Most of you know how much I love baseball over other sports, and for most of my life I have been a follower of the Baltimore Orioles. Imagine if I had this following conversation with another person who claimed to be a fan of the O’s …
Fan: I like your orange shirt; I’m a fan of the Orioles also.
Me: Really? How many years have you been following them?
Fan: I don’t know, I think I was kind of born a fan.
Me: Do you get to go to many games?
Fan: Yes, I go once every four or five years.
Me: So you watch them on television quite a bit?
Fan: The Orioles have their own network?
Me: Who is your favorite player on the Orioles?
Fan: I really like Boog Powell and Brooks Robinson.
Me: You do know that those guys are in their 70s now, right?
Fan: Really? It only seems like a couple years ago that I saw them in Memorial Stadium.
Me: That’s where you would have seen them. That place has been torn down and the Orioles have played now at Camden Yards for the past 25 years.
Fan: In New Jersey?
That’s not much of a fan, is it? But a lot of people are like that about their faith. They say they love God and serve him, though they’ve forgotten how to get to church or how to live in a way that demonstrates a values system consistent with their profession.
This is essentially what James in getting at in today’s passage. At first glance, one can see why Martin Luther struggled mightily to believe that James was a legitimate part of the Scriptures. It sounds like he is asserting that salvation is based upon works and good deeds – the very opposite of the of the primary teaching of the Reformation and the Protestant Church. But James is just so strongly stating the necessity of works as the genuine proof and outcome of salvation, not as the means of gaining salvation.
Merely believing in God isn’t enough. As James will say, that doesn’t make you any better than Satan’s servants – who know that God is real.
And James will go to the great Jewish father of faith – Abraham. Yes, it was faith in God’s promises that gave the crediting of righteousness to Abraham, but that wouldn’t have been worth anything if he did not act upon that faith with obedience – to the extent of offering his only son Isaac on the altar.
On the other end of the spectrum, James illustrates the combination of faith and works with reference to the prostitute Rahab. She didn’t just say she believed, she acted upon her faith in helping the spies from Israel.
As a pastor, I do worry about people who claim to know and follow Christ, but who seldom make it to church. I worry about people who do attend but who seldom get involved in anything and give nothing of themselves. I don’t want to say they don’t have faith, but the absence of works of service raises the question of the genuine nature of their belief.
Faith and works are like the two sides of a dollar bill, you can’t have the genuine article with just one side.
James 2:14 – What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.