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Summary: James says, "The very moment you separate body and spirit, you end up with a corpse (2:26 - The Message).

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Faith Without Works

James 2:14-26

February 18, 2007

This message is really a continuation of last week’s, when we discussed the necessity of getting off the bench and into the game. In other words, as James said in 1:22: “Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear!”

It has become sort of a fun exercise to put James up against the Apostle Paul because they seem to be saying the complete opposite of each other. After all, James says, “Is it not evident that a person is made right with God not by a barren faith but by faith fruitful in works?” (2:24). By contrast, Paul says: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV). Elsewhere Paul says, “Know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ” Galatians 2:16 NIV).

On the other hand, Paul says things like: “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Ephesians 4:1). In Romans 2:13, he says: “…not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the law that will be justified.”

What is happening with these two, I think, is a different emphasis for the same problem. Paul was primarily concerned with the Judaic notion and misunderstanding that it was human goodness and works that led to righteousness. James, on the other hand, was concerned that a confession of faith alone, without evidence of it entering one’s heart, lead to a dead, not a living faith.

The verse in today’s Scripture lesson that struck me was the last one, verse 26. “The very moment you separate body and spirit, you end up with a corpse. Separate faith and works and you get the same thing: a corpse.”

During the first week of October in 1980, I got a call from my dad telling me that his mother, my grandmother, had died. He and my mom bought me a plane ticket and the next day, I was home from Denver. I remember the moment that I walked into the Funeral Home and saw my grandmother laying in her casket.

She and my grandpa lived just a few blocks from our house. Since my other grandmother lived in Michigan, this was the one with whom I had spent the most time. I remembered Saturday afternoons when I was a kid. I would go over to her house and we would watch Westerns on the television together. I remembered picking strawberries with her from her garden. I remembered the trips we used to take up to Auburn in her Rambler to see my great aunt. I remembered the times when she would come over to our apartment shortly after Toni and I were married. The conversation would always go something like this. “Grandma, would you like something to drink?” She would say, “Oh, I’ll have a highball.” We would have to say, “Grandma, we were talking about iced tea or a coke.” “OK,” she’d say. I’ll have a coke.” I remembered the last time I had given her a hug. She was so tiny.

As I looked at her in her coffin, I heard people all around me say how good she looked, how natural. I saw something different. I saw a corpse. I am confident that during those moments that I looked at her in her casket, her spirit was with her Lord. That was never a question for me. What I saw was just her earthly remains. She was a shell, a corpse, with no breath, no pulse, and none of the warmth I remembered.

That is what James was saying: “The very moment you separate body and spirit, you end up with a corpse. Separate faith and works and you get the same thing: a corpse.” In other words, if someone claims to be a Christian, and they show some signs of the Christian life, then their claim is true and valid. On the other hand, if they claim to be a follower of Jesus and show no signs of a vital, Christian life, then there is a disconnect. How can one claim to be a Christian without living the life?

Let’s think for a moment about some signs of life that we see witnessed in the lives of some biblical characters. First of all, remember Abraham. Abraham originally came from Ur of the Chaldeans. This is the land of the Marsh Arabs in what is now present-day Iraq. For 5,000 years people have lived in these marshes, but now only a few thousand remain following the intentional draining of the marshes by Saddam Hussein in the aftermath of the first Gulf War. Some believe that the area has been irreparably damaged and will never be able to be reclaimed.

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