Faith and Works
Last week James started a conversation with us on favoritism. He told us how wrong it is to discriminate against the poor or anyone else. Today, he continues that conversation by telling us the importance of ministering to others. This discussion sets the stage for our understanding of the relationship of faith and works in the Christian life.
READ James 2:14-17
1. WHEN HAS SOMEONE MINISTERED TO YOU WHEN YOU WEAR IN NEED? WHEN HAVE YOU DONE THE SAME FOR SOMEONE ELSE? WHAT DID IT MEAN TO YOU?
Even if people reject the gospel, we still must love them. A good example of this was reported by Ralph Neighbour, pastor of Houston’s West Memorial Baptist Church (in Death and the Caring Community, by Larry Richards and Paul Johnson):
Jack had been president of a large corporation, and when he got cancer, they ruthlessly dumped him. He went through his insurance, used his life savings, and had practically nothing left. I visited him with one of my deacons, who said, “Jack, you speak so openly about the brief life you have left. I wonder if you’ve prepared for your life after death?”
Jack stood up, livid with rage. “You — —- Christians. All you ever think about is what’s going to happen to me after I die. If your God is so great, why doesn’t he do something about the real problems of life?” He went on to tell us he was leaving his wife penniless and his daughter without money for college. Then he ordered us out.
Later my deacon insisted we go back. We did. “Jack, I know I offended you,” he said. “I humbly apologize. But I want you to know I’ve been working since then. Your first problem is where your family will live after you die. A realtor in our church has agreed to sell your house and give your wife his commission. I guarantee you that, if you’ll permit us, some other men and I will make the house payments until it’s sold. Then, I’ve contacted the owner of an apartment house down the street. He’s offered your wife a three bedroom apartment plus free utilities and an $850-a-month salary in return for her collecting rents and supervising plumbing and electrical repairs. The income from your house should pay for your daughter’s college. I just wanted you to know your family will be cared for.”
Jack cried like a baby. He died shortly thereafter, so wrapped in pain he never accepted Christ. But he experienced God’s love even while rejecting him. And his widow, touched by the caring Christians, responded to the gospel message.
–Van Campbell, Homer,Louisiana. Leadership, Vol. 5, no. 1.
See: Ac 20:35; Jas 1:27; Isa 58:7; Lk 10:33-34
2. WHAT KIND OF FAITH IS CONDEMNED IN VERSE 14?
The faith James speaks of is just an intellectual affirmation. It is a mind-oriented profession only. These individuals may call themselves Christians, but they do not live any different than the rest of the world.
The faith James wants us to have involves with all of our being: mind, emotions, our behavior, and our spirit. It is a faith that involves action.
If we refuse to take the risk of being vulnerable, we are already half-dead. If you are half-dead, you don’t have to starve with the people of Ethiopia. You don’t have to share the terrible living conditions of old people struggling to exist on dwindling, inadequate social-security payments in our overcrowded, hostile cities. You don’t have to smell the stench of filth and disease and hunger in the “favelas” and barrios.
We are not all called to go to El Salvador, or Moscow, or Calcutta, or even the slums of New York. But none of us will escape the moment when we have to decide whether to withdraw, to play it safe, or to act on what we prayerfully believe to be right.
— Madeleine L’Engle in A Stone for a Pillow. Christianity Today, Vol. 31, no. 2.
IN WHAT WAY IS FAITH WITHOUT WORKS “DEAD”?
It has been said that separating faith and works is like separating the heat and light from a candle. You know both are produced by the candle. You know they are not the same thing. You also know you cannot separate them.
— Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997).
That is why James asks if a dead faith can save a person.
WHAT KIND OF WORKS SHOULD FAITH PRODUCE?
For James, works or deeds have to do with proper ethical behavior. They are natural outgrowths of the faith inside. If you exercise a muscle, what will happen? The muscle with grow. If you stay out in the sun too long, what will happen? You will get burned. If you play with fire, you are going to get burned. These are all natural results. In the same way, faith produces works as a natural result. Is our faith producing the natural results? And what results are we producing?
Here is a good searching question for a man to ask himself as he reviews his past life: Have I written in the snow? Will my life-work endure the lapse of years and the fret of change? Has there been anything immortal in it, which will survive the speedy wreck of all sublunary things? The boys inscribe their names in capitals in the snow, and in the morning’s thaw the writing disappears. Will it be so with my work, or will the characters that I have carved outlast the brazen tablets of history? Have I written in the snow?
— Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Quotable Spurgeon, (Wheaton: Harold Shaw Publishers, Inc, 1990)
DO YOU SEE THE WORKS THAT ACCOMPANY FAITH IN YOUR LIFE?
James disagrees that works and faith are unconnected. Faith is invisible without works. If faith does not make itself known in our lives, then it does not exist.
Do all the good you can
By all the means you can
In all the ways you can
In all the places you can
To all the people you can
As long as ever you can.
— John Wesley’s Rule of Conduct. Christianity Today, Vol. 36, no. 14.
READ James 2:18-26
VERSE 19 SAYS THAT BARE BELIEF IS NOT WHAT SAVES – THE DEMONS BELIEVE IN GOD, AND STILL SHUDDER. WHAT IS JAMES SAYING HERE? IS SALVATION EARNED BY GOOD WORKS, OR ARE WE SAVED BY THE KIND OF FAITH THAT IS ACCOMPANIED BY ACTIONS?
READ Romans 10:5-13
Belief in God does not automatically lead to godly action. Satan and his fallen angels have belief in God. Millions of people around our world have a belief in God. Faith alone is not enough without an obedient lifestyle.
Faith in God is like believing a man can walk over Niagara Falls on a tightrope while pushing a wheelbarrow. Trust in God is like getting into the wheelbarrow! To believe God can do something miraculous is one thing; to risk his willingness to do it in your life is another.
James C. Dobson (1936- )
READ Galatians 3:6 (like James 2:23)
AT FIRST GLANCE, VERSE 21-23 SEEM TO BE A DIRECT CONTRADICTION OF WHAT PAUL SAYS IN GALATIANS 3:6 WHERE HE EMPHASIZES THE FACT THAT ABRAHAM’S FAITH WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS. WHAT IS JAMES TRYING TO SAY HERE? HOW COULD ABRAHAM HAVE BEEN JUSTIFIED BY BOTH WORKS AND FAITH?
Faith and works must work together in the life of a person who is truly religious. The works Paul has in mind are acts of ritual law-keeping such as circumcision, food laws, and the like, where James is concerned about giving to the poor (charity), not fulfillment of the law.
IN WHAT WAY IS FAITH PERFECTED BY WORKS (VS. 22)?
Faith is not exactly perfected by works. Rather, faith is brought to new maturity by such actions. Abraham believed God and was declared righteous prior to his circumcision or his willingness to offer his son.
HOW SHOULD THE LIFESTYLE OF A CHRISTIAN VERIFY HIS OR HER FAITH?
Faith is an activity; it is something that has to be applied.
Corrie ten Boom (1892-1983)
Thought question: WHAT DO YOU NEED TO CHANGE IN YOUR OWN LIFE SO THAT YOU ARE SHOWING YOUR FAITH BY YOUR WORKS?
A university professor tells of being invited to speak at a military base one December and there meeting an unforgettable soldier named Ralph. Ralph had been sent to meet him at the airport. After they had introduced themselves, they headed toward the baggage claim.
As they walked down the concourse, Ralph kept disappearing. Once to help an older woman whose suitcase had fallen open. Once to lift two toddlers up to where they could see Santa Claus, again to give directions to someone who was lost. Each time he came back with a smile on his face.
“Where did you learn that?” the professor asked.
“What?” Ralph said.
“Where did you learn to live like that?”
“Oh,” Ralph said, “during the war, I guess.” He then told the professor about his tour of duty in Vietnam, how it was his job to clear mine fields, how he watched his friends blow up before his eyes, one after another.
“I learned to live between steps,” he said. “I never knew whether the next one would be my last, so I learned to get everything I could out of the moment between when I picked up my foot and when I put it down again. Every step I took was a whole new world, and I guess I’ve been that way ever since.”
The abundance of our lives is not determined by how long we live, but by how well we live.
— Barbara Brown Taylor in Fresh Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching (Baker), from the editors of Leadership.