James 2:18 – But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
Picture this with me for a minute. Suppose a friend was always going on and on about how wonderful their spouse is and the depth of their relationship, but you never saw relational warmth between them. You’d be correct in questioning the nature of that relationship. Simply put, love and faith in another produces action that affirms the presence of said love and faith. So it is with faith and works.
Those who truly understand what God has done for them cannot help but be moved to live a generous, worshipful life. These acts of worship are the very “works” that James is referring to.
The one thing that most religions get right is that something has gone wrong, and some work needs to be done to make it right. The difference between Christianity and other religions is in regard to who does this work. In all other religions, human beings do the work to make things right with their god. In Christianity, Jesus Christ comes down to do all the work to make us right with God. He lived the perfect life we should have lived, died the death we should have died, and rose to give the gift we could not earn. When Jesus said loudly on the cross “it is finished!”, He was declaring that the work was done by Him and all we needed to do was trust in His finished work!
If we could be saved by our performance of good living alone, God’s gracious work for us would be unnecessary. Works with an aim toward self-salvation are acts of self-worship. Works that are worshipful are only possible through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It is the acting out of the gospel in works of worship that James is encouraging us to do so that what God’s done for us and in us flows through us to benefit and bless others.
James offers two dramatic examples of people acting on their faith in God. Abraham trusted God enough to put his only son on an altar. Rahab believed Israel’s God was the God of Heaven and earth, and she proved it by hiding the Israelite spies. Other examples include Hannah, who gave her son, Samuel, to the temple for training; David, who fought Goliath; and Daniel’s friends, who were thrown into the furnace for their faith. These acts did not save them, but they displayed their saving faith. Our faith is demonstrated primarily by obeying God, especially when the risk is that we will suffer in some form or fashion for our faith.
Read Genesis 22 to learn more about Abraham’s faith and Joshua 2 to learn more about Rahab’s faith.