James 2: 14 – 26 NLT
“What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? 15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?
17 So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.
18 Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.”
19 You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. 20 How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?
21 Don’t you remember that our ancestor Abraham was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete. 23 And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” He was even called the friend of God. 24 So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone.
25 Rahab the prostitute is another example. She was shown to be right with God by her actions when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different road. 26 Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works.”
Once again, today’s verses give us explicit instructions. “Faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.” (v. 17)
Some people think these verses tell us that we are saved, accepted by God because we do good things. They think that Paul and James disagree about how we become Christ followers. So, we’ll look at that argument first. Paul says in Romans 3: 28:
“So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.”
Remember that the Jews thought that obeying the Mosaic Law was the most important thing they needed to do. Jesus’ death and resurrection changed all that. Paul stresses that faith in God is more important than rule keeping. That argument was a big deal in the early church because it made such a difference to the way the Jews had always thought about their religious practices. Do you remember the verses in Acts 15: 13 – 21, where Paul and Barnabas came to a church council in Jerusalem to discuss whether Gentiles needed to be circumcised in order to be saved? James made the final announcement at the end of the meeting, and stated that the Gentiles were saved through faith in Jesus, not in ‘being Jewish’/following the Law. So Paul and James do agree that faith is the key to acceptance by God.
Charles Swindoll in his commentary, Living Insights, writes about what appears to be a difference in theology between Paul and James. Here is a summary of what Swindoll wrote:
Paul says ‘we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.” (Romans 3: 28) and uses the word ‘justified’ or ‘made right’ to say that God accepts us by faith. James says, “we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone.” (v. 24). James is saying that what we do proves/demonstrates our faith in God. Paul is talking about how an unbeliever becomes a Christian. James is talking about how Christians live their lives. Paul is talking about the inward change in a believer; James if talking about the outward demonstration of that belief.
These last verses in James 2 talk about how we live our everyday lives. Could someone tell you are a Christ follower by the way you live? What you say? How you talk? What you do? The way you treat your family, your wife/husband? What your priorities in life are? James is not impressed by the person who has lots to say about Christianity, but their life doesn’t show it. I remember a staff member at a school where I taught who talked a lot about church and the Bible, but “cheated” by stealing school supplies for his personal life. That was talked about by other teachers behind his back. That kind of thing is what James is talking about – living out your faith, doing what you are saying.
James starts out by giving us an example. “Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?” (v. 15 – 16) James mentions a “brother or sister”, another Christ follower, someone you know.
Charles Swindoll says, “My guess is that everybody reading this has experienced something like this from so-called brothers and sisters in Christ. Maybe you haven’t missed meals or clothing, but perhaps you’ve endured pain and desperately needed comfort, or you’ve had a specific need that required at least a caring ear and a shoulder to cry on. But instead, you felt a pat on the head and you heard a hasty platitude. Instead of reaching out with real help, those who could (and should) have stepped up did nothing to meet your need. … Let me put this in very practical terms. Suppose a member of your adult home group has lost his job and can’t buy school clothes for his family. You just got a big raise. But instead of opening your hand to your brother, you just pat him on the back and say, “We’ll be praying for you”. (pages 57 and 59, Living Insights: James)
James ends with two extreme examples. Abraham and Sarah were beyond child-bearing age when their only son, Isaac was born. They had been waiting for years for God to keep his promise to them that they would be the beginning of a special nation of God’s. Then God told Abraham to take his son Isaac up the mountain and sacrifice Isaac on an altar that the two of them would build. Hebrews 11: 19 says that Abraham “considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead”. As he raised the knife, God stopped him and provided a sheep caught in a nearby thicket. Can you imagine what was going through Abraham’s head as he followed what God wanted him to do? That was an example of extreme faith.
Then James gives us the example of Rahab, who was not an Israelite, a member of God’s chosen people. In fact, she was a prostitute – the other end of the social spectrum. Yet she believed that those people surrounding Jericho served a true God and she was willing to protect the Israelite spies from her own people. She put her faith in God into action. She even ended up in the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1: 5) – another extreme example.
You can be the most important and admired person – like Abraham was by the Jews. Or you can be the most lowly, underestimated person by your society’s standards. Or you can be anyone in between those two extremes. But what God wants is you to live out your faith. Trust him, and also show it to those around you.
This really makes me think and pray. If you were to question the people who know you in some way, would they say you are loving, generous person? Would they say that you lend a hand readily? Good questions for all of us to think about.
“Faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.” (v. 17)
Our song for today is I Will Follow by Chris Tomlin