“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 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? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:14-17)
James is concerned with the kind of faith that transforms our lives. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) The new birth experience is exactly what God says it is—a fresh beginning. When we are born again, we not only have our sin forgiven and our guilt removed, but we also receive the Holy Spirit—who comes to indwell us and live Christ’s life through us. We can never be what we were before, because we have been born into His life—with a new spirit and nature. And because of that, our desires and goals should be conformed to those that God has for us. We are united with Christ through faith in Him and commitment to Him. Redemption is the restoration and fulfillment of God’s purposes in creation, and this takes place in Christ, through whom all things were made and in whom all things are restored or created anew.
Faith without actions is intellectual assent — agreement with a set of Christian teachings — and as such is incomplete (or dead) faith. You agree with the facts, but they have no effect upon you as to how you live. Mere intellectual assent might be fine for math, physics, or other facets of natural living. But by itself, it is not the faith of Jesus Christ spoken of in Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
Faith is the “substance” in us of something hoped for, but not yet come to pass. Faith is “evidence” in us of something not yet seen — but of something which will be seen. It is the substance and evidence of eternal things which the Lord God has put in us by His Word. The Word of God includes the living application of all that the written scriptures teach — the message we receive and the utterance of the spoken Word declared. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” (Romans 10:17) When we are born again as a new creation, we possess eternal life in Jesus Christ. This eternal life is substance and evidence of that which is not of this realm. As the Holy Spirit works in us, He is bringing forth substance and evidence which has been born in us, and causing it to grow to fruition. One of these manifestations is what we call faith.
Faith is the outcome of our relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ. It is the result of knowing Him, and our trust and reliance upon Him — the kind of unpretentious trust of small children. “And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 18:3-4)
True faith produces good works because it is a surrender to the One in whom I believe and trust. We begin the process of surrendering to Him at the time we are born again. True faith is neither an intellectual or emotional issue. “To believe,” means to come, not to an intellectual agreement, but to a moral agreement. But more so, to a moral surrender. Because I believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and died for me, I cannot remain the same. My belief in those eternal facts demand that I make the moral choice to repent of sin and surrender to Jesus Christ as my Lord. Thus, faith is not an intellectual conclusion. It is not an emotional condition. It is a moral choice to surrender to our Lord God.
What James is teaching us, was also taught in 1 John. When we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are “born of God”. The Holy Spirit lives in us and gives us Jesus’ new life. The Holy Spirit gives us new minds and hearts, lives in us, and begins helping us to become like Christ. Our perspective changes too because we have a mind that is renewed day by day by the Holy Spirit. “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. (1 John 3:14)
Real love is an action, not a feeling. It produces selfless, sacrificial giving. The greatest act of love is giving oneself for others. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:16-18) How can we lay down our lives? By serving others with no thought of receiving anything in return. Jesus taught this when He said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)
While we can’t earn our salvation by serving and obeying God, those actions show that our commitment to the Lord is real. Deeds of loving service are not a substitute for, but rather a verification of, our faith in Christ. James is reminding us what Jesus himself said. “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ “(Matthew 25:31-40)
In 1 John 4 we’re told, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:7-12) Those who are born again receive God’s nature. Since God’s nature exhibits love as a chief characteristic, God’s children should also reflect that love. God’s sending His Son gives Christians not only salvation privilege, but obligation to follow this pattern of sacrificial love. As Christ followers, we are to become Christlike. Christian love must be self-sacrificing like God’s love, where we love our neighbors as ourselves.
- My notes from Bible Study “Faith: A Bible Study on James for Women“
- Life Application Study Bible (NIV)
- What is Faith?
- Saving Faith