions to be consistent with our faith. So, with that in mind, let’s read James 2:14-26:
"14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 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? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
"18 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. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
"20 You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 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. 24 You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
"25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead." (James 2:14-26)
One day Abraham Lincoln was trying to help a man see that he was fooling himself, so he asked the man, “How many legs does a cow have?”
The disgusted reply came back, “Four, of course.”
Lincoln then said, “That’s right. Now, suppose you were to call the cow’s tail a leg, how many legs would the cow have then?”
The man responded, “Why, five, of course.”
Lincoln then said, “Now that’s just where you’re wrong, my friend. For merely calling a cow’s tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg!”
The point Lincoln was trying to make was that it’s not enough to believe something sincerely or even to say that something is true. That doesn’t necessarily make it true. Calling a cow’s tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg!
It is the same point that James is making in James 2:14-26. He is saying that it is not enough for you to believe sincerely and say that you are a Christian. That doesn’t necessarily make it true. Saying that you have genuine faith doesn’t mean you really do!
It’s an uncomfortable thought but an extremely important one to understand, for the stakes are high. We’re talking here about the difference between having eternal life or eternal death. That is why I am devoting two full messages to the study of this section.
A quick review of our last study is necessary before we can move on. Last time we discovered that James’ fundamental thesis is that genuine faith will always lead to a changed life. And that the nature of true faith in Christ consists of three major elements:
1. Knowledge—knowing certain facts about Christ,
2. Assent—believing that those facts are really true, and
3. Trust—trusting in Christ alone as Savior and submitting yourself to him as Lord of your life.
We saw that such a faith is never a mere momentary act which somehow brings about your “right standing before God,” and then just lies dormant from that point on. But, if it’s truly genuine, it will produce an ongoing transformation in your life.