The Main Thing – James 2:14-17
James 2:14 “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 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? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
These next two paragraphs have been hotly disputed in our time. It is because of this discussion of faith and works that some have rejected the book of James, or at the least claimed that James and Paul didn’t agree. The problem comes largely from the fact that these people don’t read these passages in proper context.
Remember we are still in the middle of James telling us what it looks like to live out a pure religion. He’s already reminded us we need to take care of those less fortunate and we can’t do that if we are showing partiality. In fact, when we show partiality we are working against God. James is extremely practical.
He starts and ends this paragraph with the question, “What good is it?” We don’t need to always weigh Scripture as true or false based on its practicality. There are many times with God’s way of doing things doesn’t appear to be the most practical. But James uses this to point out whether or not someone truly has faith. He is asking the question, “What good is it if someone says that they believe something (has faith) but they don’t act like it (have works)?” Great question. The obvious answer is that there is no benefit at all to this. This is not okay.
To back up his point, he goes on to give a practical example to show how powerless words are to do things. If you see someone who needs food or material needs and you say to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” will that meet their needs? No way. Your words don’t accomplish anything. If you are in a position to help them with their physical needs and you say that you want to, the only way to actually prove it is by doing, by providing for them. This is his entire point. If you say that you want to help but aren’t willing to live it out, then you are disingenuous.
He ends this paragraph by offering a summary sentence to drive home his point. Just like words are useless without backing them up, so faith is dead if it isn’t backed up with action. It’s not real faith. It’s just as mighty to save as our words are. This carries over to everything he’s talked about so far, especially to our command to love each other.
Do you love others well today? Is it obvious by your actions? Are you saying that you care for people, but doing nothing about it? If so, James tells us that you are lying and that you may even be deceiving yourself.
Take an even further step back and look at your faith in Christ. Is this real faith? If you are not living out your faith in God, then you need to have some serious soul-searching to see if you really have faith.