“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?” —James 2:14
The above verse is one of the most controversial sections in arguably the most controversial book in the Bible. James asks, “Can faith without deeds save us?” In verse 17, he says, “...faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” In verse 24, he adds, “A person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.”
This became a controversy in the 16th century when Martin Luther, the catalyst of the Protestant Reformation, came across a verse in Romans that revolutionized not only his life, but centuries of Christian practice and belief. Paul writes, “The righteous will live by faith’” (Romans 1:17). In other words, we are justified by faith alone, regardless of good works. This transformed Luther’s life, because he had tried desperately to be justified by what he did, and knew it was not enough, nor ever would be. The three essentials the Reformation was based upon are salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Luther’s dispute was that it had nothing to do with good works. All Scripture is God-breathed, so how do we reconcile what Paul says with what James says?
Faith in God must show its validity, not by what we profess, but by the expression of the life of Christ lived in us and through us. It is not an addition to salvation—”faith plus works”—but the inevitable expression of it. Faith is more than just believing. Believing can be an intellectual exercise, which is a necessary part of the process in order to exercise faith. But faith by definition is experiential. To illustrate, we can believe a plane is going to fly from Toronto to Vancouver, but unless we board the flight, we will not experience it. The evidence of our faith is in the fact that something is happening: we board the plane!
James is saying that we cannot give evidence of our faith in God apart from resulting action, derived from our dependency on God. The problem is not with our faith, but in exercising our faith, thus enabling Christ to express Himself in our lives. There is, however, the possibility of believing the Gospel is true, but with no reflection of it to show our faith. James says even the demons believe in God, and they shudder at the thought, because their belief is very real. We can have belief without deeds, but we cannot have faith without deeds when our faith is in Jesus Christ, because the evidence of our faith in Him is in doing what Jesus does. We become united with Him for His purpose and our good works will be the natural outflow of the life of Christ within us.
Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, I am so grateful for Your life within me. I pray that my faith in You will be continuously expressed in good works that lead others to You.