(The following is a summary of the sermon that was preached on January 10, 2021, by Michael Larsen.)
James 2:14-26 was written to help you know the difference between real faith and fake faith.
Dear brothers and sisters,
what's the use of saying you have faith if you don't prove it by your actions? That kind of faith can't save anyone. Suppose you see your brother or sister who needs food or clothing, and you say to them, "I wish you well. I feel for you. I hope you stay warm and eat well." But then you do nothing to meet their needs. What good does your sympathy do? It's worth nothing.
In the same way, faith if it is not accompanied by actions, doesn't work. It's dead and it's useless. Now, someone may argue, "Well, some people can have faith while other people do good deeds." But I say, I can't see your faith if I don't see any good works in you, I don't see any good works to show for it. In contrast, I will show you my faith by my good deeds.
Now you say, "Well, I believe there is a God." And I say, "Well, good for you." But even the demons believe that and they are afraid. It's foolish not to realize that faith in God is useless if you don't do what God wants you to do.
James and Paul don't contradict each other. Instead, they complement each other. For example, when Paul is writing, the emphasis of Paul is on how to know I'm saved. But the emphasis of James is how to show I'm saved, how to show I'm saved. Paul's focus when he writes about this, he's focusing on the root of my salvation, which is internal and unseen. James is focusing on the fruit of my salvation, which is external, and visible. It's two sides of the same coin. When Paul talks about,"Works," he's talking about keeping Jewish laws in order to become a believer. He says, "You can't do that because they won't save you." But when James uses the same term, and he talks about works or good deeds, he's talking about living like Jesus, because you already are a believer.
So what is real faith? Well, James first tells us four things that real faith is not. And then he gives us two examples of what real faith really is. Now, as we go through this today, you might use these points as a quiz for self evaluation. Do I have these saving faith items in my life?
First, James 2:14 says this: Dear brothers and sisters, what's the use of saying you have faith if you don't prove it by your actions? That kind of faith can't save anybody. Here's the first thing he says real faith is not.
1. Real faith is more than just the words I say.
Claiming that I have real faith doesn't prove that I have real faith. James is saying, "Just because you say you have faith doesn't mean you actually have it. Real faith is more than words."
Matthew 7:21 Jesus says this, "Not everyone who says that I am their Lord is going to enter the kingdom of heaven." Jesus says, "The only people who'll enter heaven are those who do what my father in heaven wants them to do."
2. Real faith is more than just an emotion I feel.
He says that in verses 15-17. Suppose you see your brother or sister who needs food or clothing, and you say to them, "I wish you well. I feel for you. I hope you stay warm and eat well." But then you do nothing to meet their needs. What good does your sympathy do? It's worth nothing.
Real faith is practical. It gets involved with people's needs.
3. Real faith is more than an idea I debate.
And he says that in James 2:18. Now, someone may argue, "Well, some people can have faith while other people do good deeds." But I say, I can't see your faith if I don't see any good works in you, I don't see any good works to show for it. In contrast, I will show you my faith by my good deeds.
So how do you know if somebody really has faith? James says, “Look at their lifestyle.” Faith is really like calories. You can't see calories, but you can sure see the results of calories. And that's what faith is, you can't see faith. It's odorless, and it's invisible, but it's got results.
God cannot possibly come into your life without changing you visibly. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, "Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he's a new creature. The old has passed away the new has come." Everything becomes new. Now, it doesn't become new in your life overnight. But it does become new in your life over time. Real faith always produces a changed life.
4. Real faith is more than just a truth I believe.
And in James 2:19-20 he says this: Now you say, "Well, I believe there is a God." And I say, "Good for you." But even the demons believe that and they're afraid, they tremble they shudder.
Saying you believe in God will not get you into heaven because even the devil says that. James says, "Faith is something I do. Faith is a choice followed by an action. Faith is something I do. James 2:26 says, "Just as a body without a spirit doesn't breathe and is dead, so faith that doesn't do anything is just as dead."
James ends his little speech or essay on the difference between real faith and fake faith by giving us two actual examples of living by faith--Abraham and Rahab.
James 2:22-23 "Isn't it obvious," talking about Abraham. "That faith and works are yoked partners, that faith expresses itself through works, that the works are 'works of faith'. God accepted Abraham's faith, because he acted on it. And that faith made him right with God. So Abraham was called the friend of God."
God can use your life for good if you'll be like Rahab, who stepped out in faith, and showed her faith by her actions. That's real faith.
Ephesians 2:8-9 says this, "It is by grace, you have been saved through faith. By grace through faith for a life of good works, which God has already prepared for us to do." We're saved by grace. We're saved through faith. We're saved for a life of good works. Do you have all three parts in your life? If you're saved by grace, and you're saved through faith, it's gonna show up in your life. You can't have God come into your life and it not change you. Now, the order is important—by grace, through faith, for a lifetime of good works.
In light of what James said, here's the question you need to ask yourself, am I really a Christian after all? Have I really put my faith in Christ? How do you know that? What changes can you point to in your life and character? Is your lifestyle any different from unbelievers?