“What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, ‘You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.’ You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,’ and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead” (James 2:14-26).
Martin Luther never accepted James’ position in this text, but believed that James had contradicted the unfettered faith that God grants by grace as Paul taught: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith’” (Rom. 1:16-17). Luther erred, though, in his understanding of James’ point. Where Paul addressed faith alone as the means of our justification before God, James expressed the use of faith as far as it benefits others.
James was saying that, if we’re truly born again, our faith in Christ will manifest a concern for others and a desire to meet their needs. Anyone can claim to have faith, which is to say, “I’m a Christian,” but empty rhetoric alone is useless. It cannot save. Religious hypocrites love to tout their religious credentials, as they parade an air of superiority, but in the end, their professions of faith are just noise. I’ve said before that faith isn’t simply having the right opinion about Christ. Even demons “believe.” Satan himself knows the truth about Christ.
Genuine faith is loving who Christ truly is. It bears fruit that makes a difference in the lives of others. If we really love Christ, we’ll love His people. We’ll demonstrate our love for Him by loving those Christ loves, even “the least of these my brethren” (Mt. 25:31-40). Real faith lifts up others and brings them to Christ. It dresses the wounds of the broken. Useful faith offers a cup of cold water to a weary soul. It holds the hand of lost and gives sight to the blind.
Today, our nation is angry and hurting. Many people looking to blame someone for the ills, both real and perceived, in our country. Real faith in Christ doesn’t need scapegoats. It doesn’t rely on platitudes and clichés to make its points heard. The faith that matters takes a leper’s hand and breathes life into a dead heart. It offers food to the hungry and help to the hopeless.
Perhaps, if the world saw Christ in us, lovingly laying down our lives as He did, our faith would beckon those He’s drawing to Himself and lives would be saved and the dead set free.