Faith without Works

Reading Time: 8 Minutes

A short history of James, the brother of Jesus

James was Jesus’ brother. The book he wrote was possibly the first of all of the 27 books in the New Testament to be written. In the mid-first century, James and Peter were the most prominent voices of the church in Jerusalem. James was martyred for his faith in 62 AD.

There was a time, however, when James didn’t believe the claims of Jesus. During the Feast of Booths, Jesus’ brothers wanted him to go to the festival and to prove his claims. John notes, “For not even his brothers believed in him” (John 7.5).

One time, Jesus’ family sought to seize him and bring him home. Mark explains it like this, “And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of his mind'” (Mark 3.21).

In many ways, James was just like us. He needed a personal experience of Jesus the Messiah for faith to be possible. He knew Jesus as his brother, but that was not enough. He needed the cross and resurrection to see that Jesus was also the Messiah and the Savior of the world.

When James identified himself to the readers of his book, he didn’t say, “I’m Jesus’ brother. Pay attention to what I write.”

Instead, he wrote, “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings” (James 1.1). The difference between the respect James gave to Jesus in his book compared to his lack of respect in the earlier recorded instances demonstrates a remarkable conversion.

Again, this is similar to our experience. The more we get to know the real nature of Jesus, the more respect and honor we will give him.

The message about faith and works

In the midst of James’ argument to treat poor people with respect and inclusion, one of his most famous sayings emerges. He wrote, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2.14-17).

When I was in a gym in Blue Springs, a world-class power-lifter often wore a t-shirt into the gym with the slogan, “Shut-up and Show Me.” He was actually a pretty humble guy and the t-shirt advertised his personal training business.

James, our personal trainer in spiritual matters, speaks with similar strength. “If you ‘say’ you have faith, show it by how you live your life. Otherwise, it counts for nothing.” The truth is our faith is not visible unless we are doing something.

Some examples of how faith that works makes a difference.

Here are some interesting stories of how faith combined with works makes a tremendous work. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did, when I discovered them.

Frank Laubach and the Philippines

Frank Laubach was a man who actually had works before he had faith. He was a liberal Christian in the early years of the last century, attempting to serve God without actually personally knowing him. Out of profound disappointment and loneliness, he began taking a nightly walk with his dog up Signal Hill in the province of Lanao, the Philippines. On one of those walks, Jesus became very real to him. The walks continued and Laubach and Jesus became very close friends.

Laubach had a passion for the Moro people group in the Philippines. They were a fierce tribe and he was warned by Teddy Roosevelt to keep clear of them for fear of his life. He devised a plan to teach the Moro people to read and began working with them, much to the delight of the tribe’s chief.

The reading program with the Moro people was so successful that staff had to be added. When the Great Depression took place, the staff had to be cut for lack of funds. Laubach met with the chief and told him that all of his teachers had been removed because of lack of funds. The chief gathered the Moro leaders together and said, “Everyone who knows how to read will teach someone else how to read, or I will kill them.”

This was the birth of “Each One Teach One,” with the exception of the chief’s last words. It brought literacy to the Philippines, India and South America throughout the last century.

What if Laubach had been satisfied with faith, but had no works? The world is so much better because his faith was accompanied by works.

Rufus Moseley and Georgia Death Row

Rufus Moseley was known as a deeply spiritual man. He was also known as someone who picked cotton and attended church with African Americans in the early years of the last century. He was highly opposed to the death penalty, especially as it was applied to black men in Georgia. He tells many stories of going with men to their execution, both to comfort them and to state opposition to the practice. One such story follows.

A black man killed another black man in rural Georgia. He was placed in the county jail and had a profound experience with Jesus. The transformation of his life was so radical that the county sheriff simply drove him to the state prison. He had the man get out of the car and drove off, leaving his prisoner outside of the prison walls.

The prisoner asked a guard to let him into the prison. The prison guard said to the him, “Why and what are you doing here?”

To this he replied, “I’m here to be executed.” After some discussion, the guard brought the man inside and found out that he was truly sent there to die.

Rufus Moseley found out about this strange situation and began writing about it in the Macon Telegraph. His articles caused such a stir that the Governor of Georgia stayed the execution and had the man serve as a trustee in the prison.

What if this black man’s faith had been empty of any works? Would the county sheriff have trusted him? Can you imagine the power of his testimony to the people of Georgia, because his faith was accompanied by works?

Faith and Works in the AA tradition

From its very beginning, “faith without works is dead” has been a common saying of Alcoholics Anonymous. People in AA know that service and actual works is very essential to sobriety. Below is one example of the AA commitment to service.

They write, “I understand that service is a vital part of recovery but I often wonder, ‘What can I do?’ Simply start with what I have today! I look around to see where there is a need. Are the ashtrays full? Do I have hands and feet to empty them? Suddenly I am involved! The best speaker may make the worst coffee; the member who’s best with newcomers may be unable to read; the one willing to clean up may make a mess of the bank account – yet every one of these people and jobs is essential to an active group. The miracle of service is this: when I use what I have, I find there is more available to me than I realized before.” (From Daily Reflections. 1990 Alcoholics Anonymous World Services)

Today’s Prayer

I have adapted the Step 12 Prayer from AA to end today’s article.

Dear God, Having had a spiritual experience, I must now remember that “faith without works is dead.” And Practical Experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking (place the biggest issue of your life here) as intensive work with other alcoholics (someone who needs your service). So, God, please help me to carry this message to other alcoholics (people who need your service)! Provide me with the guidance and wisdom to talk with another alcoholic (someone who needs your service) because I can help when no one else can. Help me secure his confidence and remember he is ill.
(Adapted from A.A. Big Book)

2 Comments

  1. Love and faith require action. They are not passive words. James had one of the best seats in the house growing up next to the Savior of the world – and he has given us profound wisdom for living based on how he saw Jesus living. May my love and faith be worked out in my small life to show Jesus’ immense love for the world.

    Liked by 1 person

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