James introduces this section by suggesting a problem he must have observed. “What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions?” Certainly we’d all agree that faith should show itself through deeds of loving service.
In a recent Bible study discussion, I marveled at my pastor husband, David’s comment about this text. He posed an interesting scenario of observing a discussion about faith between our author here, James, and the apostle Paul. We’d see two very faithful men with two very different perspectives. Is that a bad thing? After all, the gospels all talk about Jesus’ life and ministry from different viewpoints. When it comes to understanding our faith, these differences can be confusing.
For me, faith is trusting in God even though I cannot see him. It goes beyond “believing” in God because, as James tells us, even the demons believe. In Deuteronomy 6:4-6 we see a helpful distinction that our faith should involve loving God. “Listen, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today.”
Those words would speak volumes to James’s Jewish audience. However, it seems like there must have been a lot of “lip service” going on in his day of people professing their faith but doing nothing to show it. It’s like telling someone you love them but then doing nothing to make them feel treasured.
If James’ purpose here was to wake up the Jewish Christians in his community so they’d put their faith into action, he does so in a bold way by telling them their faith is dead without actions. It might do us good to look in the mirror and see how we are displaying our faith. What do others see when they look at us?
What do you think about this? When we truly have faith in God, we can’t help but act in ways that honor Him and help others to grow in their relationship with God. Those are the works James is talking about when he says, “I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” That would certainly have challenged people who were lazy in their faith thinking that was enough to be right with God.
To illustrate, James gives us a couple examples his Jewish audience would recognize. For Abraham and Rahab, their faith was easy to see because it was displayed in their actions. Because of their faith, they were made right with God. A man (Abraham) doesn’t come that close to sacrificing his only son without first having a strong faith. When our own faith results in the by-product of good deeds or obedience, our connection with God deepens.
Interesting that James used Rahab, a Gentile, as his other example here. Her story may have been a little less familiar, but she clearly made a sacrifice to show her faith in the one true God. Rahab’s deed of protecting God’s messengers on their mission to enter the promised land was bold, considering her position in society. She wasn’t afraid to let her faith spill out and make a difference.
One last troubling line for me was: “So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone.” According to James, to be “shown” as righteous, we need to act on our faith, not just have faith. Again, looking to Paul’s counsel about righteousness, he writes in Romans 1:17: “This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” It’s God’s actions that make us right with him when we have faith.
How did this passage speak to you? It’s a good reminder to look at how we interact with others. How are you living out your faith? Are you keeping it to yourself or acting it out for others to see?
Let’s pray. Father, there were some challenging parts to this reading. Grant me wisdom and discernment. I trust you with my life and hope that my actions reveal that to the world. Help me to reflect you in all I say and do. Forgive me for those times when I forget to ask you for help or simply don’t act out my faith due to uncertainty. In Jesus’ name. Amen.