“What use is it, my brothers and sisters, 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,’ yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? In the same way, faith also, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself” (James 2:14-17 NASB).
Western Christianity has come to view the word “works” in a negative manner. We tend to juxtapose “faith” and “works” as if they are opposites. But that’s not what James says.
He did not see faith and works as two opposites fighting against each other; rather, he viewed them as collaborative and working in tandem with one another. He implies that faith alone cannot save you. You need works together with your faith.
But what kinds of works?
When James explained his point to his readers, he used the example of someone who lacks his or her daily needs. He asked what use it is to send a needy person like this away with only a blessing but no real, tangible help.
The New Testament repeatedly defines our right relationship with God, not through our beliefs about Him, nor through our prayer and devotional life; rather, for the New Testament, our right relationship with God is defined by how we care for those in need. When James provided an example of the incompatibility of faith without works, he pointed to caring for one in need.
We often think we proclaim our faith by our words or by our practicing of spiritual disciplines, such as prayer and devotional time. According to the New Testament, according to James, those disciplines mean little if I do not demonstrate my care of others through my works.
We tend to focus upon a healthy faith, but if we take James seriously, we should focus upon healthy works. How we act says far more about what we believe than our words do.
Faith without works is dead.
Perhaps the world around us remains dead because we need to do a much better job at animating our faith with our works, specifically works that help those in need. That is a faith no one can argue with.
Father, today may my actions demonstrate my trust in You. May others see by how I care for them the depth of my love for You. Amen.