Summary: Actions are vital signs of real faith. Faith that moves is faith that is alive. Faith that pleases God must find expression in actions that please God.
The Vitality of Faith
Intro: If you’ve studied Romans or Galatians recently, you might come to this particular passage in James and wonder if Paul and James believed the same thing about what it meant to be saved or to be a Christian. Martin Luther was impacted very strongly by the message in Romans that we are made right with God by faith alone! Nothing we can do is good enough to make us worthy of God’s favor and forgiveness. That is why Luther stumbled over the book of James, calling it an epistle of straw, not worthy to be included in our Bibles. In our text today, James says things like this: “Faith without works is dead and can save no one.”
-Well, Paul and James knew each other, and both were likely Torah-observant Jews who kept the Mosaic law and had faith in Yeshua the Messiah – Jesus. I am certain that they both agreed on how to connect with God’s grace and forgiveness and be saved.
-However, they were each writing to different situations. Among James’ purposes in writing, he was addressing the need to bless the poor by helping supply their needs and not to discriminate against them. However, he was also countering the influence of some Jewish pietists who were stirring up revolutionary fervor among the people that would lead to a war with Rome. James is writing to show that just as wisdom is justified by all her children, so the reality of a person’s faith is validated by the actions of a person’s life.
-Have you ever seen a movie or read a book where someone checked for signs of life in a person by holding a mirror in front of someone’s mouth? If the mirror fogged up it showed that the person was breathing – even if ever so slightly. Well, actions are vital signs of real faith. Faith that moves is faith that is alive. And that is the main thought of this message:
Prop: Faith that pleases God must find expression in actions that please God.
TS: I’d like to make a few observations about genuine faith and the actions that should accompany it.
I. Faith is more than words (14-17)
14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 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? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
-Faith is more than pious expressions, such as, “Bless you.” It is good to bless people, but only if you are willing to be part of that blessing. Some translations say, “Go in peace,” which may have been the equivalent of the Jewish greeting, “Shalom.” When you greeted someone with shalom, you were agreeing with God’s plan for them, that they would experience wholeness and blessing, lacking nothing. However, if that person had nothing to keep them warm at night and you did nothing to help, then you aren’t being sincere in wanting God’s best for them. Jerusalem nights could be quite cold in the winter, due to the elevation, and a homeless person would not be feeling warm or peaceful in such a predicament. [James likely wrote from Jerusalem, and his readers’ minds could easily take them there, since many of them had either lived or traveled there.]
-In a Peanuts cartoon, Charlie Brown and Linus are inside all bundled up and Snoopy is out in the cold shivering in front of an empty dog food bowl. Charlie and Linus are having a discussion on how sad it is that Snoopy is hungry and cold. "He’s cold and hungry. We ought to do something about it." They walk outside and say to Snoopy, "Be of good cheer, Snoopy." It is reported that Charles Schultz got that idea from this verse. What good is it if you see someone in need and you say, "I feel for you!"
-How often have we said things like “God bless you,” or “Jesus loves you,” or even “Have a good day” to people when they were so miserable that those words didn’t even make sense to them? How could they possibly have a good day when they are lacking peace and wholeness and acceptance? How could they possibly have a good day when they have no hope, and very little to look forward to? How can they have a good day if someone doesn’t take the time to enter their lives?
-Most people around us may not be physically homeless or lacking food, but how many are suffering from emotional starvation, or spiritual homelessness?