Summary: The difference between "Facebook" faith and genuine faith
Perhaps some of you Facebook users have seen some posts like these recently.
[Show Facebook posts]
There are also some similar emails that make the rounds from time to time as well – you know the ones where a person claims to love Jesus and challenges you to forward the email to your friends. My favorites are the ones that promise that if you forward it to at least 10 of your friends you’ll get a special blessing from God.
Obviously James didn’t have to deal with Facebook back in the mid first century when he wrote his letter. But he did have to deal with those who had what I’m going to refer to this morning as “Facebook faith.” Go ahead and turn in your Bibles to James chapter 2 and I’ll begin reading this morning in verse 14.
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
(James 2:14-26 ESV)
James continues on a theme here that we have already found throughout his letter – the idea that becoming a mature disciple of Jesus requires that we become doers and not just hearers of God’s Word. But in many ways this passage is really the heart of the letter because it gets right down to the matters of the heart.
James and Paul
I don’t want to take a whole lot of our time with it, but many of you are probably aware that in some circles, this passage is one of the most controversial in the entire Bible. That is because there is a widely held belief that James is contradicting Paul and the other New Testament writers who taught that salvation is by faith, not by works. Although he later removed the comment from his preface to the Book of James, Martin Luther once called it the “epistle of straw” because he erroneously believed that was the case. As we’ll see this morning, a closer look at what James wrote will reveal that not only does James not contradict Paul; he actually complements Paul’s teaching.
In effect Paul and James stand back to back defending the gospel against two different attackers:
• Paul is primarily writing to Gentiles, many of whom were not yet followers of Jesus, and who were being taught a kind of legalistic salvation in which they were told they first had to observe the Jewish law before they could become a follower of Jesus. So his focus was on the fact that salvation is not dependent on man’s works, but rather on the grace of God.
• James was writing to Jewish believers, some of whom had perhaps even taken Paul’s teaching out of context and held to a libertine salvation that required them only to claim they were followers of Jesus without the need for a change in lifestyle that would demonstrate the genuineness of their faith. So his focus was on the need for a mature faith that is demonstrated by the way a person lives.
But in reality, both James and Paul taught that no one is saved by works, but at the same time no one is saved without producing works. Let’s look quickly at a familiar passage from Paul’s writing that will demonstrate that truth and then we’ll spend the rest of our time examining James’ teaching in this passage.
Probably all of us are familiar with this passage: