Read James 2:14-26
14What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If 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? 17In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. 19You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that — and shudder.
20You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend. 24You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
25In 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? 26As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. (NIV)
This is a passage in James that many point to as being opposed to Paul in his emphasis on faith. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians writes very boldly, “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.” (Eph 2:8-9) And yet we have James very boldly speaking of works. I think this argument persists because in one sense we want to separate works and faith. It is a case of either or. This is the argument that James seems to address in verse 18 were he puts forth that argument by writing, “But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds."
For James, our faith must propel us to action. This is the example he starts with about a person who is without clothes or food and you simply empathize with that person. It does no good to that person. When we see a need, we are called to help. This was very big in Jewish thought. Some Jewish teaching said, “Water will quench a flaming fire, and alms makes an atonement for sin.” And another teaching said, “Everyone who gives himself in alms shall see the face of God.” Jewish teaching believed in helping deeds.
For James, he is arguing against a perverted view of Paul’s teaching. We can take “faith alone” to mean we don’t have to actually do anything. But it we look at Ephesians 2:10, the sentence right after Paul says we are saved through faith, not works, he says, “For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
We are to do good things. God has prepared good things for us to do. James points to the faith of Abraham and Rahab. Both have been written up as having great faith. But both demonstrated their faith in action. For James, if our faith does not move us to action, it is dead. Faith and deeds go hand in hand. We see this in love. When we love, that love propels us to action. We do because we love. And for James, we act because we have faith. Our deeds are a projection of our faith. It is what people see. Jesus told his disciples at the last supper he was giving them a new commandment. He said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." John 13:34-35
For people to see love, there must be action in that love. There must be something to see. Our deeds are what people see. Our deeds are how we demonstrate God’s love to the world we live in. We do not do deeds to earn God’s love. We already have it. We do these things because of that love.
How does your faith propel you to action? Do we see love as an active expression as opposed to a passive expression?
Blessings and Peace