By Lynn Spina
True Faith is Revealed in Action
“in the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” James 2:17
Read: James 2
Much of the New Testament was written by Paul. He teaches that we receive salvation
by faith alone. Paul emphasizes the purpose of faith—which is to bring salvation. Our
author, James emphasizes the results of faith—a changed life.
This is where Chapter 2 takes us. People should see that we are different and not of this world, because we live our lives differently. We interact with people differently. The first 13 verses are titled in my Bible: Favoritism Forbidden. When you think of the word forbidden, it comes across strong. Basically, it’s not allowed, you are banned from showing favoritism. Verse 1 states that if you call yourself a believer, you don’t show favoritism—it’s that simple, yet I began to think how this would look today: if someone came into the church clearly looking as if they were homeless, or a women dressed extremely immodest? What about a gay couple? What about a man and a woman who are not married, but living together. Would we accept them? Would we accept them, but sit them in the back row? Would we ask them to leave? Or forget about church, what if they wanted to sit with you in a crowded coffee shop, or a busy commute home on the local transit bus? Would you allow someone who looked “right” to sit with you before someone who did not look right in your eyes? Jesus calls us to be salt and light, He calls us to not show favoritism. Verse 9 says: “but if you show favoritism, you sin.” It’s that serious!
We don’t always know someone’s circumstances. Many people refrain from coming to church because they feel their choices will only be condemned and judged. Shame tells people they are not good enough for church or for God. If we treat people differently because of their circumstances what are we telling them? That yes indeed their choices should keep them from a relationship with God? Or what if we accepted them just as they were, because Jesus died for that shame, and Jesus alone can save them. We must be mindful of how we interact with those in our circle of influence. We must love like as Christ loves, unconditionally. As followers of Jesus we are to love one another no matter what. At Central we exist for those who do not know Christ, and it should not matter where they come from, who they are, or what they have done. I love the end of verse 13, “mercy triumphs over judgment!”
Where do you need to start showing love and mercy to those around you?
In the next 13 verses (14-26), James talks about faith and deeds. In my Christian walk, this is where there seems to be much conversation over the possibility that the Bible is contradicting itself. I pray that we can see where James is coming from and why this is important for us to grasp correctly, and side note: God would never contradict Himself.
James was writing to a new church filled with new believers struggling with how to live out their new identity in Christ. They were facing all the same questions we face, either as a new believer or one who has walked this journey for some time. Among those questions is one that we all struggle with as well: “I’ve believed in Jesus for eternal life, but what role does works play?”
Yes, we are saved by grace. There is nothing we can do or say to make God love us more, or decide if we should go to Heaven or not.
Ephesians 2:8 makes it clear: “for it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” However, I believe it to be true that other people should know we are saved.
How? By the fruit we bear—love, joy, peace, kindness, etc. (See Galatians 5:22-23.) Also, by our deeds. James states in verse 17: “in the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” We cannot just say I believe in God, therefore I must be saved. Just like James 2:19 declares: “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.”
Right actions are the natural by-product of true faith.
A genuine Christian will have a changed life. James asks the question 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?”
James is not talking about eternal life here, he is basically asking what good is it if you have faith, but no one knows about it?! True faith involves a commitment of your whole self to God.
One day we will stand before the judgment seat of Christ, although we will have the wonderful gift of eternal life, the issue that day will be what you did in this life with the gifts, talents, and abilities God gave you. Essentially James is saying what good is it if you had faith, yet didn’t live it out for God? Faith without good deeds doesn’t do anybody any good, it is respectfully useless. Faith alone in Christ gets you into Heaven. Your works are your outward expression of your devotion to Christ.
A long time ago, before I had children, I worked for World Vision Canada. If you’re not familiar with this organization, they exist primarily for those in third-world countries through child sponsorship. I would get many calls from people who would ask me if we were handing out Bibles, or praying with the people, or telling these people that they needed Jesus. My response was always that it’s hard to tell someone that Jesus loves them while holding their starving children. Matthew 10:42 (TLB) says: “And if, as my representatives, you give even a cup of cold water to a little child, you will surely be rewarded.” James says the same thing in verse 16. When we stand before Christ in Heaven, and He asks us how we have helped those who were in need, it is not going to be a satisfactory answer to say, “well, I had faith that God would help them. I believed that God would take care of their needs.” I am pretty sure Jesus will say, “you should have helped them. You should have met their needs.” We need works. We need faith.
Good works don’t help us keep eternal life, nor do they prove we have eternal life. However, they do help us be more like Jesus; to show love and compassion to others, to give like He would. They help us have better community with other Christians and they do help our faith mature and grow as God wants it to. And in the words of James in verse 26: “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” I know for myself, I want to hear my Savior say: “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:21).
As owners of our faith, God calls us to live differently. We are to look to Him first, then others, then ourselves. How does that look for you today? Who do you need to show love and mercy to? Who needs you to step in and help them? God looks to the church to help the poor, the widows, and those in need. Where do you need to start making changes? I pray that God would open our eyes to see others like He sees them, that we would love deeply, show mercy, and seek to serve Him in a way we haven’t before!
- List the reasons why showing favoritism is a sin and displeases God? Where are you showing favoritism?
- Did your own shame ever make you feel that you were not good enough for church or for God? Explain.
- Mercy means to show compassion or forgiveness toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish. Explain a time when you were given mercy. How did it affect your life?
- True faith always results in good deeds. We are still saved by grace, but active obedience shows that our faith is true. How does this motivate you to live out your faith?
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