Dead or just useless?

James 2:17-20

James Chapter 2 is at the centre of a longer passage where he expands on the meaning of the Royal Law v8 to love one’s neighbour as oneself. It is impossible to fulfill the law without actively doing things. James writes using very pointed phrases because of his need to press his teaching home. One can sense the resistance to his teaching and the counter arguments being raised. Phrases such as, ‘What good is it, my brothers’, ‘faith by itself if it does not have works, is dead’, ‘you foolish person’, ‘faith apart from works is useless.’ James is not engaged in an interesting philosophical debate, he is pressing home the life changing imperative that comes from believing in Jesus. So, is your Christian faith alive, useless or dead?

There are those who wish to drive a wedge between the teaching of Jesus, Paul and James. No such division exists. Paul writes, ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.’ Ephesians 2:8-9 Salvation is by grace alone by faith, however the outworking and evidence of faith is through good works. Division arises where bible sentences are taken out of context without the qualification of either the whole passage or indeed the whole bible. Paul goes on to make the same point that good works arise from faith in the same Ephesians’ passage. ‘For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.’ Ephesians 2:10

We see in contemporary Christian culture the same argument being played out as some say the church should only be engaged in preaching the gospel while others want to play down the gospel and say outreach is by good works. Where this takes place both sides are pleasing themselves and not obeying the whole gospel. Faith translated into good works alongside the ministry of the word is now at the forefront of mission at home and abroad. Faith leading to good works is for the individual Christian and the church community.

The Baptist Missionary Society encapsulates, along with many others, this idea that the Christian life is a missionary life in what we do, what we say and the relationships we build. Laura, a linked missionary with our local church, is currently home between assignments in Peru. In her prayer letter she is asking for prayer for a couple to come to faith, who are living in the rainforest with whom she has been reading the bible. Additionally, she has been involved in establishing training events and programmes for church leaders. This is alongside her work as an environmental scientist impacting local public health through creation care practices. So many ways to take the good news of Jesus to the local community.

James is scornful of those who adopt a stance based on intellectual pride alone. ‘You believe that God is one; you do well.’ (James’ tone combines sadness and sarcasm.) ‘Even the demons believe – and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?’ vv19-20 Living faith involves getting one’s hands dirty and altering what one does with one’s life for the sake of others.

How has faith in Jesus changed how I live my life?

Do we pray for the Spirit to bring opportunities to love others as we love ourselves?

Does our joy found in Jesus overflow into how we engage with others?

Love divine, all loves excelling Joy of heaven to earth come down.