The Apostle Paul begins this portion of James 2 with a question:
“What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?”
Having looked up some of the words from this question in Strong’s Concordance, please allow me to reiterate his question with my findings:
“What is the ‘profit’ (gain, advantage) if a man says he has ‘faith’ [Grk.: pistis’] (he is persuaded, and has credence; conviction of truth; reliance upon Christ), and doesn’t have ‘works’ (deeds; toil; effort; doings)? Can ‘faith’ (his credence) ‘save’ (deliver; protect; heal; preserve) him?
The Answer…to have made a profession of faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, with our lips, with our mouths, with words, is not enough.
Why is it not enough, you may be asking yourself? “Talk”, the saying goes, “is cheap.” From one of Victor Herbert’s operettas, The Gypsy Fortune Teller, a lilting aire rings out putting the thought behind this old saying to music, “If people said the things they mean, and mean the things they say…no hearts would ache, no hearts would break, and love were love alway…” Words are easily said, thoughtlessly said, emotionally said, and sometimes momentarily said. Words can uplift and encourage but also, without any action or “works” behind our words that our words may bear fruit, words evaporate instantly, as a vapor into the air, disappearing from the speaker, impacting the hearer and possibly doing more damage to the recipient, leaving them in a more devastated circumstance both emotionally and physically than before those words were said.
God hears every word we utter, and in fact, knows our words even before we speak, “For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, Thou knowest it altogether.” – Psalm 139:4 KJV
Verses 15 and 16 gives us an illustration of how when we give well-meaning words to others, it is simply NOT enough!
“If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; nothwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body, what doth it profit?”
I think we can all relate…we see someone not as well off as we, ourselves, might be, and we might in the depths of our hearts ‘feel sorry’ for that person or their circumstance; we might tell them we will pray for them, we might express seemingly sympathetic words to “encourage” them…when in fact, perhaps the words only make us feel good about ourselves because we said “the right thing” or perhaps because we think someone will think well of us for having ‘said something nice’, but all those words, empty words, private thoughts about these unfortunates, are not any different than those mentioned in the Gospel of Luke’s account when a “certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way…saw him…passed by…and likewise a Levite…came and looked on him and passed by…”(Luke 10:30-32) These two men not only didn’t say anything, they didn’t do anything. NO WORKS!
We have a fine example of works in the verses that follow in this familiar parable of what is commonly known as The Good Samaritan. The Samaritan, “saw him, he had compassion on him.” Up to this point, only emotions are involved, but get ready…HERE COME THE WORKS! “And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, to set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.” (Luke 10:33-35) We have a perfect illustration of the second Great commandment we have spoken of before, concerning loving our neighbor as ourselves. Samaritans, remember, were despised of the Jews because of their mixed Gentile blood and their different ways of worship (John 4:20-22). Despised or not, it did not prevent this Samaritan to not just have an emotional response to the injured man, but put that compassion into good works.
Faith MUST HAVE works, Paul says in verse 17, because a proclaimed faith that has no substance behind it, no works, is a dead faith.
What do we say we have faith in? A system? Our religion? Our family? Our church? God? The Bible? Our bank accounts? Our job? Our education? Our insurance policies? Something else?
The only kind of faith that counts for Eternity, is a faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and His finished work on the cross of Calvary, when He shed His blood for the sin of the world.
It is not “works”, that is, good deeds, that seals our guarantee of Eternity with God when we leave this earth. No, not according to God’s Word, the Bible, in Ephesians 2:8-9. The Bible says we are saved by grace: His grace, His gift to us, His mercy, His loving us beyond our sinful nature, hating our sin but loving us and wanting us to be with Him in His Heaven where He lives, forever; for Eternity. Can we possibly fathom what Eternity is like?
God, Who is Holy, Who cannot tolerate sin: the barrier that stands between our being with Him, before the foundation of the world was made, had already known what and how He would resolve the sin dilemma. He would provide Himself, a Lamb, without spot or blemish, in the Person of Jesus Christ, God the Son, to bear our sin for us, that when we died, we could have the assurance of Eternity with Him forever. The price that had to be paid for our sin was Jesus bearing our sin and dying and shedding His blood for us on the cross of Calvary.
Jesus died for all men yet not all will spend Eternity with Him. Why not? Are there works that we must do? No, remember I have already said that good works are a response to having faith, not achieving faith by doing good works.
What, then, is the kind of “faith” that is in agreement with saving faith; the faith that God agrees with? Is it a faith that merely agrees or assents to things I “say” I believe in? James 2:19 says, “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” Well, this kind of faith is no better than what Satan and his devils believe in…they agree that God is; that he exists. Yet, we know that they are not going to spend Eternity in Heaven with God. So, this cannot be saving faith…a mere intellectual assent.
When the circumstances of life take a downward turn, whether through illness, or economic devastation, or natural calamities, or grief or pain…we may pray in faith, believing God can reverse or relieve our misfortunes, and if it is His will, He can, but these are not eternal matters. It is not a saving faith.
According to Acts 16:31a, Scripture puts it this way: “Believe (that is to trust) on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved…” This faith is not temporal, nor intellectual, but one that relies solely on Jesus’ finished work on the cross of Calvary, and then means that “I” or “WE” are not trusting in anything we can do (works) to get to Heaven, but only on what Jesus has done. It is His “gift” to us. Like any gift, we have to receive it, or it is not ours. It may have our name on it, but until we take it for ourselves, make it our own, it is not ours.
If this is the first time you have considered this kind of faith, let me say, this is wonderful, because here and now, you have the opportunity to receive God’s gift of Eternal Life. Jesus says in Revelation 3:20, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him….”
If Jesus is “knocking” at the “door of your heart”, asking you to let Him in and let Him take first place in your heart and life, you need to talk to God and tell Him you repent of your sin; you admit to Him, you are a sinner and there are no ‘works’ you can do yourself to make you acceptable to a Holy God; a God who cannot look on sin. Repent simply means to go full circle…and go from your ways of living your life to His way of living your life. If you tell Jesus you are accepting His taking your place on the cross for your sin, and turn from trusting in your own ways and allow Him to live in your heart ‘by faith’, THIS is saving faith. The only kind of faith that counts with God, according to His Word, the Bible.
The verses in James 2 that conclude this portion for today speak of works that that prove our faith. Once we are saved by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and we do His good will, the works that we do will be works according to His will.
Our “works” after we are saved, prove our faith: “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” James 2:26
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