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? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 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?
So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.
Martin Luther infamously called James an “epistle of straw” and relegated it to a lower level of Biblical importance than Paul’s letters and the Gospels because of passages like this one. Luther felt that James doesn’t adequately explain the message of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ and focuses too much on the necessity of doing good deeds. While that may provide fodder for an interesting theological debate, we believe in the inspiration and authority of all scripture, meaning that what James wrote holds just as much weight and expresses just as much truth as any other book of the Bible. Therefore, we need to take these words to heart and put them into practice, which is exactly the point James was trying to make.
There has always been tension between faith and works, stretching far back into Old Testament times. God gave his people the Law and asked them to follow all its many statutes and regulations. Then again, God blessed Abraham because of his faith and chose David to be king because of the condition of his heart. So, does God want people who are flawlessly obedient or people of pure spiritual devotion? God wants both! Jesus confronted the Pharisees for their self-righteousness based on strict obedience while lacking heart-felt faith. Then again, Jesus said that following him requires that we love our neighbors, lay down our lives for others and in many other ways follow his example in how we speak, think and act. So, does Jesus want followers who do good deeds or who have genuine faith? Jesus wants both! That’s just what James is saying. The spiritual condition of our hearts matters, and how we put faith into action matters too.
The good things we do to obey God’s word and to follow Jesus’ example do not earn salvation for us, but they do give evidence of our faith. We are saved by what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross, and now in gratitude and devotion to our Savior, we put his teaching and the example of his life into practice. If we see someone in need, we offer help, not just empty words. When we are tempted to go along with the world’s foolish ways, we resist that temptation and choose God’s way instead. Just as love motivates us to take care of our children, so too faith in Jesus should motivate us to follow his teaching, as we demonstrate our faith through good deeds.
Father, You are always good and always faithful. Help me to grow in faith and to excel at following Jesus’ example in all I say and do. Use me to make Your world a better place and to show compassion to the people You love. I pray in the name of Jesus my Lord. Amen.
Pastor Mike Mirakian