The Main Thing – James 2:18-19
James 2:18-19 “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. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!”
Here we are getting to the core principle in James’ argument on what it means to live out your faith. Remember, he’s been telling us what it’s like to practice the Christian faith. If it’s not visible to the outside world then it is mere talk.
In this paragraph, he starts out by anticipating an argument against him. When someone hears what he’s saying they could respond by saying that they have faith and James has works. So they’re Christians, and they have their faith in God. Faith, after all, is belief. You don’t need to see beliefs for them to be real. The most popular example that people use with this is the belief that a chair will hold them. Sure, I’ve lived long enough to know that when I see a chair, I know that it will hold my weight, right? I don’t have to sit in that chair to know this. This is what they’re saying. They have faith, they’re Christians, but you don’t have to see that. I mean how could you really look into my soul and see my faith?
But this is the exact point that James is making. If you just believe something and don’t act on it, that belief is useless. Let’s look back at the chair analogy. I know that it will support me, but how will the world know that I believe that? I have to sit in that chair. This is not giving me belief, but it’s showing what I truly believe. And in this way, it is proving what I genuinely believe.
Now let’s take this back to what he’s been saying about the nature of “pure and undefiled religion.” If we really believe in God it will play itself out in the way that we conduct our lives, both in our personal, spiritual disciplines to live holy lives before God and in the concern that we show for others. This has to happen. If this doesn’t happen, then we are not truly believing. This should come as a wake-up call for a lot of us. If we look at our lives and see that we are not pursuing the Lord and trying to stay “unstained from the world,” and we don’t see in ourselves a compassion for others, then we need to ask ourselves what is it we are really believing.
A lesson that I learned in college from the alarm clock was that we will always act out what we believe. My roommate and I continually overslept. We each had an alarm clock. For those of you who use your phone as an alarm, you may not realize that back in the stone age we used actual clocks to wake us up, each equipped with a snooze bar. And it would be nothing for us to set our alarm clock to wake us up and then get out of bed every 9 minutes to hit the snooze bar. We would sometimes do this for hours. And then we got sick of it and decided to make a bet that the first person to hit the snooze bar for the rest of the semester would be subject to physical violence from the other roommate. And you know what? Neither one of us hit the snooze for the remainder of the semester. Why? Because we really believed that our roommate would seriously injure us and we acted according to that.
As we look back at James, he goes one step further in his comparison. He uses the demons as examples. The demons believe in God, that is, they know God exists, they even tremble because they understand how powerful God really is. He’s comparing the faith that they say they have (that is, faith without deeds) to the faith of demons. Whoa… That’s crazy.
Again we come back to the personal application. How do we live this out today? We need to make sure that we are living in a way that proves what we claim to believe. If we are not, then it’s possible that we are deceiving ourselves with the nature of our belief. Or, we need to pause and intentionally think through what the real-life implications of our beliefs are and start living like that.