The Book of James, Part 21:
Assessing your Faith
James 2:14-26

Today's Lesson:

There's a cartoon showing a large billboard sign outside a church. The sign reads:

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Christians today have a desperate need for the message of the book of James. We live in a culture that shuns commitment. Most Christians are not looking to do more for Christ; they are looking to do less. Jesus didn't make members, He made disciples.

In addition to this, there is a lot of confusion today about who and what a Christian is. The reason for this is because Christians have lost their distinctiveness, the differentiation between us and the world. Jesus called us to be different from the world we live in:

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden;  nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. --Matthew 5:13-16
We are to be salt and light. Both images emphasize being distinctive, different. Jesus was and He expects His followers to be as well.

John Stott writes in his book, Christians: Salt and Light, "I've recently come back from India where I heard of a little Hindu girl brought up in a strict Hindu family, who had come across Christians. Somebody asked her one day what she thought a Christian was. She thought for a few moments and replied, 'Well as far as I can see, a Christian is somebody who is different from everybody else.' Would that it were true."

Os Guinness said, "The main problem with American Christians is not that they aren't where they should be but that they are not what they should be right where they are, as doctors, housewives, lawyers, computer salesmen, or nurses."

I think that's what James is saying in this passage. He is challenging us to be what God wants us to be - Like Jesus - right where we are. This should be exciting, motivating for all of us because it gives meaning and worth to whatever roles we are living out. Real faith changes the way we live.

  1. Real Faith Saves - (2:14)
  2. Real Faith Cares - (2:15-19)
  3. Real Faith Obeys - (2:20-26)
The two keys words in this passage are faith and works. The word "faith" is used eleven times in these thirteen verses. The word "works" is used thirteen times. (Note: The word "works" may be translated differently depending on the version you're using. For example, in the NIV it's translated "deeds" and "actions" in this passage.)

The word "works" is from the Greek word ergon, and is translated "deeds, action, behavior, works and labor". James wants us to understand that there is an interconnectedness, an inseparable connection, between faith and works, what we believe and what we do, how we live.

As we study this passage, we need to consider what we can learn about James as a teacher and a communicator. One thing that stands out is his use of questions. There are six questions in this short passage. Jesus also used questions as a teaching tool. Which leads to another observation. James' teaching seems to be deeply rooted in the teachings of Jesus. I think James would say that his teaching was not really his own at all. He was simply passing on the truths that the Jesus taught during His time on earth. That's a great example for all of us to follow.

Robert Bellah, a sociologist who teaches at the University of California at Berkeley, is very interested in the influence of religion on the community. In an interview in Psychology Today he said, "We should not underestimate the significance of the small group of people who have a new vision of a just and gentle world. The quality of a culture may be changed when two percent of its people have a new vision."

There is a current book out which is receiving a lot of business attention, entitled Tipping Point. It deals with how little it takes for something to "take off", whether it is an illness that becomes an epidemic or an idea that becomes a fad.

John Stott, again in Christians: Salt and Light says: "There are many more than two percent Christians in your country and mine. Then why aren't we having more effect? Why aren't we having more influence? I pray that God will call you to permeate non-Christian society for Christ, to take your stand there uncompromisingly with the value system and moral standards of Jesus.

Let's start with:

    1. Real Faith Saves - (2:14)

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? --James 1:14
James begins this passage on faith by making a very important point:  only real faith can save us. Faith that isn't followed by the "deeds" Christ desires is a fake.

This is a great passage for evangelical Christians to study. In evangelical Christianity, we tend to place our emphasis on that fact that faith alone saves us. And this is a very important truth. Over and over again, the Bible teaches that works are never a condition for salvation. No one can be saved by works. Probably one of the clearest statements of this truth is found in Ephesians:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. --Ephesians 2:8-9
There are many other references in the New Testament to this truth:
But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are. --Acts 15:11

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. --Romans 1:16

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace... --Ephesians 1:7

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions -- it is by grace you have been saved. --Ephesians 2:4-5 whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. --Colossians 1:27

...who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity... --2 Timothy 1:9

He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit... --Titus 3:5
But James makes an important point that is consistent with this: true faith is never alone. It is accompanied by works of faith. The point that James makes in Chapter 2 is completely consistent with the teaching of the New Testament on salvation. James is not saying that works are a condition for salvation, he is saying that good works are the certain, inevitable result of salvation.

In James 1, James warned of one kind of self-deception: being a "hearer" of the word but not a "doer". In James 2, He warns of another kind of self-deception: thinking that "faith" that is accompanied by Christ-like deeds is truly saving faith.

What do you think are some changes in attitudes and behavior that accompany "saving faith"?

  1. A new hunger for God's Word newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation... --1 Peter 2:2
  2. A new sensitivity to sin
    No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. --1 John 3:9

    No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. --1 John 3:9 (NIV)
  3. A new desire to connect with Christians
    See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.  But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. --Hebrews 3:12-13
  4. A new commitment to be a follower of Jesus
    Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it." -- Matthew 16:24-25
  5. A new compassion for people
    ...if a man claims to have faith... --James 2:14
The word "claim" here is from the Greek word lego with a basic meaning of "to say", which may be a better translation. James is talking about a man who "says he has faith".  Lots of people say they have faith; they say they are Christians.  The Barna Research Group does marketing surveys of thousands of Americans each year. The results of their research show there is a great deal of confusion about Christianity: And this survey just had to do with what people believe. Research also shows that there is little difference between the way most of these "Christians" live and the rest of society.

And this is James' concern here -- he's speaking of the person who "claims to have faith but has no deeds" that give evidence of new life in Jesus. Is this person really a Christian? No -- not according to this description by James.

What use is it, [what good is it, what advantage is it] ...? Can that faith save him? --James 2:14
The word "use" here is from the Greek word ophelos and can also be translated "advantage".  The answer to James' question here is clear -- there is no benefit in claiming to believe without a real commitment to Christ. In fact, as we saw before, it's harmful. We think we're fooling other people and maybe we are. But we aren't fooling God. And sadly, we're usually only fooling ourselves about our spiritual condition.

There's an interesting statement Jesus makes near the end of the Sermon on the Mount:

Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. --Matthew 7:21
The New Living Translation puts it this way:
Not all people who sound religious are really godly. They may refer to Me as "Lord," but they still won't enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The decisive issue is whether they obey My Father in heaven." --Matthew 7:21
The troubling reality is that there are probably many people in most churches who are completely confident that they are going to heaven yet whose so-called "faith" won't really save them. They may be religious but they've never really trusted Christ. Maybe that's why Paul has given us this warning:
Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you -- unless, of course, you fail the test? --2 Corinthians 13:5
The New Living Translation reads,
Examine yourselves to see if your faith is really genuine. Test yourselves. If you cannot tell that Jesus Christ is in you, it means you have failed the test. --2 Corinthians 13:5
Why don't we take a moment right now and make sure that we've really invited Christ into our lives. I'll lead us and, if you would like to, simply pray this prayer:
"Jesus, I do believe that You are my Savior and the Son of God. Thank You for dying for me and paying the penalty for my sins and offering me the free gift of eternal life. Jesus, if I've never done it before or as a recommitment, as best I know how, I ask you to come into my life right now - please forgive my sins, please give me eternal life, please help me to obey You each day. In Your name I pray, Amen."
If you prayed this prayer or have prayed a prayer like this in the past, and truly meant it, then you have the salvation that Jesus promised and that James is talking about. Evidence of it is the life you live. That is the bottom line of James' teaching here.  We opened this discussion with the statement the real faith changes the way we live in three ways:

    1. Real Faith Saves - (2:14)
    2. Real Faith Cares - (2:15-19)
    3. Real Faith Obeys - (2:20-26)

We handled Real Faith Saves this morning.  In two weeks we will deal with Real Faith Cares and Obeys. Between now and the next lesson, read James 2:14-26 again and assess your life against what James is teaching.


Next week -- Pat and I will be on the East Coast again for the National Prayer Breakfast. Terry Heames will be presenting a lesson in my absence.  I will see you on February 15 for the next lesson in James Chapter 2.