James 2:26(NKJV) 26For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
This week we are studying Mark 11:24. In this verse, Jesus tells us that if words spoken by faith to the natural world are powerful enough to move mountains, than words spoken with the same faith in prayer to the Father are even more powerful. He goes on to say that when we pray we must believe that we have our request. If we do, we will have what we ask God to do. If we wait to believe our request is granted until we see it in the natural, we will never get it.
We know this principle because we use it all the time in the natural. We order things online and tell people what we bought. We do not say, I hope I get a new computer. If we ordered from a good company, we say we bought a new computer. We do not yet have the computer, but when we ordered it, we believed it was ours. We need to treat God with the same respect. He is far more reliable than any online vendor. When we pray we need to believe we receive the answer and thank God for it until we see it in the natural.
The next thing we do if we believe our online order is on the way is to act in accordance with what we believe. Today’s verse tells us that faith operates in the same manner. This verse says faith without works is dead. According to Thayer’s Bible Definitions, this word can mean an act. Faith without an act or action that corresponds to what we believe is dead.
James uses the comparison to the body without the spirit to explain what he means. A body without a spirit has all the parts necessary for life. It has a heart but the heart does not beat or pump blood. It has lungs but they do not take in oxygen. It has eyes that do not see and ears that do not hear. It has all the parts needed for life but no life. It cannot do anything. It cannot accomplish anything. We may have the Word of God in our heart. We may have our confession in place. We may know what we want to believe, but faith without some kind of action is ineffective.
What kind of action is James talking about? Let us look at what he says earlier in the chapter.
James 2:14-17(NKJV) 14What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
In verse 17, James makes the same statement concerning faith and works he does in verse 26. However, he ties it to some other statements. He tells us that if we say to a brother or sister, “be warm and filled” but give them no food or warm clothing, what good does that do. At first glance, we might conclude that the kind of works or actions James is speaking of are charitable works. I believe that is part of what he means and we will discuss this later. If we look more closely at verse 17 and verses 18-25, I believe it will become clear that he is talking about more than that.
Verse 17 uses a phrase that is important. He says, “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” I use many illustrations when I teach or preach. An illustration is a parallel statement of truth. I might use my relationship with my children to illustrate God’s relationship with us. I do this because it is easy for most of us to relate to natural parents and children. We have all been the one and most of us have been both. I might say something like, “Just as I loved my children in this way, God loves us in the same way.” This is exactly what James is doing in verse 17.
It is easy to understand that willingness to help a person who needs food or clothes does no good if we do not give the food or clothes. James says faith has the same relationship to corresponding actions. If we say we believe something but put no action behind what we believe, our faith is ineffective in doing what we need it to do.
In verses 18 to 25, Paul uses two examples. The first is that of Abraham and Isaac. In this story we learn that God told Abraham to take Isaac up to Mount Mariah, build and alter, kill Isaac and offer him as a sacrifice. Hebrews 11 tells us that Abraham did this by faith because he believed God would raise Isaac from the dead if necessary. Abraham had a promise and his action was based on that promise.
The promise was that one of his descendent would bless all nations and that the number of his descendents would be as the sands on the seashore. Isaac was his only son. If the promise was going to be fulfilled, it had to be through Isaac. However, God was the one that gave the promise so Abraham acted in faith according to the promise knowing that God would do the impossible if necessary. James tells us that this “work” was accounted to him as righteousness.
There is no way that this action by Abraham can be seen as “good works.” It is an action taken because Abraham believed that God would fulfill his promise. If Abraham had not taken this corresponding action, everything that happened next would have been affected. God was Abraham’s blood covenant partner. Whatever Abraham gave God must give. Abraham gave his only son believing God would raise him from the dead. The devil was the God of this world because of Adam’s rebellion. Once God’s human covenant partner gave his son, the devil could not stop God from giving his “only begotten son.”
The next example is Rahab. She protected the spies Israel sent to gather intelligence on Jericho. She believed that the God of Israel was more powerful than the gods of Canaan. She acted according to her faith by choosing to hide the spies instead of giving them to the king of Jericho. Her faith action aided Israel in gaining victory over Jericho as well as protecting her life and that of her family when everyone else in Jericho died.
In these examples, it is clear that James is not just speaking about good works or charitable deeds when he says faith without works is dead. He is talking about actions that we take because we believe the promise of God is true.
Every faith endeavor requires a point of action. Acting on our faith always involves some risk. Abraham risked losing the promise altogether. Rahab risked losing her life to the king if he found out she had betrayed him. Neither had any natural reason to think their action would not result in bad things happening. All they had was the promise of God.
Before we go any farther in this teaching I want to bring a word of caution. I believe everything we do by faith will require an action. We must know that the action we take is a result of what we already believe and not an attempt to believe. If we act to get faith, we will fail. Many have misunderstood this and acted thinking the action itself was faith. If we do not have faith, we cannot act. How do we know the difference?
I believe it is important that every believer be in relationship with someone who is accountable for them and who is older and wiser in the things of God than he is. That is why I believe we need to be in a local church under local leaders who know us. We need to get counsel before we act. If those over us say what we are planning is not the Lord, we need to submit. Real corresponding actions will release the power of God. Actions to try to believe will release disaster.
The bible teaches that there is safety in Godly counsel. We must find that balance between acting in faith and acting in foolishness. If we do not, either our faith will be “dead” or our actions will produce problems. We can find that balance if we do it in relationship.