Jump Start # 1952
James 2:14 “What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has not works? Can that faith save him?
Balance—that’s what we have been looking at this week. Balance in our thinking about who we are. Balance in what we know and what we do. Continuing with that we come to one of the largest discussions involving balance and that is faith and works.
The very mention of works, to some is like finding a snake in your yard. They run screaming. Since the days of the reformation when theologians were combatting the Catholic concept of doing good deeds to earn a right into Heaven, they turned the other way and went too far. From those reforms came a belief that one can be saved solely on faith and that anything done, anything, would be considered works. This idea caught hold and is believed to this day. It is believed that faith only is the way a person is saved. So, troublesome was James 2, a chapter about works, that some questioned whether it really belonged in the Bible.
Notice some faith-works thoughts from James 2:
- Faith if it has no deeds is dead (17)
- Faith without deeds is useless (20)
- Man is justified by deeds and not by faith alone (24)
- Faith without works is dead (26)
Our verse asks, can faith without works save a person? James asks, “show me your faith without your works?” That can’t be done. Live a good moral life, you have just shown works. Worship God, you have shown works. Talk honestly and decently? You have just shown works. Faith by it’s very definition is meant to lead to action. If I believe, I will obey. Noah believed that there was going to be a flood. His faith moved him to obey God and build the ark. Hebrews 11 says, “by faith Noah…prepared the ark.” Noah’s faith led to actions. The same is true of all the Hebrew 11 heroes. Faith leads to doing what God says.
To say a person believes, but his life is not changed, improved nor obedient to God, really brings question about his belief. The greatest balance concept in the N.T. is faith and works. Both are needed. Works without faith doesn’t exist. Why would someone do what God says unless he first believes? But to have faith without works gives us a person who is unchanged by the Gospel message.
Which is more important, faith or works? Both are equal. It starts with faith. Faith is first. From that faith, a person becomes what God wants. Because of that faith a person obeys, worships, and is busy in the kingdom. God wants His people busy in the kingdom. The kingdom grows because of God’s people who are busy doing what He says. A full church house on Sunday is great. But if that large crowd is unwilling to take what they learn and use it, what good is that? Faith needs works. Works is nothing more than faith in action.
The greater our faith, the more we will put the kingdom first in our lives. The greater the faith the more we will be involved and engaged in teaching, encouraging and helping others. When people ask, “How much should I give on Sunday?” The answer is based upon faith. The greater the faith, the more you will want to give. The more you believe the more you want to back what is being done. This is true of many aspects of our Christian life. How often should I attend worship? The greater the faith, the more a person will do all that he can to be at every service. He sees the value of worship. He understands that it’s not just a time to praise God, but it’s a moment to encourage each other, strengthen that faith and fellowship like believers. How often should I pray? The answer is based upon faith. The more you believe, the more you want to talk to God. The more you believe the more you will include God in your life. As your faith grows, you will be more thankful. As your faith increases, you’ll seek God’s help more and more in your life.
All of these things grow out of our faith. But to have a faith and it doesn’t change me, or move me closer to God is not really a faith at all. It might be knowledge or understanding, but not real faith. James repeatedly says, faith without works is dead. Our verse, can faith without works save a person? What would that look like? Here is a guy who says he believes, he claims he has faith. Look at his life. That’s what James is asking us to do. What do you see? He doesn’t worship with God’s people. His habits and lifestyle is sinful. He is not pure, righteous, nor walking by faith. He never prays. He doesn’t read the Bible. His language is crude and offensive. He is selfish, mean spirited and worldly. Spiritual thoughts never cross his mind. He never thinks about the church. His life hasn’t improved at all. Jesus doesn’t mean much to him. But when he dies, his family will insist that he was a believer and that he is in Heaven. They’ll find a preacher that agrees. James simply asks, “can that faith save him?” I’d take it a step further and wonder, did he even believe? What would be the evidence? Where’s the proof?
It’s similar to a man who claims he loves his wife, but he runs around on her. He is unfaithful. He embarrasses her. He never does what she wants. He insults her. Now, he may say he loves her, but his actions do not show that. This is what James is driving at. Balance. Do our actions show that we believe? Preachers used to say, “Does your walk match your talk?”
If I have faith, it will do something to me. We walk by faith. We walk in the light. We walk in love. All of those principles are born from a heart that believes. Balance. Will a person go to Heaven because he worships, is kind and watches what he says? No. A person is saved by faith. It is faith that saves us. That faith will lead to changes. Just as the reformers parked at faith only, we can park at works only. Both are wrong. Balance. Drop the “only” part. Faith and works. I am saved by faith. My faith is known and illustrated by what I do. Why I do what I do, is because of what I believe and who I am.
Faith and works…together and in the proper order!