You’ve heard of that saying, ‘Actions speak louder than words’. Our words are not always an accurate reflection of what we really think or believe, but our actions are and that’s also true of Christians.
James begins by asking in 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?’In other words, ‘It’s easy to claim to have faith. ‘But how do we know it’s real faith, if the actions don’t match the words?
So how do we know if we have real faith? James answers the question both negatively and positively. First of all, he shows the signs of dead faith, then, he shows the signs of saving faith. He illustrates with two examples for each of them.
B. The signs of dead faith
1. Example 1 (verses 15 to 16)
The first example of dead faith is from verses 15 and 16. James gives us a hypothetical, but very plausible example, he was writing to churches that were poor. This situation was quite easy for them to imagine.
So he describes the passive humanitarian: a person who sees someone in his community who doesn’t have enough food or clothes, his sentiments are warm and pleasant and he wishes that poor person well, ‘Take care. I hope things get better’. But then he does absolutely nothing to meet that person’s physical needs. His actions don’t match his words.
His words say, ‘I care for you’, but his actions speak the opposite.
When we see a particular need of someone in our community, we extend a kind word, but we do nothing to meet the actual needs of that person. It could be that person who’s lost her job and money has become pretty tight. You know you have the means to provide her some money and to do it anonymously. But all you say is, ‘Don’t worry things will get better. God bless’.
Or it’s that person who lonely, is keen to connect with people, and needs friendship,
you know that will cost you time, it may be inconvenient, and will take emotional effort.
But all you say is, ‘I’ll pray for you. Let’s catch up sometime’. They’re empty words, because you don’t follow through. Your actions don’t match your words
Look, did you see what James says? He asks, ‘What good is this kind of faith?’
It’s no good at all, not just for the person who receives no help from you. It’s also no good for you because it shows your lack of genuine faith. James is not saying that you’re saved because of your actions. However, he is saying, your lack action is evidence of a lack of saving faith. The gospel hasn’t penetrated deeply enough into your heart to cause change.
We’re told God chooses the spiritually poor of the world, those who know themselves to be broken sinners and through Jesus, he rescues them. Real faith is when this realisation of God’s grace penetrates into your heart. You say to yourself, ‘I was spiritually poor and homeless, wretched and an outcast’, ‘But God has loved me, and reached out and welcomed me into his kingdom’, ‘He has clothed me with garments of everlasting love’.
When you realise this about yourself, it also begins to change how you see others,
when you realise how God reached out and embraced you, then you begin to relate to other people with this currency of grace.
Before we move on, I want to clarify what James is saying in this first example is to explain a principle, that is how we treat people in need. Which illustrates the principle of whether the gospel has transformed how you’re living. It’s faith in Jesus, seen in lives lived for Jesus,
that means that this principle is not limited to simply how we treat people in need.
The issue is: how does my faith in Jesus shape my actions, my decisions, my relationships? Is my faith alive in the big things and the small things of life?
2. Example 2 ( verse 18 & 19 )
James then moves to his second negative example in verse 18. It’s like he’s having a conversation with someone, going back and forth, ‘But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”.
Here is a person who says, ‘There are different kinds of Christians. ‘One kind of Christian is really strong on doctrine and knows their theology’, ‘But there’s another kind of Christian who’s full of action, who’s more practical.’ ‘It’s ok, we’re all Christians. There are just different kinds of Christians’. But James will have none of it, Christian belief and Christian behaviour cannot be separated
Do you see what James is saying? He is saying even demons have got the right doctrine. In Mark Chapter 1, a demon was the first figure to recognise the identity of Jesus, saying, ‘I know who you are – the Holy One of God!’
Demons aren’t atheists, they’ve been in the throne room of God, they know much more about God than we do. But affirming the right doctrine about God isn’t enough, that’s what the demons do, and they have no peace with God at all, they know the right doctrine, but James says, ‘they shudder’. They’re scared of God, they’re not unaffected by what they know about God, they know all about his power, and holiness, and greatness.
In other words, the demons don’t take God lightly.
You see, it’s possible that we can have all the right doctrine. But that it doesn’t affect us;
it doesn’t impact us and even causes change in our lives.
Look, we need to feel the weight of what James is saying in these two examples. First, he’s saying that real faith is not merely sentimental, wishing people well but doing nothing to help them, then secondly, real faith is not merely credal. Affirming something to be true, but it makes no difference to how you live. Such faith might give you something, but James says it doesn’t save.
C. The signs of saving faith
James have given examples of dead faith, he contrasts it by telling us what saving faith looks like and again using two examples.
1. Example 1 ( verses 20 to 24 )
Beginning with Abraham, Abraham is the epitome of Old Testament faith. James is taking us back to a key event in his life when God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. Yet, God asked Abraham in Genesis 22 to sacrifice his son. It made no sense at all. Here was his son, the child of the promise, the one through whom God said a nation would come. In the end, Isaac wasn’t sacrificed and an animal was used as a substitute. But the point was, Abraham was willing to obey God anyway. Even when everything else was probably telling him to do the opposite. He was prepared to act in faith.
That’s why for James, Abraham was the epitome of faith in action, he says in verse 22, Abraham’s ‘faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did’. In other words, the kind of faith that Abraham always had in God.
Abraham produced this stunning act of obedience, which only a man of real faith could perform. James makes this conclusion in verse 24, ‘You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone’.
2. Example 2 ( verses 25&26)
The second example is the faith of Rahab. Rahab was the lady who sheltered the Israelite spies when they came to Jericho. She had heard about what the God of the Israelites was doing to fulfil his promises and to give his people a land. She says to the Israelite spies in Joshua 2, ‘I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt. When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.’
This is incredible! Rahab knew Him to be the Lord over all things and because she believed this, she acted on it. She provided shelter for the Israelite spies. Abraham and Rahab are very different, but they have one thing in common― “They acted on their faith”.
I find what James is saying incredibly confronting. Because he speaks to this tendency that we have to trivialise God, to domesticate him, and patronise him, and think that he can be easily fooled by our professions of faith. But all the while, our lives bear no consistency to what we say we believe.
James is addressing something that needs to be addressed. ‘What good is it, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?’ Look, you and I will not be perfect this side of heaven, but as followers of Jesus, we need to be striving for change.
If there were a method of tracing spiritual growth, what would it say for you? How much have you spiritually grown in the last year? Spiritual growth happens when we learn to give more and more of ourselves to Jesus. When we begin to see the needs around us, and we take the initiative to meet those needs. Growth happens when you fight for holiness
You identify areas in your life where you need to change.
If you see nothing of Christ in you, and that doesn’t bother you, how can you say you have real faith? And if you see your many flaws in you and they wound you, and if you’re trying to put away those besetting sins. Jesus said, ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Somewhat ironically, no one has captured the sentiment of this passage better than German reformer Martin Luther, who said, ‘It is a living, busy active mighty thing, this faith. It is impossible for it not to be doing good things incessantly. It does not have to ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done this, and is constantly doing them. Whoever does not do such works, however, is an unbeliever’.
Do you see the sequence? Faith, and then faithfulness. Turn your eyes to Jesus. He has given everything for us. Let us be joyful and gratefulness and give our everything to Him, live our lives for him.
Lord, we thank you that you see us, you know everything about us, nothing is hidden from your side and you know we misplace priorities and hidden desires, you are intimately acquitted with our sin and all the way we choose to prioritize other things ahead of you, how we worship you the things that you give us rather than worshipping you, and you recognise when we trivialise you and we pretend that our profession of faith is enough, you recognise when we trust in ourselves and own righteousness rather than your righteousness of Christ alone.
So we ask Lord for your forgiveness, thank you that you have not withheld your son, one and only son for us, but at the cross, your justice and mercy met, Jesus met the righteous requirements of your law but he also borne our penalty, shame and sin for us, so that we can have peace with you, Lord, fill us with the vision with the picture of the beauty and glory of Christ and to resolve for however long enough to live, we might serve Him, in serving him we might do good around us, help us to make this noble purpose our last goal, for there is no one better to serve than our Lord Jesus. We pray all these things in His name. Amen.