How many of you have ever heard “faith without works is dead?” Most Christians understand that we are saved by faith and faith alone, however, what exactly was the author of the book of James saying? This very question is what I want to devote this message to because it is profitable for our spiritual growth. However, to set a proper stage I must start with a little story.
One Sunday afternoon, as I walked out of a service filled with the Holy Spirit, I walked to the side of the church building. I sat back and watched as dozens of people rushed out of the doorway. The church’s band was still softly playing in the background and everyone was smiling and still saying “hallelujah.” It was obvious that the Holy Spirit worked in the service because of the outpouring of praises. So, I joined the crowd and we started to walk into the parking lot altogether. At the edge of the parking lot right next to the sidewalk was a homeless person. This homeless person had a shopping cart that he built a makeshift tent to help him get any from any inclement weather. You could tell that this man has not had anything to eat for some time and his clothes were ripped and extremely dirty. He sat by the sidewalk and stayed quite. As the crowds of church folk walked near him, many ignored him, while others said something vague like “we will pray for you” or “try to stay warm and dry tonight.”
As I watched the man, I could see his spirit slowly sinking. As I walked up to him and saw him hiding his face because he was sobbing, I thought to myself why is he crying? I heard the crowds of Christians telling him that they would pray for him and yet here he is hiding his tears. So, I walked up to him and asked why he was crying? He told me that no matter how much people say they are going to pray for him, not one of their prayers will fill his belly. Not one of their kind words will help him find a stable roof over his head, and not one of there comments will help him find a job to get back on his feet. This story is a valuable lesson about no matter how much faith you have without “works” your faith is dead and I want to explain to you why now.
This story I shared is my retelling of a biblical lesson taught to us by the Apostle James. It is written, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead,” (James 2:14-17, NIV).
It is with my story and my biblical reference that I can move forward into explaining why this message is valuable to each one of us today. It is a wrong notional belief of the Gospel to believe that true faith alone is good enough without showing some sort of works that come from that faith. Yes, our faith in Jesus Christ’s righteousness, atonement, and grace saves our souls, however, this true faith should produce holy fruits. Our faith is shown true by our works. What benefit do we have in this world if we simply accept our salvation and then do nothing to make the world a better place? God reveals to us in this Word that a Christian who believes in Him and professes their faith in His son Jesus Christ but does not act on their faith is not true faith at all. It is simply a superficial faith and at best the faith of someone in spiritual infancy.
There is no other way to prove that we believe in Jesus Christ other than being His ambassadors in this world. It does not matter what comes out of your mouth if actions based on His pure love do not accompany them. Our lives have to be filled with Gospel motives and Gospel purposes, if not, we are simply fooling ourselves. True believing is not simply the act of understanding what the Bible teaches but the acting of our whole heart. It is no different than the story I shared with you all about the crowds of people walking past the homeless man crying singing hallelujah and telling him that they would pray for him. Their faith was nothing but just words. There was no Gospel motives or purposes behind their words because there was no action.
If you continue reading the second chapter of James, you will find that he provides his audience with two examples of true faith generating good works. Both Abraham and Rahab. Abraham was used because he believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Abraham’s faith produced good works because he acted upon his faith in the Lord. He left his family and friends and became an alien out of his obedience and faith to the Lord. For Rahab, her conduct proved her faith to be living when she acted out and protected the Jewish spies in Jericho. So in these two examples, you see that works without faith are just as dead as faith without works. Our faith is a living thing and living a Gospel life means that we must act out the love given to us by Christ.
You see, by faith, anything we do is good as it is through our obedience to Christ. Another way to explain this lesson is by having you imagine that you are a tree. Our faith is like our roots. The more faith you have the more nutrients you receive. The more nutrients you receive the stronger you are. The stronger you are, the more fruits (good works) you should be producing. Someone who says that they have strong roots but produce no fruits for the Lord is worthless and simply wasting their breath. We must see that we have both good roots and good fruits. We must have faith that produces good works, if not, your faith is simply not genuine. This truth is the grace of God that we all should stand by. There is no middle ground, to think so is foolishness. We are either a friend to Christ and ambassadors to His mandate or we are an enemy to God. Living as a friend to God is a consequence of our faith which will justify and save not only us but the world. It obligates us to do nothing against Him but everything for Him, through His son Jesus Christ.
This is what it means to have true faith and that our faith without good works is simply no real faith at all. It is no different than seeing a homeless man outside of a church broken and afraid. Then, not doing anything to change his circumstances. If we do not adjust our lives to have a Gospel purpose and mission, we will never make the world a better place. Where that man needed some compassion and assistance, he received lip service. So what are we supposed to do you may ask? How many broken people do you see daily? How many people to you walk by holding back their tears and yet you do nothing? Pray for the Holy Spirit to illuminate a circumstance in your heart and to provide you with the discernment to do something about it. Find one person and invest the love, mercy, and grace partaken to you by Christ to them. Don’t just pray for them, try to help them where they are at. If they are hungry, feed them. If they are broken and afraid, listen to them and give them some compassion. You see, making the world a better place does not happen by saving thousands at a time, it comes from investing in one person at a time. It can be as simple as buying them a cup of coffee and letting them know that they have value or as complicated as helping them find a home. Either way, allow the Holy Spirit to guide you and you will come to understand this valuable lesson that God wants us to live out. Let’s start to make a difference together! Amen.