We are in week 4 of our journey through the Book of James. While some have accused James’ letter of being contradictory to Paul’s letters, which emphasize salvation by grace alone, such is not the case. Paul emphasizes our justification is by grace alone through faith alone. In other words, Paul is explaining how one is saved. James, on the other hand, is writing to believers and is concerned primarily with how this salvation is exhibited to others. For James, it is not enough for us to say we follow Jesus—our progressive sanctification should be evident in how we live our lives on a daily basis.
One of the things I love about James (though I am sure it caused him to get into more than a few arguments) is how direct he is. He doesn’t pull any punches. James makes it quite clear that true, saving faith necessarily results in a transformed life, and that transformed life is best evidenced in actions which impact the tangible needs of others. James doesn’t care if you faithfully attend church or can quote the Bible. He doesn’t even care if you can point to the day and the hour that you prayed a sinner’s prayer. James asserts that real faith produces real action. Words and confessions are not enough.
By way of illustration, imagine you have a beautiful chair. Everything you know about this chair tells you it is secure and trustworthy. You have a manual detailing its painstakingly sure construction. You have the Manufacturer’s warranty. In fact, you’ve even witnessed multiple people sit securely in the chair and have heard them rave about its comfort and sureness. Does it really matter how much you BELIEVE the chair is trustworthy if you never actually act on that belief and sit in the chair? Such is the case with our faith. Scripture tells us that Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness, but how do we know Abraham believed? We know he believed God because he left his homeland and family behind to obey God’s call. We know he believed because he put Isaac on the altar and raised the knife to sacrifice him. What we believe and what we say do matter, but words ring hollow when our lives don’t align with our professions of faith.
I love how Warren Wiersbe summarizes this interplay between faith and works based on Ephesians 2:8-10:
- There’s the work God does for us (salvation). We have been saved by grace, not by works.
- There’s the work God does in us (sanctification). We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus.
- There’s the work God does through us (service). We have been created for good works, ordained by God.
If our lives don’t exhibit all three works of God, then it is time for us to do some serious evaluation of our faith, for James claims such faith is dead. However, let me add a word of caution on this point. This call to evaluate faith is a call to introspection, not inspection. It is an admonition for each of us to seriously consider the nature of our own faith, not the faith of others. When we test the genuineness of our own faith, it leads us to an attitude of humility, but when we start judging the faith of others, it more often than not leads us to an attitude of pride.
- Read Ephesians 2:8-10. How are each of the three works of God different? How do they build upon one another?
- Review the examples of Abraham and Rahab. When did their faith arise? How did their faith influence their actions? Would their faith have been genuine if they had not acted? Why or why not?
- Consider the example James gives in verses 14-17. What are some ways the modern church might give empty blessings like this? What are some practical ways we can exhibit our faith through action in our community?
- Take a moment to personally consider the three works of God in your own life. Are all three evident in your life? Why or why not? What needs to change?