A Faith that Works
I think that many of the arguments we have as Christians hinge on the definition of words that we assume are the same for everyone. We often equivocate and are not clear on exactly what we mean; and because of that, we often misunderstand each other. I believe that James was clarifying the meaning of saving faith and working faith when he wrote this passage.
Most Christians would agree there is nothing we can do to earn God’s grace. We are caught in a fractured world that we inherently know is warped and unfixable. We know, if we are completely honest, that we too are warped and that many times, the things we do are NOT what God would have us do. That’s why Jesus came! In order to restore order out of the chaos, which has become our world, God put on human flesh and came to Earth as the Christmas child to be the Paschal Lamb for His people. Our faith or belief in that fact and our agreement that we need it and want it are the pathway to the justification God provides.
What is justification? It is a legal term that describes our redemption. It is God choosing to adopt us as sons and daughters. It is saying that God does not hold our sin against us and that He is making our lives new. It is also the part of salvation that says I am His, I am no longer an alien, or stranger to God. I am now His servant. So then what? How shall we live in faith?
The answer to that is what James addresses in James 2:14-26. He is addressing those who would stop at justification and not attempt to reach out to others. They are “selfish” with their faith; it’s all about them. James tells us it is not the faith that God wants. God gave His love to us with a full expectation that we would reciprocate by giving that same type of sacrificial love to others. We don’t live for our own pleasure, we live for the pleasure of others as God sees fit. We died at our baptism (Gal 2:20). We were bought with the price of Jesus’ life, for the purpose of reconciling the world to Him just as we were reconciled to Him (2Cor 5:17-21). The type of faith that responds with love to what God has already done for us is a faith that does good works for others. It is not for the person who is giving to look good; it is for God to look good, precisely because He is good. This type of faith allows others to be saved.
If my life lacks compassion for others, if it is primarily concerned with me, then I am neither aware of, nor obedient to God’s concern for me. Jesus said whatever you do to the least of these, you have done for me! So, your good works tell Jesus that you appreciate what He has done for you. You are not earning His favor, you already have it, and you did nothing for it, it is undeserved.
The value of your faith, or how you can know it is genuine, is shown my how you treat others, how you share what was given to you and how you view other people. Even the popular pundits or political candidates you don’t like. What does God think of you? That’s how you should treat them. So how are you doing? Who have you fed? Clothed? Prayed for? Sat with? Loved? How has your behavior toward the least of these shown your love for God?
Read James 2:14-26
- Can faith save you? Why or why not?
- Justify this with bible verses (Eph. 2:8-10)
- Can works save you? Why or why not?
- Justify this with verses (Romans 3;23; Ro 6:23; Ro 5:8)
- What is the relationship between works and faith (2Cor. 5:17-21)
- How do works complete our faith?
- Discuss the differences between God’s justification and man’s justification (v22)
- Discuss James idea of justification by works after reading Gen 22
- Discuss Paul’s idea of justification by faith after reading Gen 15
- Discuss how these two ideas can fit together without contradiction each other.
- Ask God for the wisdom to discern where your church might be misunderstanding these concepts.
- Talk about ways you can promote the right kind of good works in your church and community.