Faith That Works
You can’t row a boat in a straight line by pulling on only one oar. It takes two. Faith and works are the two oars of the Christian life. You’re declared righteous before God by faith alone. But not by a faith that’s alone. Living faith changes character and conduct.
Some who profess living faith don’t possess it (verse 14). Being brought up in the church creates an easy familiarity with gospel words. That can be dangerous. Many church regulars are inoculated with gospel words without life-change. They know about Jesus. But Christianity is more than mental agreement that the Bible is God’s word, Jesus is God’s Son, and Jesus’ death on the cross saves you. Living faith radically changes your life when Jesus becomes the center of it.
James illustrates a faith that doesn’t affect everyday life (verses 15–16). One who professes faith but ignores the desperate needs of other Christians is a living contradiction. True faith is evidenced by love for God, others, and yourself. That love actively meets others’ needs.
Living faith is visible. It’s “seen” by its works. You judge the quality of a bean seed by the taste of its fruit. You judge the quality of faith by what it does.
Living faith is more than “believing in” God. Faithful Jews twice daily recited a creed from Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” It’s true. But repeating it has no saving power. The demons know there’s only one God. As a result, they shudder with fear (verse 19). But their “belief” doesn’t change how they live.
By contrast, living faith is commitment of self to Christ. Peace with God is the result. Believing God exists doesn’t save anyone. Knowing about Jesus isn’t the same as having a relationship with Him that changes character and conduct.
Obedience demonstrates living faith. James presents two historical examples. In verse 22 we see Abraham wasn’t justified on the basis of what he did alone. His faith and actions worked together. He was declared righteous by faith alone before Isaac was born (Genesis 15:6). Thirty years later his obedience validated that faith when God asked him to sacrifice Isaac. Living faith is faith-obedience, faith-love, and faith-commitment. Living faith produces good works. A crabapple tree can claim to be a Winesap, but its fruit proves otherwise.
Rahab the harlot was a Gentile, a woman, and a harlot. She was on the bottom rung of the social ladder. James assumes you know the story. She acknowledged the God of Israel when she said, “the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below” (Joshua 2:11, NIV). Her living, active faith moved her to risk her life to protect the Israelite-spies Joshua sent to Jericho. Like Abraham, she was declared righteous by a good works-producing faith. Living faith changes character and conduct. What does your way of life reveal about your faith?
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