James 2:14-26 (NIV)
14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?
15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.
16 If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?
17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.
19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder.
20 You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?
21 Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?
22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.
23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend.
24 You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
I want to talk to you today about what James has to say about how to have a real faith. There are a lot of phony religions out there — people who think they are Christians and really aren’t. In this passage James talks about the difference between real and counterfeit Christians, authentic believers and fake believers. He talks about how you have a real faith.
The entire New Testament teaches that we are saved by faith alone. “By grace, through faith, we are saved.” James comes along and says, “It’s not just faith but faith and works.” What is he talking about? James and Paul. They are both right. They are talking about different things.
Paul was fighting the problem of legalism — the problem of “I’ve got to keep all the Jewish laws and regulations to be a Christian.” Paul is talking to that group.
James is not fighting legalism but laxity — those that say “It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you believe.”
They are fighting two different enemies. But they both use the word “works” in different ways. When Paul uses the word “works” he’s talking about Jewish laws like circumcision and things like that. When James uses it, he’s talking about the lifestyle of a Christian — acts of love. It’s totally different. Paul focuses on the root of salvation — what happens to me internally. James focuses on the fruit of salvation — what happens on the outside. Jesus said, “By their fruits you will know them.” Paul is talking about, “How to know you’re a Christian.” James is talking about, “How to show you’re a Christian.” Paul is talking about his passages on faith alone, how to become a believer. James talks about, how to behave like a believer. It is not a contradiction.
It’s summed up in Ephesians 2:8-10 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, for a life of good works that God has already prepared for us to do.” There are three prepositions in this passage — “by grace”, “through faith”, “for good works”. If you get those out of order, you’re in trouble. If you think you’re saved by works, for faith you’re in trouble. But he’s saying we’re saved by grace through faith. We’re saved just by accepting God’s gift. But how do I show I am a believer? James says there’s five ways you can know you’ve got the real thing. He gives us five steps or principles here in this passage. We’ll look at one a day for the next five days.
#1. REAL FAITH IS NOT JUST SOMETHING YOU SAY
v. 14. Real faith is not just something you say, something you talk about. “What good is it my brother if a man claims to have faith, but has no deeds? Can such `faith’ save him?” James doesn’t say this guy actually has faith, he just claims to have it. He talks about it. He knows all the right phrases. There are a lot of people who claim to be Christians. They know some things about the bible. They know some key phrases that a lot of Christians use. They may look like a follower of Christ and sound like a follower of Christ. But something is off.
George Gallup says that 50 million Americans say “I’m born again,” but you don’t see anything in their lifestyle that backs that up. Today we tend to label people as Christians if they make the slightest sound of being a believer. It’s more than just talk that is involved in real faith. Jesus said, “Not everybody who says to me `Lord, Lord’ is going to enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Not everybody with a Christian bumper sticker is a believer. Not everybody who is a professor of Christianity is a possessor of Christianity. “Can such faith save him? What value is this kind of faith?” Nothing. Talk is cheap. Remember when Larry Flint, the publisher of Hustler, said he was born again? But you never saw any change in his life. He kept right on printing pornography. No difference. No change.
James is saying that real faith is not just something you say. Do you know anybody that claims to be a Christian but you don’t see any evidence in their life? That’s a phony faith.Real faith is not just something you say. Evaluate yourself here. Does your walk match your talk?