Faith with good deeds

Faith And Good Deeds

True saving faith says James, is that which results in works or deeds of obedience to Christ our Lord. "So, you see, faith by itself isn't enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless."

Faith And Good Deeds -

Scripture Reading

James 2:14-26 [1]

Faith without Good Deeds Is Dead Faith

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.”

Preamble

James’ work is crucial for the Church today!

Scholars place James’ epistle as the earliest of New Testament letters, about AD 50, when the church in Jerusalem was some 20 years old. James wrote to Jewish Christians scattered abroad (1:1). It is a remarkable work that addresses a broad spectrum of issues to people in the diaspora suffering economic persecution and oppression.

The church came under immense pressure. James saw two possible responses. One, Christians could pull together or alternately compromise with the world in an endeavour to “get ahead” in life. Many, James observed, compromised their faith to get ahead in the world—Is this setting not similar to our modern times?

 

So we find James’s letter becoming more relevant by the day for the modern Christian. In this work, James warns his readers against mere word-service, explaining what is meant by genuine faith. James gives practical advice on holy living, practical Christianity and Christian ethics. [3]

Introduction

Our reading commenced at verse 14, backtracking into verses 12 and 13, which speak of “judgement and mercy”, it reads as follows:

James 2:12-13

“So whatever you say or whatever you do, remember that you will be judged by the law that sets you free. There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others. But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you.”

 

Judgement can be harsh or dispensed with some degree of mercy. The implications for believers is profound and extremely serious. Why, we may ask? Simply because we set the criterion or standard that God will use to judge us.

Against this backdrop, James now moves seamlessly to challenge Christians to re-examine their faith.

The Principle

In verse 14, James states the principle very simply: “What good is it if a person claims to have faith but has no deeds?” We may add, no good deeds or good actions. In other words, if a person states that they believe in all the correct teachings/doctrines and does not show obedience to Christ, what good is this type of faith? The implied answer is, “No good at all”.

And just in case we missed the point, James adds, “Can such faith save a person?” The implied answer again is, “No, it cannot save him.” (Davids 1994:1360)

The Example

In verses 15 and 16, “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?”

In his example, James paints a picture of a Christian in real need. It is not that they have no clothes for the coming winter or no food for the coming week but that they have no food to eat today! Now!

James suggests the faith-without-action person may respond as follows:

  • Say a prayer
  • Wish the needy person well
  • Pronounce a blessing “Go in peace” God will provide!

James is appalled by such “No-Action-Faith”:

Yes, it sounds pious/religious, and of course, it is theologically correct, but such prayer is useless!

James would have expected the faith person to go to the pantry to get food for the hungry. Go to your wardrobe and find clothes to dress the unfortunate brother or sister. Therefore, James concludes in verse 17: “So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless”. (Davids 1994:1361)

A Theological Argument

Such a strong example must surely call for a strong defence. James justifies this in verses 18 and 19:

“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.”

“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. How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?”

 

James now brings in an imaginary person to argue his case. You, he says to the antagonist, treat faith and deeds as separate gifts of God. If your gift of faith is not outwardly visible – it is no different to “no faith” – it cannot be seen or experienced! It is purely imaginary!

We now see the antagonist protest: “I have faith, I believe there is One God”. This One God, of course, is the basic creed outlined in Deut. 6:4 and 5. It is the faith that Abraham demonstrated. Reiterated in Mark 12:28-34; Rom. 3:30. Indeed, says this fictional person, “such orthodox belief is enough”.

Not at all, says James, for even demons themselves believe that God is One. Demons confess so of Christ in Mark1:24 and 5:7. And we all know where they’re going – to hell, of course! But sadly, demons do not have the propensity for good deeds. (Davids 1994:1361)

Scriptural Argument

James brings this theme to a close with scriptural support for his argument in verses 21 to 26:

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 a 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.”

 

The Bible tells us Abraham believed God – this was faith in his mind – a faith which was not yet complete – became complete when this faith activated a decision of his will, and he carried it out in action. We know that this happened many times – it was a lifetime of believing and doing – and now James emphasises Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac, the son of promise, in obedience to God’s command.

He further uses the case of Rahab the harlot to demonstrate the workings of faith and good works. You see, Rahab heard of the God of the Hebrews and believed that the Hebrew God would hand Jericho over to the Hebrews. But again, this belief or faith was not enough – this same faith had to translate into action – this faith in action saved the Hebrew spies.

A perceived Controversy

In concluding, I would like to address a controversy this Scripture has raised in the Church. The great reformer Martin Luther and many others had great difficulty with it. You will recall Luther’s position on salvation, “By grace alone; through faith alone; in Christ alone. Paul was to write later in the same vein (Romans 1:16&17). Also, in the Gospel writings, we see that Jesus taught precisely this. Grace alone saves us! Nothing in the world can wash away our sins but the precious blood of Jesus. So why the controversy?

There is no controversy at all when one reads Scripture in context. In James 2:1, we read:

“My dear brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism”.

The believers James addressed knew that they were saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone!

James was looking at their situation. Their persecution, suffering, oppression, and consequent need calls for an active faith that produces good deeds.

Paul, writing to the Ephesians, clearly teaches, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) and then he goes on to make a point consistent with James’ position on good deeds, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)(NKJV) and, later writing to Titus, Paul impresses the following: “I want you to affirm constantly that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works.” (Titus 3:8b)(NKJV)

Reflection

James calls all Christians to embark on a process of self-examination, for it is their works or deeds that God will review on judgment day. Our Lord Jesus Christ endorses James’ teaching on the subject in:

Matthew 25:34-40

“Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.”

37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

To those whom James calls no-faith-persons, the King will say:

45 “I tell you the truth when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.”

True saving faith says James is that which results in works or deeds of obedience to Christ our Lord.”

The Lord bless his servant James for this insight, and the Lord bless you all!

Acknowledgements

[1] “Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright 1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.,Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reseved.”

[2] Peter H Davids in Marshall IH, Millard AR, Packer JL, & Wiseman DJ, 1994, New Bible Dictionary 3rd Edition, IVP, Leicester

[3] The Holy Bible, New International Version, Christian Art Publishers 1999, Vereeniging

Forthcoming Articles

I will discuss “A Practical Response by the Church to the Poor“, incorporating “God’s orientation to the Poor” and “The Pastor as a Practical Theologian.”

Don’t miss it!

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