Faith and Works, Not Faith or Works

“What use is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead by itself” (Jas. 2:14-17).

How does one approach Scripture? Is it a book that one uses to simply gain knowledge, to examine what it teaches from an intellectual perspective? What profit is it, if it doesn’t advance beyond an academic or philosophic exercise, if it’s something simply to discuss or consider as to its truths? Shouldn’t gaining knowledge about Scripture be than this? Is it a mere textbook? Could we say, “Yes, I believe have examined this passage and have learned most of its grammar and terminology,” but failed to learn what it’s trying to teach us about practical living? Is it truly the book of life to us? In the above passage James reminds us that knowing it, but not living it in real life situations, is useless. If reading Scripture is simply a vehicle for nice words, but no real actions that bring relief to others, it is no different than doing nothing at all. 

This is typically how many in the world live. They may see real needs, their hearts may be touched, but they leave no different than before, not responding to those needs. James points out, knowing people who need real help, but not doing anything to help, does not fulfill the purpose of Scripture. I remember years ago speaking to a member of the congregation where I preached, about how their lack of attendance did nothing to help encourage, cheer, or motivate one to more effective Christian living. I reminded this person of how they could help, and be helped, by emptying oneself to worship God and allowing Him to fill us up spiritually, how we need each other’s compassion and assistance to overcome sin and discouragement. The response was, “Well, it just comforts me to know people are at this building when I’m not” (Heb. 10:25). James would respond, “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead by itself.”

I have heard other members say they can’t increase their financial contribution to the work of the church, because they like the lifestyle their funds provide them personally. I truly appreciate having to provide for one’s own needs, but what about the ongoing labors of the kingdom? Purposeful giving seeks to meet both, knowing God provides us richly so we can give sacrificially, from a big heart (2 Cor. 9:8). James would respond when we only think of our desires in using such blessings, “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead by itself.”

How many people do we meet who believe in the existence of God but have not responded obediently to the word of God to have their sins forgiven (1 Pet. 3:21)? How many do we share the plan of salvation with, either in words or tracts or videos, or some other method? To know others have not obeyed the gospel, but not try to help them come to a knowledge of the truth, James would respond, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (Jas. 2:24). 

God gave us His word, not just to be a book for learning exceptional facts and intricate details, but to reveal Himself and His love to us, and how His love in Christ should draw us to live for Him for eternity. If we believe in Him, we will be like Him. Has God’s revealed will worked its way into the very fabric of our being? “We proclaim him, warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. I labor for this, striving with his strength that works powerfully in me” (Col. 1:28-29).

μαράνα θᾶ (1 Cor. 16:22)