Faith Perfected in Works
James 2:14 - 26
A crippled boy was once hurrying to catch a train. Carrying gifts under his arm, he was struggling with his crutches. Suddenly, a man bumped into him, knocking his parcels in all directions. The man then
paused and scolded the boy for getting in his way. Another gentleman, seeing the youngster’s distress, quickly picked up the scattered gifts and slipped a dollar bill into his pocket, saying, "I’m sorry! I hope this makes up for your trouble." The child who couldn’t remember being shown such kindness, called after him, "Mister, thank you! And sir, are you Jesus?" "No," replied the man, "but I am one of His
If our faith in Jesus was put to the test like this, which person would we be? I’m sure we would all immediately align ourselves with the kind gentleman, and say we would help the boy. But, maybe the first man was hurrying to catch his train also. Maybe the boy wasn’t paying enough attention to where he was going. In today’s world, these would both pass a valid excuses for most people to simply cuss out the poor youngster and be on their way. However, the Lord holds Christians to a much higher standard than that. And James very boldly and directly teaches us that our faith in Christ is to be abundantly more than mere words.
The book of James is a pastoral letter concerning the attitudes and actions affecting the spiritual life of the church. As the leader of the very first church, in Jerusalem, James felt an enormous responsibility for the spiritual growth of Christ’s followers everywhere. This epistle was written to encourage Christians who were suffering because of their faith, and it was passed around and read in several churches.
James writing may seem on the surface to contradict Paul’s emphasis on salvation by faith alone in the book of Romans. However, it is simply a protest against hypocrisy. He wants the world to know that faith is a transforming force. Salvation by faith results in holy living. This does not oppose Paul’s teaching - it compliments it!! The two teachings are the essence of a well-rounded Christian faith - redemption and holy living.
Let’s examine this passage more closely. Read v. 14
Notice - not "...if someone has faith..." , but "...if someone says he has faith..."
Tremendous difference - remember James is trying to refute those that have begun to abuse the doctrine of justification by faith. I’m sure the situation was similar to today. Many people were undoubtedly professing Christ one day and returning to their usual pagan ways the next with no evidence of God’s grace in their lives whatsoever!!
Similar to advertising of today. Extravagant soda commercials promise instant refreshment and popularity - end up needing another drink and no more near reaching the cover of Sports Ill. Or how about the last car you purchased? Is it as good as the salesman talked it up to be? Have any of you ever bought a car without first test driving it? That would be pretty foolish, but I wonder how many people do a similar thing by living their lives professing a saving faith in Jesus Christ; yet, show no true evidence of it. This is surely false advertising in its most dangerous form.
James uses a very common illustration to drive home his point. Read v. 15-16
The answer to his question "what does it profit?" is obvious - nobody. The person has done nothing to show his faith, and the brother and sister are still without food and clothing.
Albert Barnes - " It is not enough for salvation without the benevolent and holy acts to which it would prompt, any more than the good wishes and kind words of the benevolent are enough to satisfy the wants of the hungry, and to clothe the naked, without correspondent action."
How often do we hear of another’s situation and simply say, " I’ll pray for you "? Read 1John 3:17-18 - 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.
James then moves on with a probable rebuttal to his position. Read v. 18a
We all know at least someone that fits this type of personality. "There’s always a catch" They are confronted with some tidbit of truth and they immediately counter with the exception to the rule. There will always be some whose worldly wisdom blinds them to God’s truth. Read 1Cor. 1:18 - The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned
Mark 10:15 - I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."
James responds to the eternal skeptic with a challenge. Read v. 18b
"Show me a true faith without works, if you can. In the meantime, I’ll simply allow my daily life to prove that my faith is a genuine saving faith."
Here’s a great story about faith and action. It seems that down south, some recent excavations for a new highway had contributed to causing a flash flood. Volunteers risked their lives to rescue victims stranded in the deluge. One old man was up to his knees in the fast-rising waters when a rowboat came. "Hop in, we’ll save you!" "No thanks, the Lord will provide."
A short while later, a motor boat was sent to save him. By this time the swirling waters were over his waist, but again he declined: "No thanks, the Lord will provide." Soon the water was up to his chin, so a helicopter was dispatched at the last minute. "Climb aboard, this is your last chance!" "Thanks anyway, but I don’t need you, the Lord will provide."
Before the helicopter returned home, the old man was mad as a hornet, banging on the Pearly Gates. He bitterly complained to St. Peter, "The last thing I remember I was in trouble, praying up a storm, so why did you let me drown?" St. Peter looked at him, shook his head, and explained: "We sent you two boats and a helicopter. What more do you want?"
Verse 19 sounds like so many people today. We hear the term "Supreme Being" alot, but that’s as far as some are willing to admit. And just as with the demons, James is saying that there is no salvation in simple belief or intellectual faith.
Albert Barnes - "A man should not infer...because he has faith...in God which will fill him with alarm, that he is...safe. He must have a faith which will produce another effect -...that which will lead to holy living."
James further strengthens his case --especially with his Jewish readers-- by sighting Abraham as an example of faith and works combining to compliment each other and result in justification before God. Again we see the idea that faith is shown through works. Read v.22 stress "by"
David Livingstone was a pioneer missionary to Africa.
When H. M. Stanley went to Africa in 1871 to find and report on him, he spent several months in the missionary’s company, carefully observing the man and his work. Livingstone never spoke to Stanley about spiritual matters, but Livingstone’s loving and patient compassion for the African people was beyond Stanley’s comprehension.
He could not understand how the missionary could have such love for and patience with the backward, pagan people among whom he had so long ministered. Livingstone literally spent himself in untiring service for those whom he had no reason to love except for Christ’s sake.
Stanley wrote in his journal, "When I saw that unwearied patience, that unflagging zeal, and those enlightened sons of Africa, I became a Christian at his side, though he never spoke to me one word." If any of us were unable to speak a word, how many people would know that we were Christians?
James concludes with a vivid comparison of faith with the body. Read v.26
Human beings are made of both body and spirit just as we read in the book of Genesis. Read Gen. 2:7 - the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
Anyone who has been to a funeral can certainly attest to the emptiness of a deceased human body. The emptiness is amplified when the person is someone that they were familiar with. All of the unique characteristics that made up his or her personality are gone.
Without the spirit, a human body is merely an empty, useless shell that once manifested their very being. Likewise, faith devoid of works is empty and useless --or to use James’ choice of words-- dead! Faith in words alone will not save you, nor will it help others to come to know Christ!
In Becoming a Contagions Christian, Bill Hybels and Mark Mittleberg tell this humorous story that illustrates the importance of being genuine:
A newly promoted colonel had moved into a makeshift office during the Gulf War. He was just getting unpacked when out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a private coming his way with a toolbox.
Wanting to seem important, he grabbed the phone.
"Yes, General Schwarzkopf, I think that’s an excellent plan." He continued, "You’ve got my support on it. Thanks for checking with me. Let’s touch base again soon, Norm. Goodbye."
"And what can I do for you?" asked the private.
"Ahhh, I’m just here to hook up your phone," came the rather sheepish reply.
It would be very easy for us to read this passage of Scripture and conclude that we must work our way into heaven. Some of the statements made by James seem to directly oppose what Paul taught concerning salvation by grace through faith.
The fact of the matter is that James was not arguing against genuine faith’s importance in salvation. He was simply disproving the notion that mere intellectual faith was all that was necessary for a man’s salvation.
We must realize that genuine faith will always be manifested in good works. If our faith does not lead to practical holiness of life, it is indeed just like a body without a spirit --having no value whatsoever.
I knelt to pray when day was done,
And prayed, "Lord, bless everyone;
Lift from each heart the pain,
And let the sick be well again."
And then I woke again one day,
And carelessly went on my way;
The whole day long I did not try
To wipe a tear from any eye.
I did not try to share the load
Of any brother on the road;
I did not even go to see
the sick man just next door to me.
Yet once again when every day was done,
I prayed, "Lord, bless everyone."
But as I prayed to my ear
Came a voice that whispered dear,
’Pause, hypocrite, before you pray;
Whom have you tried to bless today?
God’s sweetest blessings always go,
By hands that serve Him here below.’"
And then I hid my face and cried,
"Forgive me Lord, for I have lied;
Let me but live another day,
And I will live the way I pray."