Summary: "Faith without works is like a song you can’t sing, it’s about as useless as a screen door on a submarine."
You may have heard our music group sing the song, “Screen Door on a Submarine.” Part of it goes like this:
Faith without works is like a song you can’t sing, it’s about as useless as a screen door on a submarine.
Rich Mullins wrote that song with this morning’s scripture in mind, because James makes the same point: faith without works is dead, noting that works is what defines a Christian life. There are those who read this scripture and say, “What about the Apostle Paul’s belief that we’re saved by faith through grace?” We can’t work our way into heaven; it’s only through faith. In support of this, Martin Luther said, “The most damnable heresy that has ever plagued the mind of man was the idea that somehow he could make himself good enough to deserve to live with an all-holy God.”
So, which is it: faith or works? Paul or James? First we have to understand the context within which each of these men wrote. Paul was writing to non-Christians who believed they could work their way into heaven. If they maintained the proper ordinances, followed the script, and did the “right” thing, they were guaranteed a place with God. Paul was attempting to undo this belief by offering God’s grace, the idea that we can do nothing to earn God’s favor. He loves us, and when we come to faith in his son Jesus Christ, God’s grace showers down upon us.
James, on the other hand, was writing to Christians, those who had already come to faith in Jesus Christ. The tone of his letter is one of irritation. He’s asking them questions about Abraham and Rahab, almost sarcastically, with a don’t-you-get-it type of attitude. In speaking to fellow-believers, James was pointing out that faith and works do not stand in opposition to one another. It is only through works that faith can prove and demonstrate itself; and it is only through faith that works will be attempted and accomplished. Faith is bound to overflow into action and action begins only when someone has faith in some great cause or principle, which God has presented him or her with.
I remember about three years ago, when I began floating the idea of starting a Wednesday night program; a meal followed by Bible studies and activities. My main concern was what we would provide for our children. I didn’t want it to be a baby-sitting time; it needed to be a time of instruction and growth. I asked Debbie Williams and Katie Alfano to join me for a brainstorming session. Debbie suggested that we move mission friends to Wednesday nights for the preschoolers, and Katie said, “As much I’ve been trying to say “No,” God is leading me to start a children’s choir.”
That was one of the easiest and most productive brainstorming sessions I’ve been a part of. It is also a picture perfect example of Katie’s faith overflowing into works. Faith had to be in place for her to have an understanding that God was leading her, and it was only through works that the ministry has evolved into what it is today.
Faith without works is like a screen door on a submarine; it’s useless. When I have a headache or a sore back, I take Ibuprofin to feel better. Faith without works would be like my going to the medicine cabinet, pulling out the Ibuprofin, believing that it will make me feel better, looking at the bottle and putting it back. Believing that it will make me better, but not putting that belief into action, does me no good. That is James’ point. What good is your faith if your not putting it into practice?