“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” James 2:14-17
James now calls into question the genuineness of anyone who professes to have faith but who isn’t living it out. He is telling us that genuine faith must be visible. It must impact on how we live and shape how we act. Our faith must inspire us to work. Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the mount that you will be able to tell a tree but its fruit (Matthew 7:15-20) and here James is making the exact same point – you will be able to tell if someone truly has saving faith by their works.
It is easy to tick a box or raise a hand during an altar call, and there are many who believe that because they prayed a prayer once that is them saved. But Jesus warns us there are many who will call out “Lord, Lord” to whom He will say “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matthew 7:21-23) – simply declaring yourself to be a Christian will not save you – it must be a genuine heart transformation. And when you have a genuine encounter with the living God you become changed. You cannot remain the same. Once you grasp how much God loved us even when we were dead in sin then you can’t help but start to love those around you. When you see what Jesus did for us in our need then you can’t help but respond by feeding the hungry, clothing the sick, visiting those in prison and doing all that we can for the least (see Matthew 25:31-46). Genuine faith cannot help but burst out of us in the form of works.
James is telling us faith must be practical. It can’t all be about theory and head-knowledge. It must also be expressed in our deeds. We can’t just talk about it, we must do it too. It must be evident to those around us that we have genuine faith through us doing things that are good for those in need. Our faith is not to be a private personal thing but is to be seen, visible to those around us. We must be people who are known not just for what we are against but also for what we are for – we must be known as being pro-love, pro-peace, pro-justice, pro-healing, pro-restoration. We must let the genuineness of our faith be seen by how it impacts how we act towards those around us. We must not just have the head knowledge but we need to live it out. We must let those looking at us see that our faith is alive by the good deeds we do for God.