Faith without Works is INDEED Dead
James 2:14-26 (NRSV) 14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. 20 Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? 21 Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. 23 Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road? 26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.
When I first began working at Shelters and Soup Kitchens, I knew intuitively that before I could share the Bread of Life with a lost soul, I first needed to feed that person’s body. It felt somehow disingenuous to assure someone that God would supply all of his/her needs according to God’s riches in glory, but yet walk away, leaving the person to wonder, “What’s wrong with me? I’m hungry, I’m cold, I’m without love. Why won’t God supply MY needs?”
And then I look at the letter from James, and I see that bread, and fish, and wine do not just materialize on a table. Instead, God uses Christ followers to put our faith into action and make sure people around us do not do without. God will supply our needs, but many times it is through people like you and me.
I remember reading of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, and was somewhat startled to learn that Wesley did not begin his ministries because of his faith. Instead, when talking with his brother Charles one day he said, “How will I know when I have done enough?” Charles said, “Enough for what?” John answered, “enough to know I have gained salvation.”
You see, John had opened schools, pharmacies, helped people earn a living so that they could leave the Poor Houses of England, yet his motivation was to gain salvation through his works. It was only after his Aldersgate experience on May 21, 1738 that he says, “I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” From that moment on, John Wesley ministered in the same manner he had all along, but instead of serving and preaching to gain his own salvation, he did these things because of his salvation.
The battle over James’ statement, “Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead,” did not end when James was thrown from the Temple Mount and then stoned to death because the fall did not kill him. No, the battle still rages today. It is not unusual for those who choose to put their Christian faith to work to be accused of trying to work their way to heaven.
James reminded his readers of the great people of faith found in Hebrews 11. These men and women had not yet seen Jesus, yet because of their faith that the Messiah would come, and their works that were performed as a result of that faith, they were justified by God and welcomed into His Kingdom.
Do you sometimes struggle with your faith? Do you realize that you are not alone? Can I tell you that when you put your faith to work, then your faith will grow larger and larger. Does the work you do replace the faith you have been given? Never. Instead, our work reflects the God who works within us to fulfill His good purpose. Philippians 2:13 the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Father God, as we read this good Word, I pray that you will not only strengthen and grow our faith, but that you will help us to put our hands and feet to work so that the people around us with know, believe and understand that God loves them and will supply their needs. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
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