FAITH WITHOUT WORKS
James 2:14-17 NKJV
14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
These verses are part of a passage that has caused concern among those who believe we are made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ. Some have twisted this passage to justify their dependence on works. This passage has created a who's right argument. Similar to the old nature versus nature discussion, faith versus works has been a controversial subject.
Okay, so what is it then, faith or works? The answer is yes. It's both faith and works, but we have to define works for this to make sense. There is no way our works could ever cause us to be righteous in God's sight. If our works would do it, there would have been no reason to send Jesus.
But if we look at works from a different perspective, it makes more sense. A better meaning for works in this passage is corresponding action. Faith without corresponding action is powerless. James starts this passage with someone saying they have faith. But there are no works, no corresponding action to back up what that person is saying. James then uses the analogy of a person who needs food and clothing. A brother says to them, be warmed and filled but does nothing to supply the needs. What then was the value of his words? The words without any corresponding action meant nothing. They may have sounded good, but there was nothing to back them up. Nice words without nice actions are roadkill. Well, that is not the literal Greek, but you get the point.
Think of someone who says that they just love you and value you. That you are important to them, and there is nothing they would not do for you. Those are nice words. But, if that person treats you poorly, ignores you when you talk to them, and refuses to help you when you are in need, then it makes their words powerless. Nice loving words are good, but they are powerful when there are actions that correlate. Some people are not very effusive in their expressions of love, but they are kind and good and are always there for you and treat you well. What would you rather have, the nice words or the nice actions?
Thankfully, our words and actions do not have to be either-or. We can speak loving words and then back those words up with loving actions. The same applies to our faith. We can and should speak words of faith. But then our actions should correspond.
It's good to say that we love God and that Jesus is our Lord. Those are good words. But now we must back those words up with our actions. So we spend time with God and honor the things of God. We read His words and put them into practice the best we can. We adjust our behavior to adapt to the Lordship of Jesus, not expecting perfection here but exerting effort.
Jesus put an emphasis on words and actions in Luke 6:46 when He said, "But why do you call Me Lord, Lord, and not do the things which I say?" Jesus is not trying to be unkind; He is pointing out the truth that our expressions of faith and our actions must agree.
In my own life, I've had to face the disconnect between my words of faith and my actions. When I say I have prayed and asked God for His help with a situation then, according to Philippians 4:6, I am told not to be anxious about anything. If I continue to worry and fret, my words and my actions are not in agreement. Or when I declare that I am trusting God but then act as if He abandoned me, my words of faith and actions do not correspond.
The good news is we can grow and adjust and get better. This is not three strikes and you are out. James is helping us align our words and actions in order to produce a living faith.
Thank You, Lord, that I can grow in this area. My faith in You is evident in my words and what I do.