Summary: After professing faith in Jesus, the next step is to show that we have faith, we do this through good works.
First Baptist Church
September 23, 2001
James is one of my favorite books of the Bible because it is practical. James is straight forward and does not beat around the bush. Today’s passage is considered one of the most controversial and misunderstood passages in James. Where is James coming from when he makes radical statements like verse 17, ‘faith without works is equal to a dead faith?’ And the one he makes in verse 24, when he tells us "a person is justified by works, and not faith alone." Over the ages we’ve learned that we aren’t saved by our works, instead, we’re saved by our faith. That’s one of the key beliefs of Christianity.
I mean didn’t he ever read Paul’s letters? In Romans 10:9-10, Paul wrote, "if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and is so justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved."
Or what about Ephesians 2:8-9, when Paul wrote, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God — not the result of works, so that no one may boast."
Actually, if you must know, James was written before any of Paul’s letters were written. While the statements from James and Paul seem to be going in opposite directions, there really is a pretty simple explanation, in the end Paul and James are actually in agreement.
You see, Paul was writing to people who were Jewish and believed that all they had to do to find salvation is do good works. And Paul is telling them that the first and most important step is to have faith in Jesus. For that is the beginning point of our salvation. I can do all kinds of good works, but those good works, left to themselves, will not give me salvation.
On the other side of the argument is James telling people that simply saying I believe in Jesus is just not enough. Why isn’t it enough? Because out of our faith in Jesus must come action. Our actions prove that we believe in Jesus.
We could use the Greek word "Metanoia." Because that word means to "change ones mind." When we believe in Jesus, in essence, we are changing our mind from not believing to believing, and James tells us that actions prove our faith. Our actions prove that we have a change of mind and heart.
Ultimately, James and Paul are in agreement. Paul adds in Ephesians 2:10, ‘we were created to do good works.’ Read 2 Corinthians 5:10 or 1 Corinthians 13 (the love chapter) and you will see that Paul placed a great importance upon actions. Paul also teaches us about Spiritual Gifts and the Fruits of the Spirit for the simple reason that faith must lead us to action.
Let me put this in practical terms. Have you ever known people who say over and over that they love you. But you really doubt their words, WHY? Because they’re not showing that they love you. My dad has always said ‘love is just another 4 letter word.’ In other words, prove to me, show me that you love me. In the same way James is telling us that we can tell the whole world that we are Christians, but if we don’t show love, then are we really Christians?
In 1 John 4:20, John tells us ‘those who say "I love God" and hate their brothers and sisters are liars. . . and they cannot love God." In 1 John 3:18, John also tells us "let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action." Do you see what John is saying? He is agreeing with James, demonstrate your faith through your actions.
Maybe all of this is becoming a little confusing, so let’s just take a close look at what James is getting at —
Again, James makes things crystal clear with an illustration. Suppose someone comes to you and asks you for something to eat because they’re hungry. Instead of feeding them, you talk about God’s riches and blessings. You give them example after example of how God met people’s needs from Genesis to Revelation. You tell them how God fed the Israelites manna from heaven while they traveled in the desert. How He fed Elijah by ravens at the brook. You tell them how He fed the widow at Zeraphath. How Jesus fed 5,000 people with 5 loaves and 2 small fish. You say God can meet your every need and then you pray for them, wish them well and close the door. James asks the question, What good was all that information to the hungry person, because they’re still hungry?! The person didn’t need a sermon, they needed a sandwich. So, James concludes that story with verse 17, "so faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.