Our Faith is Validated by Our Works (James 2:14-26)

I have a very interesting quote about the growth of Christianity. I will use this often; the quote is from the fourth century.

Emperor Julian (332-63)

Atheism [Christianity]has been specially advanced through the loving service rendered to strangers, and through their care for the burial of the dead.  It is a scandal that there is not a single Jew who is a beggar, and that the godless Galileans care not only for their own poor but for ours as well; while those who belong to us look in vain for the help that we should render them.[1]

The early church grew by helping others, taking care of people.

I want to look at James 2:14-26 and show you that faith and good works must go together.

Read James 2:14-26

14 What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? 17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.

18 But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” 19 You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. 20 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

  1. In verse 14 James give an exhortation by a question (verse 14).
    1. I actually count 6 questions in this passage. It seems that James communicated by questions.
    2. Notice in verse 14 James says “if a man ‘claims to’ or ‘says he has’ faith…”
    3. You see this is an example of a person saying they have faith. This is not something observable. This is not someone saying, “so and so has faith, I can tell.”
    4. But read the rest of verse 14: this man has no deeds. He has no good works. His actions don’t match his words. He claims to have faith but that is not observable.
    5. Answer the question. What do you think? Do you think it is good if a man or woman says they are a Christian, but their life doesn’t match up?
    6. To be a Christian means to be “like Christ” or “little Christ.”
    7. Some people are now calling themselves “Christ followers” in order to distinguish themselves from all the people who are “Christians” in name only.
    8. Read the next question: Can that faith save him?
    9. Now, let me ask you a question: Are we saved by works or are we saved by faith?
    10. When reading the Bible always remember that Scripture interprets Scripture. If we read Ephesians 2:8 it says we are saved by faith not by works. But Ephesians also says that we are saved for good works (Eph 2:10).
    11. So, I believe what James is really asking is: Do the works validate their faith? What we do should show we are Christians.
  2. In the next ten verses James gives 4 illustrations. One of those illustrations is a case study (verses 15-25).
    1. James gives us a very straightforward example. What good is it when we simply say, we’ll pray but we don’t help? Now, I know that many times you may not be able to physically help and prayer is very important. However, it is imperative that we do help as we can.
    2. Faith is dead without actions.
    3. Christians are the best and worst witnesses for and against Christianity. People are watching. People are watching now more than ever. As America’s culture becomes more and more secular this will allow Christians to shine. Or, this will allow Christians to look very bad to the world.
    4. Trouble is too many Christians, alleged Christians, don’t want to get their hands dirty.
    5. What do I mean?
    6. Many Americans are eager to send money but will not go help themselves.
    7. One way Americans are eager to send money but not get their hands dirty is that many times we are eager to pay towards a homeless shelter but not go and serve ourselves.
    8. There may be many reasons:
    9. It is in a bad section of town.
    10. We are too busy.
    11. It isn’t my gift.
    12. There is a book called: Same Kind of Different as Me.
    13. This book is a true story that follows two people’s paths in life until they meet up.
    14. One person was raised in a middle class white family. He grows up and becomes very successful and very wealthy.
    15. The second person is a poor uneducated black man. He grew up as a modern-day slave. His parents worked a farm and he did too. He experienced heavy racism. Eventually this man ran away. However, he never had been educated. He lived homeless and learned how to fend for himself.
    16. Eventually the wealthy white man, now married, is convinced by his wife to begin helping at a homeless shelter. They had committed their life to Christ and she wanted to go deeper. He was willing to give money, but she wanted to do more. So, they start helping at a homeless shelter. She then says that she wants to take one group from the homeless shelter to dinner and a play.
    17. Now, the relationship grows between this wealthy man and woman and this uneducated poor black man.
    18. The wealthy white man asks to take the uneducated black man out to breakfast. At breakfast the black man asks, “Why are you doing this?” the white man says, “To be your friend.” The black man says, “I like to fish, but I notice when white people fish they catch and release. I don’t want a ‘catch and release’ friendship.”
    19. Well, this wealthy husband and wife decided to do more than give money and because they did they touched many lives. One of those lives was that uneducated black man. Later on, they formed a friendship that will last the rest of their lives and has lasted the rest of her life, as he was there for the woman’s death. The wealthy white man and the uneducated black man published this book together.
    20. Let’s go back to James’ illustrations.
    21. James says he will show his faith by what he does.
    22. In verse 19, James begins to make the case that our belief doesn’t mean anything without actions. Even the demons have orthodox beliefs. Even the demons believe in one God, and they shudder.
    23. In verses 21-25, James give some Old Testament evidence.
    24. Abraham’s faith was verified by what he did, being willing to offer up Isaac.
    25. Verse 24: a person is justified by what he does, not by faith alone.
    26. Now, it appears that James uses “justify” in a different way than Paul does. Justify usually means to declare righteous. But from context it appears that James uses this verb to mean that their faith is declared right. James is saying that your faith is validated by your works.
    27. You are not saved by works, but your works validate your faith.
    28. Verse 25 shows that Rahab’s faith was validated by her aid to the Israelite spies.
  • The exhortation (verse 26)
    1. The body is dead without the spirit.
    2. So, we also have not real faith without works. Our faith is dead, it has no life, without works.

Chuck Swindoll shares:

Persistence pays.

It’s a costly investment, no question about it. But the dividends are so much greater than the original outlay that you’ll almost forget the price. And if the final benefits are really significant, you’ll wonder why you ever hesitated to begin with.

A primary reason we are tempted to give up is other people . . . you know, the less than 20 percent whose major role it is in life to encourage others to toss in the towel. For whatever reason. Those white-flag specialists never run out of excuses you and I ought to use for quitting. The world’s full of “why-sweat-it” experts.

I’m sure Anne Mansfield Sullivan had a host of folks telling her that the blind, 7-year-old brat wasn’t worth it. But Anne persisted—in spite of temper tantrums, physical abuse, mealtime madness, and even thankless parents. In her heart she knew it was worth all the pain. Was it ever! Within two years her pupil, Helen Keller, was able to read and write in braille. She ultimately graduated cum laude from Radcliffe College (where Miss Sullivan had “spelled” each lecture into her hand), and Helen Keller devoted the rest of her life to aiding the deaf and the blind.

Want another for instance? Well, this particular man was told that if he hadn’t written a book by age thirty-five, chances were good he never would. He was almost forty, I should add. There were others who reminded him that for every book published, ninety-five became dust-collecting manuscripts. But he persisted. Even though he was warned that stories like he wanted to write weren’t popular. Nor were they considered worthy of top prizes in the literary field (his work later won the Pulitzer). Hollywood hotshots also told him such a book certainly held no dramatic possibilities. But James Michener hung tough. He refused to wash the desire out of his hair as he persisted. And he presented to the public Tales of the South Pacific. Oh, by the way, the Broadway critics had warned, “It’ll never make a musical.”

How many military battles would never have been won without persistence? How many men and women would never have graduated from school . . . or changed careers in midstream . . . or stayed together in marriage . . . or reared a mentally disabled child? Think of the criminal cases that would never have been solved without the relentless persistence of detectives. How about the great music that would never have been finished, the grand pieces of art that would never have graced museums, cathedrals, and monuments the world over? Back behind the impeccable beauty of each work is a dream that wouldn’t die mixed with the dogged determination of a genius of whom this indifferent world is not worthy.

Think also of the speeches, the sermons, the books that have shaped thinking, infused new hope, prompted fresh faith, and aroused the will to win. For long and lonely hours away from the applause—even the awareness—of the public, the one preparing that verbal missile persisted all alone with such mundane materials as dictionary, thesaurus, historical volumes, biographical data, and a desk full of other research works. The same could be said of those who labor to find cures for diseases. And how about those who experiment with inventions?

I once heard about a couple of men who were working alongside the inventor Thomas Edison. Weary to the point of exasperation, one man sighed, “What a waste! We have tried no less than seven hundred experiments and nothing has worked. We are not a bit better off than when we started.”

With an optimistic twinkle in his eye, Edison quipped, “Oh, yes, we are! We now know seven hundred things that won’t work. We’re closer than we’ve ever been before.” With that, he rolled up his sleeves and plunged back in.

If necessity is the mother of invention, persistence is certainly the father.

God honors it. Maybe because He models it so well. His love for His people, the Jews, persists to this very day, even though they have disobeyed Him more often than they have loved Him in return. And just think of His patient persistence in continually reaching out to the lost, “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). And how about His persistence with us? You and I can recall one time after another when He could have (and should have!) wiped us out of the human race, but He didn’t. Why? The answer is in Philippians 1:6:

He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (NIV)

The One who began will continue right up to the end. Being the original finisher, He will persist. I’m comforted to know He won’t be talked out of a plan that has to do with developing me. I need help! Don’t you?[2]

Persist in good works.

Pray.

 

[1] Neill, Stephen. A History of Christian Missions, Second Edition, Revised by Owen Chadwick. 1991. Pages 38.

[2] Excerpted from Come Before Winter and Share My Hope, Copyright © 1985, 1988, 1994 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide. Used by permission.

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