Summary: 6th message in James series. James pleads for marks of Christ’s Lordship to be evident and shows that genuine faith must be expressed not only in confession, but in practice.
Danish theologian, Soren Kierkegaard, told of a make-believe country inhabited only by ducks. One Sunday morning the ducks all came to church, and waddled down the aisle into their pews. The duck preacher took his place behind the pulpit, opened the duck Bible and read, “Ducks! You can have wings, and with wings you can fly like eagles. You can soar into the sky! Use your wings!” Excitedly, all the ducks said, “Amen!” and then waddled home.
Maybe you can identify with the ducks. You have heard sermons and Sunday School lessons all your life. You have affirmed the truth, but the question of the day is, “have you acted on what you heard?” Too many Christians live in a sentimental fog of vague piety. They have a religion that fails to challenge their intellect, or place demands on them. It’s a pleasant pursuit of emotional quivers, and stained glass platitudes. And Satan loves it! He’ll always choose to vaccinate a man with a mild case of Christianity in order to keep him from the real disease.
James pleads for the marks of Christ’s lordship to be evident in our lives. Faith must be more that mere wishful thinking, or some kind of unclear hope that things will “all work out”. James is too practical for that kind of reasoning, so he gives a clear description of faith in 2:14-26.
I. A PROBLEM ADDRESSED v. 14
James poses a problem that needs a solution. Some profess to believe in Christ, but their lifestyle is no concrete evidence to their testimony. That person merely “claims to have faith.”
James asks, “Can such faith save him?” He clearly expects a “no” answer. The question could be properly stated, “Such faith cannot save him, can it?” Insincere faith cannot save. Deeds demonstrate the difference between what a person claims and the genuine article.
There is no conflict between James’ teaching and Paul’s. However, there is an important distinction in how they define “works.” Paul said, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law [works]” (Romans 3:28). For Paul, justification was the act by which God declared a believing sinner to be acceptable. He is reported righteous by the grace of God.
Human deeds cannot produce salvation. They just prove the presence of genuine faith. Both apostles believed that. James examined the fruit of salvation while Paul tested the root. James battled superficial faith that failed to change the life of a professed believer. Paul contended with legalism, the belief that one earns saving merit by good deeds.
James says if faith doesn’t change your behavior you’d better look again at what you call faith. He proposes four marks of genuine faith.
II. A SOLUTION PROPOSED:
A. Genuine Faith is Useful ... vv. 15-17
“A brother or sister” is in genuine need. Probably destitute for some time, his clothing was inadequate and he had no food. The Greek word for “without clothes” meant light clothing like you might use in a gymnasium. Today we pay a bundle to be lightly clad in special gym togs. But if you had to wear that flimsy stuff in the severe cold of winter you’d be distressed. The person in v. 15 wears only “rags” and is cold and hungry, not knowing where the next meal will come from.
The only support offered this unhappy person is a cheerful greeting. Basic, life-sustaining supplies are needed: food and clothes. But the response is: “See you later! Don’t worry! Keep warm and eat well!” Pious words, but so indifferent! It’s a tip of the hat and a cheery “Good luck to you” to a starving man, and it’s a shallow spoof. An expression of concern without an effort to help is a dirty joke. So too, says James is false faith.
Genuine faith is proven by acts of concern. Once a close friend of John Wesley was in desperate financial need. Wesley learned of Sam Bradburn’s difficulty and sent 5£ (then worth about ten dollars). He attached a note which read: “Dear Sammy: ‘Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.’ Yours affectionately, John Wesley.” Bradburn wrote back: “Rev. and Dear Sir: I have often been struck with the beauty of the passage of Scripture quoted in your letter, but I must confess that I never saw such a useful expository note on it before.”
That is real, responsive faith. It is compelled by something inside that says, “I must be involved.” Unconcerned faith is not merely limited; it is dead! But genuine faith is useful!
B. Genuine Faith is Visible ... vv. 18-20
Someone says, “You have faith; I have deeds.” It’s like he says, “I have heard your claims of faith, now show me.” Genuine faith will reveal its reality in a believer’s behavior and values. It is visible.