Summary: A faith that doesn’t show itself in word and deed is dead.
Pentecost 17 B
James 2:1-5; 8-10; 14-18
A woman called her doctor one morning, complaining that her husband had a snoring problem that kept her awake all night. She asked him if there was anything he could do to help out.
"Well,” he said, “there is an operation I can perform that will cure your husband, but it is really rather expensive. It will cost $10,000 down, and payments of $450 for 24 months."
"Oh my!" the woman exclaimed, "That sounds like leasing a new sports car!"
"Hmm," the doctor murmured, "I guess I was a bit too obvious, huh?"
Some things are rather obvious and can’t be hidden, some things like faith. Perhaps you can recall what happened when the Jewish leaders saw "the boldness of Peter and John" in the days following Pentecost. At first the leaders were confounded by the confidence with which these men carried themselves because they figured them to be "uneducated and untrained." But then they realized who Peter and John really were. They recognized that they had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13).
That’s because a saving faith in Christ Jesus, can’t go unnoticed. It stands out for all to see. It shows itself in its expressions of care, in its deeds of love, in its works of affection; which might well explain why James writes as he does in our text, that “faith without works is dead.” It’s not really faith at all.
Some people say that James and Paul are at odds with each other when Paul writes that “8…it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- 9not by works, so that no one can boast.” But their concerns were different. Paul was writing to Christians who were being influenced to believe that they could “work out” their own salvation, when in truth Christ has already worked out our salvation as a gift of grace on the cross that is received by faith. James wouldn’t disagree with Paul about this at all, but he would go on to add that such a saving faith gives itself away. In fact it can’t help it.
You see, James was dealing with a different set of circumstances. He was dealing with people who were developing a rather inactive faith, a superficial kind of Christianity; a people who were being told that they could have a faith in Christ that need not impact their way of life, what they would do, how they would live.
But there is no such thing. By nature saving faith can’t sit still. It must do what is good; so that even someone like Martin Luther, who focused his entire ministry on stamping out the idea that our human works can somehow save us, was willing to express it in his preface to the Romans. “Oh, it is a living, active, energetic, mighty thing, this faith, so that it is impossible that it should not work what is good without intermission. It does not even ask whether good works are to be done, but before one asks it has done them, and is ever doing. But he who does not do such works is a man without faith…” Works do not save, but saving faith will always give evidence of itself and its connection with Christ – in the same way an apple tree distinguishes itself from another – by its fruit.