What is faith? Is faith just thinking that certain things are true, or is faith something more? Does God define faith for us in the Bible? How much faith does a person need to be saved and go to heaven? Can a person have faith in Jesus and that faith have no effect on their life?
These are very important questions that James will answer for us in the rest of chapter 2 of his epistle. The Bible makes it clear in passages like Ephesians 2:8-9 that the salvation of our souls is by faith alone and not by works: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” Yet we see in the very next verse, Ephesians 2:10, that Christians “are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” It is these good works that James describes through the example of helping fellow Christians, family, or neighbors who need food or clothing. When we truly believe that Jesus is Lord, we will walk in His footsteps by actively showing love to those around us. Biblical faith is a trust in Christ that leads us to love God and love others, to serve Jesus and obey Him as Master.
The right connection between our faith and our works is important to grasp. It is our faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection alone that saves us; no amount of good deeds can pay off the sin debt that we owe God. But if our faith in Jesus is a real faith, it will change us to do good works as new creations being remade into His image. To say that we believe in Jesus but to then be unwilling to follow Him and do what He says reveals that our belief is mere head knowledge. The devil and his demons have that kind of faith, but their destiny is hell because they do not love Jesus and want to be with Him in heaven. Our prayer is that all of you would have a genuine saving faith in Jesus that is proven over time by your deeds of loving obedience to Him. May we all have faith that works.
The Text (James 2:14-19)
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
Questions to Think About
- How and when did your belief in Jesus go from simple head knowledge to the kind of saving faith that James describes in today’s passage?
- Why is helping and caring for others a good evidence that someone has a saving faith in Jesus?
- Why do you think people are often deceived about what it means to be a Christian?
- Do you ever pray for other people? Who do you pray for and what do you pray? Why might praying for others be good evidence that a person has saving faith?
God loves mercy. God hates sin and must punish it because He is a just God. But God is also love. God’s love moves Him to show mercy to sinners who humbly repent and turn to Him in faith. God takes no pleasure in the death and eternal punishment of those who reject His offer of salvation through Jesus. Christians are people who have received God’s mercy of free pardon for all their sins. The natural response to God’s mercy towards us is that we should be merciful people who are quick to love and forgive others who have done us wrong. Part of being merciful is not giving special treatment to people by loving only those we like and then withholding love from people we don’t like.
This is James’ logic in today’s passage where he urges Christians to avoid judging others and committing the sin of favoritism. When we favor some people and not others, we are not loving people with fairness as we should. We are sinning by not loving ALL of our neighbors as ourselves. And we know as Christians that even one sin is enough to make us guilty before God Almighty, the great Judge of every person who has ever lived. We want God Our Judge to pardon us and give us mercy and forgiveness. We want His “mercy” to “triumph over [His] judgment” when it comes to how he treats us. In the same way, therefore, our mercy towards others should win out over our desire to judge them for their wrongs. May we all receive God’s mercy by faith and be willing to show that mercy to ALL of those we encounter.
8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. 9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.
12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
Questions to Think About
- Why is favoritism a sin?
- How are you doing at loving your friends? How about your enemies?
- In what ways have you experienced God’s mercy in your life?
- Are you a merciful person? Would your friends and family call you merciful?
The parents of one of my old high school friends used to counsel us, “There are 3 types of people you will meet in life: 1) People who like you, 2) People who don’t like you, and 3) People who don’t care. Focus on the first group and don’t waste your time on the other two.” That was sound advice and it actually seems kind of obvious when I think about it today. Why would we worry about what people who don’t like us think? Why would we want to be around people who don’t care about us? But as we see in today’s passage in James, our fallen sinful nature often craves the popularity of being part of the “in crowd,” even if that crowd is not very nice to us or others. And because money buys stuff that others want as well as power and status, the “in crowd” can often be the rich.
James asks us to consider whether or not we give special favor and attention to people who are rich while at the same time ignoring and looking down upon those who are poor. If we do, then we are guilty of a very great and foolish sin in God’s sight. It is a great sin because God does not show such favoritism to people. God judges people by their character and their faith, not their material possessions. If anything, being rich is more often an obstacle to a person’s salvation because the rich tend to be self-reliant and unable to see their need for God. It was the poor who flocked to see Jesus in His day and enter His kingdom much more so than the rich, and this has continued to be the case for 2,000 years of church history. Favoring the rich is also a foolish sin because the rich are the ones more likely than the poor to mistreat and ignore us and our Savior. We are wasting our attention and affections on those people who don’t like us and our faith or who don’t care about us one way or the other. May we repent of our evil desires to be accepted by the “in crowd” and instead choose the better fellowship of the humble who walk with Jesus.
The Text (James 2:1-7)
2 My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,”4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?
Questions to Think About
- Do you ever struggle with wanting to be part of the “in crowd”? Why or why not?
- Do you ever find yourself admiring students who seem to have more money and stuff than you? Why or why not?
- Do you think the amount of money and stuff you own and the lifestyle you live have made it easier or more difficult to follow Christ? Explain.
As we saw in the last post, God does not have much respect for big talkers who don’t practice what they say they believe. Today in the end of James 1 we see some specific examples of what it looks like to be “doers and not just hearers” of God’s commands. First, Christians who are truly walking with Jesus will have control over their words. They will not let harmful gossip, angry comments, or filthy language pour out from their mouths. Why? Because evil words reveal an evil heart that is far away from God. Second, real Christians care for other people, not just for themselves. This is particularly seen in taking care of orphans, or children without parents, and widows, meaning women without husbands. God has a special compassion for helpless and needy people like these, and so should we as Christians. Finally, true religion in God’s eyes is to stay pure in our thoughts, words, and actions. Some stuff in this world is just plain wicked and wrong. Blatant and obvious sin should offend and hurt our consciences as Christians. We should make every effort to avoid every form of evil as much as we can so that we can keep clean and close with God. Jesus taught that it is the pure in heart who will see God.
Only two verses for today, but they pack a powerful punch! Today’s Scripture shoots us right in the heart like a spiritual laser. Most of us talk too much and too carelessly. Few of us care for the needy people around us as we should. All of us could do better at avoiding sin and worldliness. My prayer is that we would let God’s Word do its work of sanctification today. May His Spirit keep making our words, deeds, and thoughts more holy so that we might become more perfect like our Father in heaven. In the end, His opinion of our religion is the only one that really matters.
The Text (James 1:26-27)
26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
Questions to Think About
- Do you think you talk too much? Would your friends and family say you talk too much? Explain.
- Why do you think it is important for Christians to have self-control with their words?
- Does your church do anything to take care of literal orphans (no living parents) and widows (no living spouses)? How about spiritual orphans (no Christian parents) and widows (no Christian spouses)? Do you do anything to help care for people in need?
- How can Christians keep themselves from “being polluted by the world?” What would that look like in our daily lives?
My brother is a sergeant first class in the army. He has served tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. At one point in his life, he was a drill sergeant. He would do morning PT with his “grunts” who “weren’t getting any older” and then work out in the gym on his own in the afternoons. The last time he and I worked out together, he pushed me so hard that I could not lift a hamburger that night at dinner. He is a no-nonsense kind of guy. One of his favorite sayings is, “Deeds, not words.” This phrase is an English translation of a popular Latin motto used by Roman soldiers, the original no-nonsense tough guys in world history. And this mantra perfectly captures James’ message for us in today’s passage.
God does not want us to just listen to His Word or even talk about it, but to do it, to apply it to our everyday lives. As Christians, our motto should be “Deeds and words.” It is important for us study the Bible and listen to it preached and taught. And it is important for us to talk about our faith with other believers and to share it humbly with non-Christians. But we also need to put our beliefs into action. We don’t want to be people who read or hear God’s Word and then ignore the voice of the Spirit applying it to our lives. James says such foolishness is like people looking into a mirror but then forgetting their own faces! Can you imagine seeing crazy hair or dirty skin in the mirror in the morning but then not using a brush or washcloth to fix the problem? It would be ridiculous! In the same way, if we know that God’s Word has spoken to an area of sin in our lives that we need to repent of, or guided us to an action that we need to take, and then we don’t obey God’s voice, we are acting like fools. The wise person listens carefully to what God’s Word has to say and then does it. Such people find the joys and blessings of faithfully following Christ. Don’t you want to be a wise and blessed person today? May all lead lives filled with deeds of faith that back up our words of faith.
The Text (James 1:22-26)
22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.
Questions to Think About
- How do careful listeners act during church and chapel messages, homeroom devotions, and Bible class lessons? Are you a careful listener? Why or why not?
- In what ways has God’s Word spoken to you in the past month? Can you think of any specific areas of sin that God’s Word has convicted you to repent of? Can you think of any specific commands that God’s Word challenged you to obey? Explain.
- Are there any areas of life where your deeds do not match your words right now? How can you make changes to get your talk to back up your walk in those areas?