What role does doing good works play in your life?
Read James 2:14-26
14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? 15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? 17 So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. 18 Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.”
19 You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. 20 How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?
21 Don’t you remember that our ancestor Abraham was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete. 23 And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” He was even called the friend of God. 24 So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone.
25 Rahab the prostitute is another example. She was shown to be right with God by her actions when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different road. 26 Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works.
The noted NT scholar James Varner writes:
A Faith That Is Dead or Just Dormant?—James 2:14–19
This stinging rebuke of someone who says that they have a saving faith but does not show it by acts of love echoes another stinging rebuke in the Gospels. In the Olivet Discourse Jesus turns away the “goats” who had opportunity to clothe people but did not (Matt 25:41–46). On the other hand the “sheep” who clothe the naked are welcomed into the kingdom (Matt 25:34–40). Is this salvation by doing good deeds? No, it is simply doing the acts of love that accompany a true saving faith. James clearly says “that kind of faith” does not save anyone. It is actually a dead faith that has no life and is not a saving faith at all!
Christians have been at the forefront of starting and maintaining social ministries such as hospitals, rescue missions, and ministries of helps. But let us be careful about yielding to the temptation to favor the “haves” over the “have-nots.” Do we cater to the wealthy when they can fund our building programs? James is following up on his hard-hitting message earlier in the chapter (Jas 2:1–4). Do we favor ministries that focus on saving souls and not bodies? Why should we make such a distinction? A truly biblical ministry will not favor one to the neglect of the other.
But someone will say, “You have faith and I have deeds.” 9 “Show me your faith apart from your deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.” You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! (James 2:18–19)
Isn’t faith important? Of course, but a faith that does not show active compassion for the disadvantaged is no better than the mental “faith” that demons have—and at least they shudder in fear of the Almighty! James wants us to show our faith by our deeds.
In summary it is good to remind ourselves that salvation is by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone! If that makes no sense to you, then you are the one who most needs the message of James 2:14–19.
Oh Lord, may my faith show that it is vital and real by the deeds that I do. And may my deeds be done not just out of a sense of duty but from a heart of faith and love. Amen.
Varner, William. To Love God and to Love Others: A Devotional Commentary on James. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012. Print.
How are you being challenged to put your faith to work?
Ask God to open your eyes to see opportunities to put your faith into action.