Summary: We don’t work for our faith—true Christians work as a result of our faith. The right kind of works are always a sure test to prove the genuineness of faith. James continues with the third test of faith—the works test.
1. Works that show compassion for God’s creation (14-17)
2. Works that show trust in God’s Word (18-19)
3. Works that show hope in God’s promises (20-24)
4. Works that show service to God’s people (25-26)
Men, I want you to try this when you get home. Go into your wife’s favorite cookbook. Find the recipe to your favorite dish in there. Now read it. Doesn’t do much for you, does it? It doesn’t do much for you, because all you’re looking at is the facts of the recipe. And facts don’t make your mouth water. But wait till she starts cooking it. Then your mouth will water. That’s what James does in this passage. His point is really a very simple one. It’s as simple as reading a recipe card. It’s hard to miss his point because he restates it no less than six times in these 13 verses. His point is that if your life doesn’t show evidence of your faith by the things you do, your faith isn’t real. It’s a very simple, straightforward point, but James is a teaching preacher. Just like your mouth doesn’t water by reading a recipe card, James doesn’t do his teaching just by stating his point over and over again. Just like a cook turns the words on a recipe card into a wonderful dish of food, James takes his basic point and turns it into a wonderful lesson on living the Christian life. In the passage that we’re looking at this morning, James continues with the theme of testing our faith to make sure it’s real. Over the past couple of weeks, he’s given us the Bible test and the preference test. This morning, he is giving us the third test of faith—the works test. In his typical teaching preacher style, he lays out four arguments and supports them with illustrations to prove his point. He gives us the recipe and then cooks us the dish. The recipe is simple—faith without works is dead. But how that plays out in our lives is the wonderful dish that he cooks for us here. The wonderful dish is—we don’t work for our faith. True Christians work as a result of our faith. Doing the right kind of works is always a sure test to prove the genuineness of faith. This morning, I don’t want anyone to leave this place thinking you can work for your salvation. But, I do want everyone to leave this place determined to show your salvation by your works. In order to do that, we’re going to look at four kinds of works that will show evidence of true faith. The first kinds of works that show evidence of true faith are works that show compassion for God’s creation. Look with me in verses 14-17.
The first kinds of works that show evidence of true faith are works that show compassion for God’s creation. Throughout the history of our Bible, there are very few passages that have caused more problems than verse 14. But it’s not the verse that causes the problems. It’s the way people have mishandled the verse that has caused problems. But when you see James as we’ve been studying it—as a series of tests to determine whether or not your faith is real—when you see it that way, the problems go away. James is as clear as Paul and John and the rest of the New Testament. He is simply reiterating what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 7:15-20, Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” That is the question that James is asking—can a so-called faith that doesn’t bear fruit be considered a saving faith? And then he answers his own question. No, that kind of so-called faith is really dead. It doesn’t exist. It isn’t real. And if that’s the only kind of faith you have, it means you’re dead too. Dead in your trespasses and sins. And the only cure for being dead in your trespasses and sins is to be given new life in Christ. And when you are given that new life in Christ, it will be evidenced by good works.
Good works, the first of which are works that show compassion for God’s creation. Now, when I say compassion for God’s creation, I’m not talking about global warming and saving the whales and stuff like that. I’m talking about that part of God’s creation James points out in his illustration in verses 15-16. God’s crowning creation—people. By the way verse 15 is worded in the original, it is clear that James is making reference to all people—not just Christian brothers and sisters. So he’s not simply saying that taking care of the needs in the church is evidence of true faith. That’s a part of it, but that’s not all of it. True Christians are to show compassion on all people. Does that mean that the church has to feed all the hungry? No. Does that mean individual believers have to give handouts to every beggar they see? No. Think about it this way. When Jesus walked the earth, did He heal everybody? No—He healed those who the Father providentially placed in His path. By the same token, if our faith is real, we will show compassion on those who God places in our path. And sometimes the best way we can show compassion is by saying no. Many times, giving a drunkard a handout is completely un-compassionate. Especially if it in any way enables or encourages his alcoholism. The most compassionate thing is to help them with their real problem. The most compassionate thing is sharing the Gospel with them. Occasionally compassion is shown in giving a handout. Many times compassion is shown in giving yourself. All of the time, compassion is shown in giving Christ. Real faith is on display when you truly show compassion on God’s crowning creation—the people He created in His own image—the people that Jesus shed His blood for. If your faith doesn’t show compassion, it just might be dead. The first kinds of works that show evidence of true faith are works that show compassion for God’s creation. The second kinds of works that show evidence of true faith are works that show trust in God’s Word. Look at verses 18-19.