“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?
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. 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?
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?
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.” James 2:14-26 (MSG)
In science class, you do experiments to identify the cause and effect relationship. Different substances can cause the experiment to do nothing, steam, bubble, or even explode. There is a direct relationship between the substance used in the experiment and the end result. And, in life, we see that cause and effect relationships exist everywhere.
When James was writing this book of the Bible, he was instructing Christians in the practical aspects of loving God. In chapter 2, he started to address the issue of faith and works. James understood that faith is outworked through action. It doesn’t just sit on the sidelines and wait. The attention is brought to two prime examples: Abraham and Rahab. Abraham decided to believe God, but his belief was not just segregated to his internal being. He took on his faith in God as real and tangible by placing his son on an altar out of obedience. Abraham believed God’s promise that he would be the father of many nations, even though it didn’t make sense. Although Abraham did not have to sacrifice his son, the act of doing it out of obedience partnered with believing God exemplifies the cause and effect relationship. Abraham’s belief in God overflowed into his life, resulting in action. The same thing occurred with Rahab in the Old Testament. Joshua had sent two spies out from the Israelite camp to look over Jericho. When they arrived, Rahab took the spies into her own home, because she knew that God had given the Israelites the Promised Land. At the risk of her very life, she helped the spies sent by God to escape from danger. She believed in God, and her belief was worked out in her actions.
Some might think that we can have faith in God without doing anything, while others believe that salvation comes through their good works. Yet, there is a cause and effect relationship between faith and works. Our faith in God changes us from the inside out. Romans 10:9 (ESV) says, “Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Salvation does not come through works, because we could not do enough good works to satisfy the sin debt that we have to pay. Only Jesus’ death on the cross can bring that freedom. Yet, when we walk with God, we recognize that God has not solely saved us, but He has saved us for the purpose that others might know Him. If our lives do not reflect our love for God in a tangible way, how will the people around us be able to recognize the heart change inside of us? When we take believing and doing and separate them, our faith dies. But, the opposite is true as well. When we truly understand that God has called us to action, we take our faith and begin to infuse it into our everyday life. Then, when we go to the grocery store and see a friend who needs encouragement, it is no longer an inconvenience, but a way to outwork our faith. When we see a neighbor in need, it is no longer an obligation to avoid but rather an opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus. As we love God and place our faith in Him, the evidence of our love is translated into our everyday life through combining believing and doing so that others might know Jesus.
Scripture taken from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
“Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”