“Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?”
(James 2:17, The Message)
I recently bought a shirt. The first time I put it on, a button fell off. You know, when I buy a shirt, I expect it to hold up under normal conditions of wear and tear. But if I wear it once and it tears, or I wash it the first time and it falls apart in the washer, that shirt did not stand up to the test of being an active shirt. We have reasonable expectations that things will hold up to real life conditions. If I have a new car that breaks down after a few hundred miles, then I call that car a lemon because it did not stand up well to normal driving conditions. In the case of a shirt or a car or any other product, if it does not accomplish its intended purpose, I get another one.
When it comes to our “faith,” if it continually does not stand up to the normal rigors of living the Christian life, then I need a new life because my faith is not active. A strong robust faith in Jesus Christ does not just come by looking good in the store or at the car lot; genuine faith is active and can stand the muster of adversity.
Real faith is not just a matter of words and feelings; it is a matter of deeds and actions. “What good is it if a person claims to have faith but has no deeds?” the Apostle James asked the church. This is meant to wake up his readers so that they will realize that true faith is always active. “Can such faith save him?” (James 2:14-17). No, it cannot. That is the point. A faith that is not active is not really faith at all. But, you might wonder, I thought works did not save us. No, they do not. The Apostle Paul typically talked about the relationship between faith and works before a person has a conversion to Christ, whereas James talks about the role of works to faith after we have professed faith in Christ. Paul said that works cannot bring us to Christ; James said that once we come to Christ, works are a necessity. In fact, Paul put it all together in Ephesians 2:8-10 – “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
James is not discussing how to become a believer in Jesus, but how a believer in Jesus ought to live. And he does this by giving an illustration of the relationship between faith and works. If someone is in need and expresses a sentimental feeling, even if that feeling is sincere, without backing it up with action – that expression is only that – it does not help. I once came home after a long day at work on Valentine’s Day. I picked up some flowers at a drive through flower shop. I walked into the door and handed my wife the flowers with an “I love you.” Then, I sat down in a heap and turned on the TV. What was her response, you ask? It was not very favorable toward me. But I felt real feelings for her, and gave her some flowers, even though they were not very good looking ones. What was the problem? I did not really put any thought or action behind Valentine’s Day, and she knew it. My words of “I love you” just did not sync well with my actions.
If we want to be people of faith in Jesus, our actions will perfectly sync with our words. For example, when we say “I will pray for you” it needs to be much more than an expression of concern – we need to actually spend the time and commitment it takes in praying for them.
Faith is more than feelings. Faith cannot exist or survive without deeds. Works are not an added extra to faith any more than breathing is an added extra to the body. We need them both in order to live the Christian life.
--If we say worship of God is important, what will our actions be like?
--If we say the Bible is important, what will our actions be like?
--If we say that everyone needs the good news of Jesus Christ, what will our actions be like?
--If we say that family is important, what will our actions be like?
--If we say that our youth are a priority to the church, what will our actions look like?
Christianity is much more than a sentimental religion. Real faith in Jesus is always expressed through both loving words and loving actions. What is the Holy Spirit saying to you? Is there a potential action he wants you to do? Will you do it? How will you do it? When will you do it? Real faith stands up when it is tested.