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(Part 8)


February 21, 2014
Today’s reading: James 2:14-26

We are a people of faith. That should mean that we are also a people of works. We don’t only love God but we also love and help our neighbor. We don’t only pray but we also do social action. We don’t only look to the spirit but also to the body. James has some pretty strong and sobering words about faith without works.

Faith without works does not save. “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (v.14). Our faith is all about salvation in Jesus. But Jesus came not only to save us, but to bring glad tidings to the poor. We are his instruments of salvation and blessing for the poor.

Faith withouts works is dead. “So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (v.17). Faith should be alive and vibrant. It should uplift, inspire, raise to great heights. But without works, faith is listless, self-referential, powerless. It does not help change lives for the better, even ultimately one’s own.

Faith without works is useless. “Do you want proof, you ignoramus, that faith without works is useless?” (v.20). Jesus brings us to faith in him, so that we might be his instruments for bringing others to faith in him. Jesus loves the poor, and looks to the least of his brethren, and we are to be his instruments in providing for the needs of the poor. If we do not, then our coming to “faith” is of no real use to Jesus.

Faith without works is something even evil beings can have. “You believe that God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe that and tremble.” (v.19). Even Satan quotes scripture. Such “faith” is not true faith at all. We can go through all the right motions, but if there are no corresponding works, then we will just be hypocritical Pharisees.

Faith without works is incomplete. “You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by the works.” (v.22). Authentic faith needs to be manifested in works. Love of God means love for neighbor. Receiving God’s blessings should lead to sharing those blessings with others, especially those in need.

Faith without works does not justify a person. “See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” (v.24). We cannot profess to be true Christians if we only proclaim our faith in Jesus but do not do good works. Without works, we cannot be justified in the eyes of God.

Faith without works is like a body without a spirit. “For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” (v.26). We are human flesh, but with an immortal soul. The body will wither and die, but the spirit lives on. We exist on earth not just for this life, but to prepare for life in heaven. Works assure that our faith is indeed alive.

Now one great manifestation of works is helping the poor. James offered a caricature. “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?” (v.15-16). One certainly seemed to act and speak in faith, wishing peace, warmth and comfort, and being well fed to the other. That one had the interests of the other at heart. But James says that if that one did not provide the other with clothing and food, then all that well-wishing is in vain and has no merit at all. We are our brother’s keeper, not just his well-wisher.

“Indeed someone might say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’” (v.18a). You ignoramus! It is not either-or but both-and. Thus we have our No One In Need (NONe) movement. We do not only evangelize the poor and bring them to Christ, but we also help them have decent shelter, education, livelihood, good health, etc. On the other hand, we do not only provide them with bodily and material necessities, but we also give them spiritual inputs and values. Only then can there be true total human liberation.

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