Summary: This is an expository sermon from James explaining that good works are the result of God-given faith, and contrasting this true faith from God with a false faith of man.
Sermon on James and Faith
In the English language, there are many different applications of the word “work”. My children just finished some lovely artwork. I like hamburgers with “the works”. It’s almost the 4th of July, and I’m looking foreword to both a day of from work, and also lighting off some fireworks. Not all work is the same, yet we all understand what is meant in the above examples. The key to our understanding is the context in which the word is used.
Are there different levels and types of faith? I submit that faith in the tooth fairy is different than faith in Jesus Christ. Each believer is at a different point in their walk of faith. To each believer is given a measure of faith. Not all faith is the same.
However, when James writes in his epistle about work and faith, we tend to error in that we assign a certain meaning to both of the key words. Many tend to assign the word “work” in the writing of James the same meaning as the writing of Paul. In respect to the word faith, we often tend to lump all types of faith into this one particular instance. These errors are common, and when we go down this path we miss the point of James entirely.
It is commonly held that there are three components to faith. The first component is knowledge, or understanding what the object of faith is. Somehow our culture has approved of faith in a generic sense, especially if we make no demands on that faith and discuss it no further. When one says “I have faith” we are to nod our heads in approval, as if the matter is sealed, and move on to another subject. But if I ask you if you have faith in the doctrine of impeccability, before you commit yourself to it, you would ask me “what is that?” To really have faith in something, one needs to understand the object of that faith, or in other words, be able to answer the question, “faith in what?”.
The second component of faith is ascent, or agreement. Now that we know what the specific object of faith is in question, we have to make a judgment upon it. Is it true or not? This can be largely an intellectual exercise. There are many who believe that Jesus was born, spoke profound things, and died on the cross. Many even agree that he rose from the grave. But as we will see, if our faith only goes this far it has fallen short of it’s goal.
The third component of faith is trust and reliance upon the object of our faith. To put it in material terms, I trust that my car will get me to work in the morning, and I rely upon it. I walk out of the house expecting that when I turn the key, the engine will start and the car will take me to work. If I didn’t trust and rely upon my car, I’d allow an extra hour just in case it didn’t start, and maybe I’d be able to fix it. Or if I really didn’t trust my car, I’d call a taxi before even putting the key into the ignition. But every morning, I trust and rely upon my car, that when I need it, it will do what I need it to do. Without this third component of trust and reliance, faith is incomplete.
The key to understanding the second chapter of James is this: what is the context of faith and works that James talks about? James 2:14 starts the literary unit. Note that James is bringing up a particular example of faith. The important thing to note is that this particular man claims to have faith. Does that mean that his faith is a complete faith in Christ? In verse 19, James notes that even the demons believe that there is one God. Yet we would not claim to have a faith on an equal footing as that of demons. The faith of this particular man, about which James writes, is an incomplete faith.
The faith of demons only has two of the three components of faith. They understand the content of the Bible. The demons have knowledge about God. They have seen him face to face. Demons can see the spiritual with their own eyes. James states that they believe what they see and know about God. Yet there is one component of faith that is lacking. The demons to not trust and rely upon God. And when James is relating to faith in this literary unit, he is referring to just such a faith which is lacking in trust and reliance upon Jesus.
James asks if someone who is not moved to have compassion to share with those who lack basic needs, if that person has a faith which saves. This is a good question. If a faith is powerful enough to transfer someone from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, does that faith not have the power to spur a little compassion and compel that person to share a loaf of bread? James begins to provide two pictures of faith. As we can see from the upcoming context about the faith of demons, the person described here is not lacking works but is lacking a real faith. The faith that lacks trust and reliance upon Jesus also will lack works. It is implied that the faith that saves comes in the same package as the one in which good works are evidenced.