Big Idea: James is teaching us what authentic, saving faith entails.
I once bought a watch bearing the name ‘Rolex’ from a guy in Bali (about 30 years ago).
The memory has lasted but not the watch.
It looked for all the world like a Rolex. Even had the little bubble above the date window. But it was a counterfeit; I know, you are all surprised by that. Turns out that despite appearances and the assurances of the Balinese salesman, there is a significant difference between the real item and a counterfeit one.
In our passage we will learn that there are some similarities between wristwatches and faith.
Either can be authentic or counterfeit. The difference between authentic and counterfeit wristwatches is a few thousand dollars.
James says the difference between authentic faith and counterfeit faith is far higher than that!
What are the marks of authentic faith?
Authentic Faith is not …
All talk and no action is counterfeit faith. What’s the good of talk without action? That’s the question in v14.
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?
James is contending that the right sounding words apart from supporting actions are useless.
Is that a saving faith? James is expecting us to give a negative response, a ‘no’ answer.
That kind of faith is not authentic, that kind of faith will not save, faith that is not accompanied by works is counterfeit. In fact, all talk and no action is worse than useless. Take a look at James’ example. v15-16.
If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?
These are words expressing concern and raising hopes only to be let down through lack of action.
Proverbs tells us that a loud greeting early in the morning will be considered a curse. Teenagers would agree with that.
How much more of a curse is this greeting? You are a part of a church family. Cold and hungry because for whatever reason you can’t afford the necessities of life.
Some chubby brother in a thick new coat rocks up and issues you a loud blessing – Shalom! Be warm and well-fed.
You can’t help thinking, expecting that there will be some relief on its way, something warm, something filling – how good is it to be a part of a loving church family you think … just as this well fed, warm brother barrels off to give another empty salutation to others.
What good are those words? They expound the issue but exclude the solution. State the obvious but offer no relief. James says, v17
So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
Notice that James does not call this immature faith; or starting out faith, or even weak faith.
This faith is worse than useless. It is dead. During COVID while living in a unit in Sydney Jo and I planted some vegies in pots on our balcony. Dreams of a great harvest. But for whatever reason all our plants died. Even the chilli bush – I thought they were indestructible. Totally destroyed our dreams of becoming self-sufficient. Picture it; everything shrivelled, brown, dried up and useless.
Like our vegie plants, faith by itself, if it does not have works is dead.
James’ point here is NOT that if you help the poor you will have salvation.
Although, if we claim to have faith and yet the hungry are left hungry and the needy left needy and the struggling are left alone and the lost are left in the darkness of sin and death then we will be prime examples of all talk and no action.
James is saying that the right sounding words apart from supporting actions are useless, dead. They exhibit a counterfeit faith.
You might be able get through this life passing off a counterfeit faith to those around you.
But in the end, on the day of judgement it will not save you – and you will be condemned.
“Away from me I never knew you.”
James’ warning is that in the context of judgment, words without action will lead to death. Anyone can make a claim. But is that claim authentic.
It means that you really need to test your claim. Is my faith impacting my life, shaping my life?
You might claim that you attended a Christian rally years back, or were in a Scripture class, or a youth group when you were younger, you put your hand up and said a prayer. All good, I’m in. James says, that’s the sole basis of your claim? Faith is more than words; more than a one-time commitment.
It is possible to make the claim of faith without having authentic faith, saving faith. All talk and no action in the arena of faith and judgment is deadly.
Don’t be that guy, don’t be that girl, and don’t let others be them either.
Help one another live out our faith in Jesus. Can you see that it matters how we live out our claim.
Authentic faith is NOT all talk and no action. Read v17
Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
Authentic Faith is not …
But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
In v18 James is engaging in active listening – repeating back what has been said.
James says, “so I hear you saying that you have faith and I have works.”
Well, says James, let me respond. My works display my faith. How will you display your faith apart from works? I’m interested to know.
We don’t hear the other side of the conversation, but James repeats the answer … v19a
You believe that God is one; you do well.
Oh, you claim that your faith is authentic because you have orthodox theology; you can state the nature of God. you can show that Jesus is Lord You can quote the Bible. you believe in the afterlife Great work.
But let me show you why that is not enough. v19b.
Even the demons believe-and shudder!
Did you know that 40% of Australians believe in a higher power? Here is a more astounding statistic; James says 100% of demons believe in God.
Demons. Those utterly opposed to God and to God’s ways and to God’s people. They have good theology, solid theology. So good it scares them. SHUDDER!
Here’s what we know about demon theology just by reading through the Gospels.
They know this stuff, they truly believe it – it makes them shudder. But it does not shape their lives in a Godward direction. It does not impact positively on their works.
That knowledge, even if right and true, will not save.
I think we all know the theory behind losing weight, or increasing fitness. Some of us could probably talk for hours about these things if inclined.
Or maybe you’ve read Barefoot Investor and know all about how to save money and get out of debt.
Or maybe it’s the theory of work life balance, or leadership, or being a successful entrepreneur.
Or maybe you’re studying and can tell us all about good habits and techniques to help us learn and remember.
You can know all that stuff but still not act on it. In fact, that’s how the diet and fitness industry and the self-help industry makes money.
The point is that theory which does not bring transformation is useless.
And James says that what is true of demons can be true of you.
Theory, theology no matter how orthodox, no matter how covenantal, no matter how reformed, no matter how correct – will not save you.
Reading the Bible in a year won’t save you. Knowledge but, not salvation.
Completing Christianity Explored won’t save you. Insight, clear picture of Jesus and his claims, but alone, will not save you.
Need to Know, Full of Promise … won’t save you.
Act on the information.
We need to be on guard at Growth Groups against speaking around a passage, chasing all the worm holes but never actually talking about how the Word needs to transform us (not others).
All theory and no action is v20 Useless.
Proverbs 19:24 The sluggard buries his hand in the dish and will not even bring it back to his mouth.
That does nothing for you. Will not sustain. Does not bring life.
So, neither does counterfeit faith which is all theory and no action.
Authentic faith is …
You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.
Authentic faith is trust AND action.
Does this verse mean that the Reformation got it wrong? Protest.ant – because the ones whose tradition we follow protested against the teaching of the Roman Catholic church which says you need to add your own efforts to the sacrifice of Jesus to be saved. Jesus + works.
One of the great pillars of the Reformation was Faith Alone. Trust in Jesus.
Is James saying something different; Jesus+works? Does he contradict the Apostle Paul? Ephesians 2:8-9
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Grace = you are not treated as your sins deserve. The debt of your disobedience and rebellion against the Holy God is paid through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Faith = taking God at his word when he promises that we are made right with him only by trusting in Jesus’ sacrifice and not on our own efforts/merits.
Paul says, God has initiated this in you. Apart from His work you would not even realise that you needed rescue.
Swimming in the ocean unaware of the shark zeroing in on you; until the lifesaver’s announcement and the shark siren
Eph 2:1 … you were DEAD in sin. Same word, same concept that James uses for counterfeit faith.
Ever seen a dead body? Vacated … especially if you knew them. You just look at them and think, they are not there. It looks like them but that’s not them.
Apart from God’s work in us we would be dead in sin.
But if we have authentic saving faith we are alive. But alive for a purpose. Ephesians 2:10
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
We have been given this new life in Christ to DO GOOD WORKS, which God has organised us to do. That is God’s plan for us. James is not contradicting Paul. Authentic faith is displayed by our works. Because that is God’s intent in saving us.
Works do not bring salvation But salvation brings works.
Works are the fruit of salvation not the root of salvation.
v21 Abraham displayed authentic faith.
Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?
Not only was Isaac Abraham’s son but Isaac being alive was the only way that God’s promises for Abraham and for all the nations of the world would be fulfilled.
God’s request was HUGE because His promise was huge. But even in the face of such potential devastation and loss Abraham trusted that God was good to his word.
You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”-and he was called a friend of God.
Abraham’s faith, his claim to trust in God and his works, his obedience even when humanly speaking this was going nowhere good worked together – in sync. His faith was completed. Shown to be whole, mature.
The bank note of faith was inspected, held up to the light and it proved authentic, acceptable and credited by God.
We are not asked to offer child sacrifices. But we are called to be living sacrifices. To give your whole selves in the service of God wherever he places you. Problem with living sacrifices crawl off the alter.
What will keep us from crawling off? To be like Rahab v25, the Canaanite prostitute (Joshua) who hearing of the God of Israel and the blessing he promised to his people BET HER LIFE ON HIM. Left the people of her old life for those of her new one. Because, to hold onto her old life would have meant death.
The old life leads to death. God’s invitation is to live.
Authentic faith. Not empty talk or theory, but trust. Putting her full weight on the rope.
Ever been abseiling? Lean right back over the void. Trust the harness, put your full weight on the rope. Counterintuitive.
Rahab’s name is in Jesus’ family tree – Matthew 1. You can too.
All in for Jesus. Abraham: no future apart from trusting God. Rahab: no life apart from trusting in God. Actions which showed that trust. Taking God at his word. No good apart from his provision. No wisdom apart from his word.
In the arena of eternal reward, you cannot lose living your life all in for the gospel. But the call is to live out your hope now.
For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
There it is again. A clear and loving warning. Don’t do dead faith.
Counterfeit watch. Didn’t stand the test of time (pun intended). I gave it to one of my brothers. He really enjoyed it but a few months in he bumped it and the whole thing just fell apart.
Authentic faith, proved by its fruit, will stand the test of time.
Author Sam Alberry is helpful …
Deedless Christianity is dead Christianity. It is counterfeit. Faith that has no impact on behaviour is not authentic Christian faith.
The last day is coming.
Commendation from the King will be so sweet; Well done good and FAITHFUL servant. Come into the place I have prepared for you.
Is that your deepest hope?