Today’s reading: James 1-5.
“Why do Paul and James differ in their beliefs?”
James and Paul may seem to face each other in an argument that can’t be resolved, but I prefer the conclusion that they are standing back-to-back fighting two different enemies. For Paul, the enemy was trusting in the works of the law. For James, it was trusting in a fruitless faith that was actually dead. Both men were interested in faith that works.
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
More than good intentions. James condemns the person who wishes others well but does nothing concrete to help them. His conclusion? It’s no good. In the same way faith that produces no fruit is really no faith.
More than mental assent. Faith is more than acknowledging the existence of God. After all, even Satan does that. Faith is submitting to the rule and authority of God, believing that he holds your future in his hands. As Manley Beasley said in yesterday’s devotional, faith must have an emotional component (I want God to be Lord of my life) and a volitional component (I choose to be obedient to God’s will) as well as the intellectual component (I believe there is a God).
Faith and actions work together. James pointed out that works complement faith. Abraham was credited for his faith in God’s promise, but his faith resulted in obedience to God’s command to sacrifice Isaac. Paul used this same passage to show that God declared Abraham righteous because of his faith before it ever resulted in works, but it was the kind of faith that led to action.
Works reveal faith. Works complement faith, but they also validate faith by revealing its reality. James mentions the example of Rahab, a pagan prostitute who became part of God’s family because of a faith in Jehovah that led to direct action on behalf of God’s people.
What kind of works? This is the strength of James’ letter. He spells out in practical terms how Christians should demonstrate their faith.
- by persevering under trials
- by resisting the temptation to sin
- by obeying God’s word
- by helping the disadvantaged
- by showing no favoritism
- by controlling their tongue
- by praying for each other
A tree has been planted out into the ground. Now the source of life to that tree is at the root, whether it hath apples on it or not; the apples would not give it life, but the whole of the life of the tree will come from its root. But if that tree stands in the orchard, and when the springtime comes there is no bud, and when the summer comes there is no leafing, and no fruit-bearing, but the next year, and the next, it stands there without bud or blossom, or leaf or fruit, you would say it is dead, and you are correct; it is dead. It is not that the leaves could have made it live, but that the absence of the leaves is a proof that it is dead. So, too, is it with the professor. If he hath life, that life must give fruits; if not fruits, works; if his faith has a root, but if there be no works, then depend upon it the inference that he is spiritually dead is certainly a correct one. When the telegraph cable flashed no message across to America, when they tried to telegraph again and again, but the only result following was dead earth, they felt persuaded that there was a fracture, and well they might; and when there is nothing produced in the life by the supposed grace which we have, and nothing is telegraphed to the world but “dead earth,” we may rest assured that the link of connection between the soul and Christ does not exist. – Charles Spurgeon