Summary: My wife Lindsay, who co-pastors with me preached this sermon in my series and took on this challenging passage about faith and works.James’ readers gave lip service to the faith and then went home and did as they pleased. Applicable for today's church.
Our passage today from James talks about this often controversial passage from James of faith and action.
I would like to read it from Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase (The Message) this morning and then we will look at 3 sections individually from the NLT version.
James 2:14-26The Message (MSG)
Faith in Action
14-17 Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?
18 I can already hear one of you agreeing by saying, “Sounds good. You take care of the faith department, I’ll handle the works department.”
Not so fast. You can no more show me your works apart from your faith than I can show you my faith apart from my works. Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove.
19-20 Do I hear you professing to believe in the one and only God, but then observe you complacently sitting back as if you had done something wonderful? That’s just great. Demons do that, but what good does it do them? Use your heads! Do you suppose for a minute that you can cut faith and works in two and not end up with a corpse on your hands?
21-24 Wasn’t our ancestor Abraham “made right with God by works” when he placed his son Isaac on the sacrificial altar? Isn’t it obvious that faith and works are yoked partners, that faith expresses itself in works? That the works are “works of faith”? The full meaning of “believe” in the Scripture sentence, “Abraham believed God and was set right with God,” includes his action. It’s that mesh of believing and acting that got Abraham named “God’s friend.” Is it not evident that a person is made right with God not by a barren faith but by faith fruitful in works?
25-26 The same with Rahab, the Jericho harlot. Wasn’t her action in hiding God’s spies and helping them escape—that seamless unity of believing and doing—what counted with God? The very moment you separate body and spirit, you end up with a corpse. Separate faith and works and you get the same thing: a corpse.
These are strong words from the apostle James. He does not have really kind words to say to the church members who were reading this letter that circulated to the churches. Among James’ readers were those who saw no correlation between what they believed and how they behaved. They gave lip service to the faith and then went home and did as they pleased. I would argue that many who call themselves Christians today do the same.
Jeanne Orjala Serrao, author of the New Beacon Bible Commentary writes:
“Too often professing Christians fool themselves into believing all they need to do is confess their sins and accept certain articles of faith. They see no need to become involved in the lives of the poor and oppressed. They surround themselves with like-minded people and forget about the rest of the world. – These are the type of people James is trying to awaken in this passage.”
Let’s take a look and break down this passage into smaller points and see what James was saying to his readers, and what it means for us today.
I. Walk the walk (James 2:14-17)
14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? 15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?
17 So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.
James is not the first biblical writer to condemn ritual piety. Both Amos (2:4-16) and Micah 6:6-8 condemned those who were outwardly pious but did not accompany that piety with justice for the poor.
What do we typically set as the standards by which we judge whether a person is saved or not? (smoking, drinking, church attendance, giving to a church…). These ritualistic things are not the things that Jesus talked about as being the measures of who would inherit eternal life or not. In Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus said that those who were his disciples were the ones who would feed, clothe, and visit those who were poor and oppressed. These actions were actually the things that determined eternal life or punishment – not the things we typically think of within the church.