(The following is a summary of the message preached on October 21, 2018, by Michael Larsen.)
Text: James 2:14-26
The entire New Testament teaches that we are saved by faith alone. “By grace, through faith, we are saved.” James comes along and says, “It's not just faith but faith and works.” What is he talking about? James and Paul are both right. They are talking about different things.
Paul was fighting the problem of legalism. People thought that they had to keep all the Jewish laws and regulations to be a Christian. James is fighting laxity -- those that say “It doesn't matter what you do as long as you believe.” When Paul uses the word “works,” he's talking about Jewish laws like circumcision and things like that. When James uses it, he's talking about the lifestyle of a Christian -- acts of love. Paul focuses on the root of salvation -- what happens to me internally. James focuses on the fruit of salvation -- what happens on the outside. Paul is talking about, “How to know you're a Christian.” James is talking about, “How to show you're a Christian.” Paul is talking about his passages on faith alone, how to become a believer. James talks about how to behave like a believer. It is not a contradiction.
It's summed up in Ephesians 2:8-10
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
James says there are five ways you can know you have real faith. He gives us five steps or principles here in this passage.
1. REAL FAITH IS NOT JUST SOMETHING YOU SAY
Some people are good at talking about faith, but don’t live it out. They claim to be Christians and know all the right phrases, but they don’t live like a Christian. James 2:14 says “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?” There is more than just talk involved in real faith.
2. REAL FAITH IS NOT JUST SOMETHING YOU FEEL
You can go to church and have an emotional reaction, but it never makes any difference in your life. James 2:15-16: “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?”
Real faith is more than just sympathy and feelings and emotion. You give assistance. You do something about it. You act on it. James 2:17 “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
3. REAL FAITH IS NOT JUST SOME SOMETHING YOU THINK
For some people, faith is just an intellectual thing. They just want to study and debate it. James 2:18 “But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” Real faith is visible. If you claim to be a Christian, people will be able to see it.
4. REAL FAITH IS NOT JUST SOMETHING YOU BELIEVE
There are a lot of people who have strong beliefs in God, the Bible, and about Christ. They can quote bible verses and talk about doctrines of the Trinity. James says, "big deal!" James 2:19 says, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” The devil believes in God! But that's not enough. Real faith is not just saying “I believe.” Do you attend church? Do you tithe? Do you read and study your Bible on your own? Do you pray regularly? Which leads us to the fifth and final way that you can know you have real faith.
5. REAL FAITH IS SOMETHING YOU DO
In the next couple of verses James gives two illustrations that say real faith is something you do. Faith is active. Two illustrations of two very different people, Abraham and Rahab -- exact opposite extremes. They only had one thing in common -- their faith in God. Their faith in God led them to an action.
James 2:20-26: “You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”
Our faith is not determined by what we do; it is demonstrated by what we do.
Our behavior shows what we really believe. 2 Corinthians 13:5 says, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?”