“Dear brothers and sisters, what’s the use of saying you have faith if you don’t prove it by your actions? That kind of faith can’t save anyone.“ – Vs 14 (NLT)
Back when we looked at the 11th chapter of Hebrews we asked the question, “What is faith?” It was in the context of the Great Hall of Faith chapter. The issue was what exactly the writer of Hebrews was trying to say about the topic of faith. I believe he wasn’t celebrating these people’s faith or their ability to conjure up just the right amount of faith so that they could be recognized and rewarded for it. He was talking about God producing faith in us, in spite of us. The very fact that we have faith is evidence of God’s work in us. So now we come to that classic chapter on faith and works from the book of James. Its content caused the great reformer, Martin Luther, to reject the entire book of James, referring to it as a “right strawy epistle.” But I think Luther missed the point. James was not promoting a works-based righteousness or salvation by self-effort. He was simply saying that true faith will be accompanied by tangible, verifiable works. Behavior will go hand-in-hand with belief. To say you believe in Christ and to live a life with no visible fruit of that belief is evidence that the faith was never really there. Go back to Hebrews 11. The very fact that Abraham was willing to offer up his son Isaac on the altar was “living” proof of His faith in God. It was faith made evident. One could not exist without the other. Charles Ryrie describes the co-existence of faith and works this way: “Faith and works are like a two-coupon ticket to heaven. The coupon of works is not good for passage, and the coupon of faith is not valid if detached from works.”
Faith without works is dead. If you take the spirit out of a body, you have nothing but a corpse. If you separate works from faith, you have a dead faith. It has no life. It is useless. That kind of faith is not a saving faith. Because it is missing one of the main results of faith: a changed life. James makes this point very practical in the first part of this chapter. He says, “Suppose you see a brother or sister who needs food or clothing, and you say, ‘Well, good–bye and God bless you; stay warm and eat well’ – but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, it isn’t enough just to have faith. Faith that doesn’t show itself by good deeds is no faith at all – it is dead and useless” (Vs 15-17 – NLT).
“I will show you my faith through my good deeds.” No one can see faith. I can’t judge whether someone is saved or not. But I CAN see their deeds. I can see the evidence of their faith. Now, I can’t jump to the conclusion that just because someone does good deeds they are saved. But if someone says they have placed their faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior and they lack any kind of visible evidence that this new relationship has changed their life, then James seems to say that that kind of faith is useless. It is without life and worthless. Saving faith changes us. It isn’t just some mental assent to the reality of God or the fact that Jesus died. Demons believe in God and they feared Jesus. No, faith produced fruit. Because when God places His Spirit within us, we become new creatures. He gives us a new heart. He gives us a new capacity to live and love that we never had before. And it shows up in the way we act. It manifests itself in our deeds. Our works become proof of the very fact that we are new creations. We don’t make disctinctions God doesn’t make (Vs 4). We don’t act as judges with evil motives (Vs 4). We don’t dishonor the poor (Vs 6). We don’t show partiality (Vs 9). We have been set free to live differently. “So whenever you speak, or whatever you do, remember that you will be judged by the law of love, the law that set you free” (Vs 12). Our behavior should reflect our beliefs. Our actions should prove our faith. John makes this very clear when he says, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35). So our works are proof of our faith. They don’t save us, but they prove that we have saving faith. Real faith. God-given, Spirit-produced faith.
Father, You have changed me and it has shown up in my life in tangible ways. I do not act the same way I used to act. I do things I never used to do before. I love in ways I never could have loved before. I am far from perfect, but I am also far from the man I used to be. All because of the presence of Your Spirit within me. When I do good things, it reminds me that I am a new man. I have a new power to live a new life. My works prove to me that You live within me. Thank You. May I keep my works in perspective and never allow myself to think that I am earning favor with You through my efforts, but to remember to thank You every time I do something good that it is proof of Your grace. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men