It has been identified that a significant problem in the evangelical church over the past couple of decades is that a genuine faith has not been owned by rising generations. Even with great youth programs and creative church ministry like no other time in history, so many have not held on to a personal faith and really made it their own as the went into adulthood.
The problem is neither new nor uncommon. It existed in the first century. And the writer James spoke to it by asking what good is a faith that is nothing but words? Is it not clear that a person with a genuine faith will have their lives so radically changed that they cannot help but have it impact what they do and how they invest with their time, talents, and treasures?
Apparently in James’ day there were people who also only came to church when there was nothing else better to do.
The beginning of this passage is really quite humorous as James raises the theological question with a hypothetical situation …
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.
Even before he was a believer in Jesus as the Christ, it was clear that this brother of Jesus had a very spunky personality. I like him; he could be from New Jersey! He continues …
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.
This really is a great line. And it is true that even the demonic world believes in God. They know what the truth is; they know it better than we do. Just knowing and believing is obviously not everything!
And James will use two illustrations – the first one an obvious person that any good Jewish Christian might have expected to hear about, and that is Abraham …
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.
Be sure to be with us on Christmas Eve at 7:00, as we will be covering this Scripture and this story of Abraham’s faith displayed by being willing to offer up Isaac. We know from the account in Hebrews that he was willing to do so because his faith was so strong that even if he killed his own son, he believed God would raise him from the dead and give him back to fulfill the promise of his seed coming through Isaac. That is powerful faith and action.
But then James turns to the opposite extreme and a most unlikely person – the prostitute Rahab …
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.
As we have already said of Rahab in this series, her faith was magnificent and huge. In the midst of a Canaanite culture and city where none believed in the one true God, she was sure that the God of the Israelites was the real and most powerful deity – in fact the only true diety. But she didn’t just think it, she put her everything on the line by aligning with the enemy of her own people.
In the midst of the sin and chaos of her life and her world, she believed that God would save her. Our sin may be of a different nature, and our world may have a dissimilar sort of chaos, but we are just as needy as this prostitute of old. We need a new identity beyond what we have in the here and now; we need a new family to be a part of – an eternal connection and membership in the kingdom of light.