James writes some tough stuff. So much so, in fact, we’re told that Martin Luther, an important figure in bringing the church back to the Bible as our authority, didn’t think James should actually be a part of our Bible. But Jesus’ younger brother knew what he was talking about, and actually brings out some important things for us to remember.
You Are Saved By Grace Through Faith
Before we look at this passage that stresses the importance of our actions, we need to stress that “to the one who does not work, but believes on Him who declares the ungodly to be righteous, his faith is credited for righteousness (Romans 4:5 HCSB).” God does the complete work of salvation “by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift (Ephesians 2:8 HCSB).”
Can Your Faith Save You?
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can his faith save him? – James 2:14 (HCSB)
The Holy Spirit pierces straight to the heart with this question: Can simply accepting that something is true but not living like you believe it is true actually save you?
In a gospel-centered culture that so emphasizes that it is faith that saves us, we sometimes forget that faith goes beyond our minds. We aim for intellectual assent but so often neglect the heart. Sometimes we get so caught up in academic apologetics and discussing truths that we don’t take the time to let those truths sink in to our hearts and change us from the core.
Do You Really Believe This?
James is taking the opportunity to make sure that we understand that faith involves our entire being, not just our rationale. He calls us out, asking how we think we can prove that we have faith if there is no change in our lives: Show me your faith without works, and I will show you faith from my works (James 2:18 HCSB).
Abraham’s Faith (feat. Abraham’s Works)
So the Scripture was fulfilled that says, Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness, and he was called God’s friend. – James 2:23 (HCSB)
I mentioned Romans 4 earlier, where Paul makes the case for salvation by faith apart from works. James uses this same scripture about Abraham to argue that our faith is seen in our works. The verse I just quoted is sandwiched between these two sentences in James:
You see that faith was active together with his works, and by works, faith was perfected … You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. – James 2:22, 24 (HCSB)
Why can James make the case that Abraham’s faith shows the need for works to evidence our faith? When you look back to Genesis 15:6 where James & Paul quote from, Abraham had already left his home country in trust in God’s promises. This was not, however, something said in response to his willingness to sacrifice Isaac. Isaac wasn’t even born yet at this point, but after several years Abraham would prove his trust in God’s promises by being willing to sacrifice his son Isaac.
In both of these things, following God’s leading and where he moved and acting in obedience to God’s promises, Abraham was not earning his salvation. Abraham did these things because he truly trusted God. They were evidence of his faith.
In the same way faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself … For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead. – James 1:17, 26 (HCSB)
James main point is this: faith works. The evidence for your faith is found in your actions, emotions and motives. Faith in Christ does affect every aspect of your being. The way you act is a good litmus test for your faith – if you’re not changing, it may be good to ask yourself what your trusting in life.
This isn’t written to make us doubt the great salvation Christ accomplished for us, but it does give us insight into our own hearts – whether we really believe Jesus, whether we believe Jesus but are not actively believing that He is really our Lord, or whether we trust Him and are living in that trust.
Live it Out
James includes some practical examples of what this might look (James 2:15-17) and has looked like before (James 2:23 – Abraham; James 2:25 – Rahab). Paul lists some of the things that become evident in our lives as we live in faith and in step with God’s Spirit: the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23 HCSB).
Take a moment to think about your life. Journal answers to these questions if you are able to:
- If someone were to look at the way that I live, what would they think that I am relying on for my satisfaction and salvation?
- What areas of my life show me that I really do believe that Jesus died on the cross for my sins and rose from the dead – and that I believe that changes everything?
- What areas of my life do not reflect an all-of-me faith in Jesus?
How can I strengthen my faith in Jesus?