Welcome back to week two of our study in James! I hope you took an opportunity to talk to someone about the image God put on your heart. I know for me, it was pretty convicting. I started a short reading plan on youversion the other day that encourages you to focus on one goal for the year. It was pretty interesting. It said this:
Clutter and complexity lead to procrastination and paralysis, while simplicity and focus lead to success and clarity.
So true! But the purpose of the plan was to seek God for one word. One word as far as how he wants you to grow this year. And for me, the answer was simple because it’s the same thing God put on my heart after reading James 1: Time.
This year, God is calling me to be a better steward of my time. To not spend an hour frivolously or take for granted a task I’m working on. To be a dad when it’s time to be a dad. To work on a project when it’s time to work on a project. To be able to put a project aside when God puts d divine appointment in front of me. And being diligent and open to discern where God wants my time spent. He’s convicted me of being both too loose with my time and at other moments, too rigid. God wants to determine my days. I have a habit of predetermining everything and leaving little room for His movement.
Anyway, on and on I could go, but I hope that by now, God’s begun giving you a clear image that you’re fueled with the conviction that it needs to happen. Today we’re going to turn to the next chapter and look at James 2:14, where it talks about faith and deeds. Notice the chapter before, we talked about listening versus doing. Today, we’re not pitting one against the other, as is often the argument with these verses, but we’re going to see how they relate to a degree of inseparability.
What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such a faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead. James 2:14-17
People really don’t like this passage. Why? Because it’s scary! Paul is saying here that there is a certain type of faith that does not save us from anything! There’s a belief system out there that its subscribers gain absolutely nothing! So they think this verse must be wrong thinking. But declaring any of God’s word as inaccurate is dangerous territory because then, who’s to say what’s right and what’s wrong in the Bible? Is God’s word, then, erroneous and conflicting? And many times when people feel this way, they’ll put up Paul’s words in the book of Romans as their evidence that James is just exaggerating to get his point across. But lets look at it:
For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. -Romans 3:28
You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. -James 2:24
What’s interesting to note is that at first glance, the two seem to contradict each other. But we know that scripture is God breathed and inspired. It is perfect, not lacking anything. And these two verses were inspired to be both written and placed in the texts that make up our Bible. What’s more is that the early church had no issue with them both being in there. And even more, both James and Paul were church leaders who would meet in Jerusalem to participate in the council to determine this and they walked away in agreement. So what do we make of all this? What dynamic does faith play and what of works?
First it’s important to note not just the verse, but gain a perspective on the teaching and the framework it’s placed in. Let’s start with Paul…
Paul obviously believes that a person’s righteousness, their right-standing, their salvation is done through faith in God’s grace through His son, Jesus. That nothing apart from this is required. “…to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness” -Romans 4:5. Here, he’s saying that we don’t work our way to righteousness, it’s a free gift. We’re justified by faith. Again, he says in his book to the Ephesians: “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast” -Ephesians 2:8&9. There is no work required to attain righteousness. If one can attain it apart from faith in God, they would be able to boast in what their hands make. But our hands can’t make both sin and righteousness. We rely purely on faith in God’s grace.
But Paul also acknowledges that this faith has action. In the very next verse in Ephesians, he says “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works…” -Ephesians 2:10. That’s interesting. We’re justified by faith, but it’s not so that we can just have faith and be saved. We were created to do works. Our faith justifies us, but also prepares us to do work. This faith can’t just live alone. It is followed by action.
How does this compare to James?
We’ve already read what James thinks: “Every good gift (there’s that word again) is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of His own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures” James 1:17&18. So this good gift is from God. And we are brought forth through the word of truth. Does the word make us righteous? Surely not! We’re to be doers and not hearers! So faith in this truth, given by God, brings salvation.
Again ”…has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom?” -James 2:5. What is an heir? Is an heir a laborer? Someone who works for pay? Or is an heir someone who is given a gift? A beneficiary of the one who already did the work and earned the gift? So we are heirs, not laborers, who receive God’s gift.
Just like Paul, James says that faith works! James isn’t advocating that our works earn our salvation. He says that our works are the natural follow through of our justification through faith.
And this is why it’s scary: we can believe and not be saved. So often, churches try to make it easy to be a Christian. But the truth is that it isn’t easy at all! The first step is simple: “ …if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” -Romans 10:9&10. But we’re not reciting a secret verse to enter a club, we’re beginning a relationship with God. That’s why faith is so much more than just believing. Need proof? “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that — and shudder” James 2:19. If a mere belief or stating that Jesus is God brought salvation, then wouldn’t the demons, who know God alot better than we do, also be saved?
But genuine faith cannot exist without it changing you. So accepting Christ as Savior costs us nothing, but living for Christ costs us everything. Paul even believed this so much he repeatedly tells us that we’re to die to ourselves. Jesus instructs us to pick up our own cross.
That’s why James says “…faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action is dead” -James 2:17. Our faith is transformative. A non-transformative faith is one that simply believes something to be true. But God calls us to so much more. And he uses James’ words to speak it so forcefully. “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead” -James 2:26.
I can tell Owen that I love him. I can tell my son every day that I cherish him and will care for and protect him. But what if day after day, I allow him to be hurt? What if I never provided him another meal? What if my only acknowledgement of him were the drive-by I love you’s? Would Owen believe me? No! Owen can only judge my actions. His determination of my love for him isn’t done when I tell him I love him. It’s done when I show him I love him. It’s my deeds that reflect my heart.
In the same way, we’re called to be different. We’re called to faith. And that faith, if it has any power at all, transforms us to a person who acts out God’s word. See how this is tied so closely to last week’s study?
One of my favorite authors is Donald Miller. He wrote a book called “Blue Like Jazz”. And the premise of the book is that he hated jazz music until he witnessed someone genuinely love it. And their passion for it was the catalyst for him beginning to love it. In the same way, he argues, many people are turned off by the Christian faith. But witnessing someone who truly loves Jesus can be a catalyst for others. Anyway, the book was a wide success and they were looking at turning it into a movie. And another book of his was written that detailed the process of turning the previous book into a movie. This book is called “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years”. I highly recommend both! But this book, while detailing the process of making a book a movie, talks about how in a book you can go on and on into the thought process a person goes through. You can go for page after page to tell the mind and heart of someone. But a movie is so much different. In a movie you only have the story and the story only has actions. So in a movie, you have to communicate a person’s thoughts and beliefs through their actions and nothing else. That’s why in the movie Rocky, the main character Rocky Balboa saves a dog, befriends a boy, and cares for a needy waitress before he even acknowledges boxing. The movie can’t just go on and on about how Rocky is caring. They have to show it.
And I love how Miller’s book lines up so perfectly with these verses. It’s our actions that reveal our heart. They don’t earn our reward, but they allow the world to witness what’s going on inside of a man. And so if a person does nothing for the needy around them, what faith do they actually have? Surely not a faith that is active and life-changing!
So my question to you is going to be really pointed. What does your life say about you? If your life were a movie, would it inspire people? Would the audience even cheer for the main character?
Or maybe a more intimate way to ask it is: does your faith inspire your children? Do the students in our ministry see your work and glorify our father in Heaven? Is your faith real or is it more like the demon’s, a simple belief in truth?
Again, talk to your trusted person about this. Because these questions should be wrestled over. James’s words and his challenges aren’t to just be heard. They’re a slap in the face, a shaking by the collar. Are you in or are you not?
In Revelation, God says to the Laodicean church: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” Revelation 3:15&16.
Many times we hear this verse and think of lukewarm as the middle ground between hot (good) and cold (bad). But hear how the church in Laodicea heard it:
At nearby Hierapolis, there was a hot spring that people would come to from far and wide to drink from and bathe in. Imagine living in a day before hot water heaters and modern hospitals. Imagine traveling a long time and having sore and tired muscles. Imagine you’re sick and your body is stiff and rigid. Now imagine entering the hot spring. It would be almost miraculous! Your body would immediately relax. Your joints and muscles would find instant comfort. How amazing would this hot water be?!
Also close by was the city of Colosse. Colosse stood at the foot of Mount Cadmus that brought pure ice cold water down to them. In the same way, the pure cold water was great for drinking and bringing immediate relief.
Laodicea had no water supply. And if they brought it from Colosse, the pure, cold water be lukewarm by the time it traveled those twelve miles. Likewise, the hot water from Hierapolis would be lukewarm by the time it traveled the shorter route, five miles. So Laodicae built an aqueduct from Hierapolis to them to bring water. And the people of that city only ever had lukewarm water that was so hard, they had to design the pipes in a way that they could regularly take out the mineral deposits that would build up.
So when you’re a Laodicean, you know how awful lukewarm water is. It isn’t medicinal, it isn’t comforting, it isn’t refreshing. It’s barely enough to keep you alive. So when God says, you’re not hot and not cold, but lukewarm, he isn’t saying you guys are somewhere between good and bad. He’s saying, “you’re worthless! You disgust me! You’re good for nothing!” And as a result, “I spit you out of my mouth.”
The measure of our faith isn’t our temperature or our fervor to what we read. The measure of our faith is to the works it inspires in us. Faith without works is lukewarm. It’s dead. But a faith in action, a faith with works, is a faith that saves us.
Team, let’s keep it simple. What’s the spirit telling you right now? Listen closely to what it says and do it. Then your faith will be made complete.
“…show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.” James 2:18