Summary: We say we have faith but do our actions prove it?
The results of faith: A changed life
It is one that can easily be misunderstood. It is one that challenges us again with the question as to whether or not we are really saved.
This morning as we consider this passage we are challenged to take a look at our faith. Do you have faith? What kind of faith? Do you ever question your faith? Is it real?
We can take a lot of what is written in James 2. And that’s because the charge is to put our whole faith into action. Theological understanding and doctrinal clarity are useless if they are not accompanied by genuine repentance, genuine trust in God, genuine obedience to his Word and genuine concern for others, especially the poor and downtrodden - just as social action is useless if it does not come from genuine submission to God and his Word. It’s a massive, whole-of-life transformation that James is insisting Christians undertake.
James’ message in this passage is not really very complicated. If your faith is not accompanied by action, then your faith is dead, you have no real faith at all. It’s really just common sense, as we can see from his first illustration in vss. 15-16 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? I know a pastor instead of leaving a tip for the waitress he leaves his card and a scripture. Now I don’t know about you but if I were a waitress I would want my tip, especially if I had kids at home to take care of. He should leave both a tip and a card and scripture. If I see someone in serious need – lying on the ground with a gaping wound in their chest crying out for help – and I go up to him and say “oh, that’s terrible I hope you get better” and then walk away until his pleas fade into the background, then that shows that my comment about him getting better was at best insincere and at worst maliciously sarcastic. My actions demonstrate the genuineness of my faith. Clearly there was a school of thought in the early church that some had the gift of faith and others had the gift of works - 18But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." But James declares there is no such separation – you need to have both – “I will show you my faith by what I do”.
A man slipped and fell off a cliff while hiking on a mountaintop. Luckily he was able to grab a branch on his way down. Holding on for dear life, he looked down only to see a rock valley some fifteen hundred feet below. When he looked up it was twenty feet to the cliff where he had fallen. Panicked, he yelled “Help! Help! Is anybody there? Help!” A booming voice spoke up. “I am here, and I will save you if you believe in me.” “I believe? I believe!” yelled back the man.
“If you believe me, let go of the branch and then I will save you.”
The young man, hearing what the voice said, looked down again. Seeing the rock valley below, he quickly looked back up and shouted, “Is there anybody else up there!”
And that is where we find ourselves this morning.
At times we say we have faith, but we have a hard time believing enough to put it into action. This mans faith is a dead faith. It is heartless, useless and empty. Faith, according to James, is dead if it is not accompanied by some action.
Now some of you are saying to yourselves well Paul says that it is faith alone that saves us and not our works. And I can see what you are saying. 2:24 says “You see a man is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.” Compare that with Romans 3:28 where Paul says “For we maintain that man is justified by faith apart from observing the law” or Ephesians 2:8-9 where he says “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this is not from yourselves it is the gift of God, not by works so that no one can boast.”
At first glance, James and Paul seem to contradict each other. However, James and Paul are addressing entirely different things.
In James, the words faith and belief mean a simple knowing in ones mind like someone saying “yes, I think that’s true”. So when vs. 18 says “you have faith” and vs. 19 says that the demons believe that, the words are derived from the same root – it could have just as easily said “and the demons have faith that”. It’s talking about just believing something to be true in your head.