Reading Time: 7 Minutes
I wish I had a dollar for every time someone wanted to justify their behavior with a theoretical argument. After listening for a while, I have been known to say, “So, you’re really asking me how far you can get away from God and still go to heaven?”
My question usually produces a pause in the conversation, followed by, “Well, I really wasn’t wanting to do that, but . . .” and off they go again with more rationalizations and justifications.
The passage for today’s study in James involves a discussion with James and an imaginary person over whether you can claim to have faith, have no lifestyle to back it up, and still end up in heaven. I can’t tell you the number of “good ‘ole boys” I have met over the years who claimed to have faith, but appeared to have no interest in God at all. The question is, what good is that kind of faith?
After we look the entire scripture passage, we’re going consider an imaginary dialogue and then make an application to our own lives.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
Understanding the Argument
Let’s consider an imaginary debate between James and a man we will call “the Debater.” The dialogue may go like this.
Debater: I believe in Jesus. I believe he is the Son of God and the Savior of the world.
James: I would be more convinced that your words are true, if I were able to see a change in the way you live your life.
Debater: I am offended that you don’t think I am a Christian. I feel like you are judging me and only God can do that.
James: Let me hold up the mirror of God’s word to you. Please take a look at the mirror and tell me what you think.
James: I am sure you remember the short statement that is so important to the people of the Hebrew faith.
Debater: Yeah, that one in Deuteronomy 6, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deuteronomy 6.4).
James: That’s what I am talking about. Did you ever consider that demons believe what you just said and it makes them tremble.
Debater: I never thought about it like that, but you’re right. They ought to tremble, because they joined the wrong team and one day they will be toast.
James: Do you know the verse that follows the famous creed in Deuteronomy 6?
Debater: It has something to do with loving God, but I don’t remember.
James: You probably would remember it, if you were living it.
James: Here it is, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6.5).
Debater: Okay, so what?
James: Here’s the deal. If you believe there is only one God, the most natural thing to do is to love him with all that you are. There is no way you can love God like that without it being obvious to everyone. Let me tell you something. You can’t show anybody your faith in God without people being able to see it.
Debater: I can to. You’re just judging me and I don’t appreciate it one bit. I’m through with this conversation. Over and out, pal!
James: Hang on. How about we take a look at Abraham?
Debater: I’ve got you on this one. Didn’t the Bible say that Abraham “believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15.6)? All it said was that he believed, and I believe, too. That’s enough! Sermon’s over!
James: Not so fast. You left out the whole thing about Abraham being willing to sacrifice his son, Isaac, to God. He believed, but we know he believed because he acted on his faith.
Debater: I’m through. Give it up. I believe in God and I’m going to live my life the way I want to. Stop judging me and leave me alone.
James: Since you’re into sex, drugs and rock and roll, wouldn’t you like to hear good story about a prostitute?
Debater: Okay. Give me your best, but you’ve only got five more minutes.
James: I’m sure you remember, Bible scholar that you are, the story of the Israelites conquering the city of Jericho. Before they took the city, they sent some spies to check it out. They ran across a prostitute. Now, don’t ask me how they ended up at her place. I don’t know the answer to that. However, she wound up being a good lady and helped the spies get away when the soldiers were after them.
Debater: Get to the point. I’ve got to go.
James: Just like Abraham, her faith in God was demonstrated by her action. If she was like you, she may have thought it would be a good idea to help the spies, but she wouldn’t have stuck her neck out to help.
Debater: That’s enough. I’m out of here. Later!
What Kind of Deeds Does Faith Produce?
A quick reading of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) reveals that love is a central deed of people who have faith. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13.35).
Jesus identified another behavior that will show our faith in Matthew’s Gospel. He said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6.33).
I could list many more examples of Christ-like behavior that stem from faith, but instead I want to include a verse that tells us how a relationship with Jesus produces the deeds that James writes about. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15.5).
Spend time living in the presence of Jesus and he will produce fruit through you. You won’t need a debate with James or anybody else to convince you. It will just happen naturally and wonderfully.
Dear Jesus, please remove any deception from our lives – deception that keeps us from the best you have to offer us. Please help us to live in a deeper relationship with you. We know this is the best way to live.