Summary: Do you have a saving faith? Does your faith work?
“Faith That Works: A Perfect Match”
Do you have a saving faith? Let me put it another way; do you have a faith that works? Listen again to verse 14: “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?” Notice: If someone claims; or better yet, if someone claims. James begins with a warning: it’s possible to say we have faith but not have it. We’ve already dealt with the concept of hearing but not doing; now James raises the issue of saying but not doing. Are your lips and life a perfect match? James helps us answer the question.
A perfect match involves, first, a FAITH THAT SAVES. Verse 14 implies that faith can save. James then gives an EXPLANATION OF FAITH. Verse 18 raises a common perspective: “But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”” “We’re all different; I have my thing and you have yours.” James says this is a false DIVISION, that it is not possible to have on without the other. So he throws out a challenge: “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.” James is saying “If I can’t tell you have faith by observing your life, then something is wrong”. Faith must be seen to be faith. One person does not specialize in faith and another in works. Faith, like a tree, is known by its fruits. As Jesus taught, a tree “without good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matt. 7:19). Those who speak but fail to act will hear Jesus say, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Mt. 7:23). Faith is obvious and known by what it does; faith and works are partners. We are not saved by deeds but saved for deeds . (1) As C. S. Lewis put it, "Regarding the debate about faith and works: It's like asking which blade in a pair of scissors is most important." (2)
James continues his explanation by pointing to DEMONS as evidence. Verse 19: “You believe that there is one God. Good!” That’s important. But then he stuns us: “Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” Belief alone is not enough. Certainly an important part of faith is to believe in one God – Father , Son, and Holy Spirit. But that is not a full faith. The demons believe in Jesus as well – but in His presence they shudder. It’s important to realize that Jesus never said, “Well said.” Rather, He said “Well done.” Faith is not really faith unless it leads to action and deeds.
So James’ explanation ends with a DILEMMA. If faith has no works, it cannot save us. (17) “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” Something that is dead has no power to save. For example, if I go out to the parking lot after our worship services are over and try to start my car but discover my battery is dead, what happens? There is no power, no life. Or what about his perspective? I’m telling you right now that I can run a 4 minute mile. I can. Do you believe me? ... Why not? ... Is it because you’ve not seen me do it or heard of me doing it? So my words without action are dead. When MUHAMMAD ALI first became a boxing champion, he loudly proclaimed to everyone that he was the king. But once he had established himself as the champ, he no longer needed to tell anyone – they knew by the fruits of his boxing. Similarly, faith without works is dead and cannot save us.
To help clarify the concept, James offers an EXAMPLE OF FAITH to prove his explanation. James points to Abraham. (20-24) “You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.” Abraham lived A LIFE FULL OF FAITH – his lips and life matched. He not only professed belief in God but acted upon God’s promises – even in the face of offering his son Isaac as a sacrifice. Abraham understood that faith involves action.
And Abraham’s life provides us A LESSON OF FAITH. Fruit does not add power to the tree but only displays the power and life of the tree. So Abraham’s faith showed its power and life only through his works. His act of willingness regarding the sacrifice of his son was the fruit, the work, the deed of his faith. It’s why he became a friend of God. Hebrews 11 is filled with a long list of others whose lips and lives were perfect matches as well. Faith that works saves us. That’s why it grieved Jesus when He emphatically said, “Why do you call l me Lord, Lord, and no do the things I say?”