What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don't show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, "Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well"—but then you don't give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn't enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. Now someone may argue, "Some people have faith; others have good deeds." But I say, "How can you show me your faith if you don't have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds." You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. How foolish! Can't you see that faith without good deeds is useless?
Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works. (James 2:14-20;26, NLT)
I have a friend who I would describe as a man of quiet, confident faith. He doesn't teach Sunday School classes. He isn't on the Elder board. You won't find him speaking out much and if you didn't take the time to get to know him, you would miss the best part of him. To say he is loyal would be a gross understatement. If you were in a group with him and thought he either wasn't paying attention or wasn't "getting" what was being said, you would be sorely mistaken. You see, I believe he is a living example of what James was writing about. His faith runs so deep, that you can see it in the way he lives his everyday life.
That's a challenge to me and all of you who "talk a good game" at times, but don't often back up the words with sincere action. It would seem, from reading the second chapter of James' letter to the early church, that he had a particular distaste for that kind of person. Now, theologians and scholars and all manner of people over time keep wanting to carve up this message, piece it back together, and interpret it in a way that clearly states our salvation comes via grace alone with nothing added to it. And I'm not debating that at all, and frankly, that's why I chose the New Living Translation's version of this passage. It's a matter of our faith either being alive and moving or being dead and entirely useless. Nothing more; nothing less.
I suppose my real question, when thinking about this passage and my friend, is this. Have we become so programmed and busy in our practice of faith that we miss the God-given opportunities to demonstrate it in practical ways? Many of us love to discuss and debate things, but when was the last time we brought a "cup of cold water" to a thirsty person without expecting something in return? Or even worse, wouldn't think of bringing that cup in the first place. I think James was on that very track when he wrote about the hollow words the "faithful" spoke. To a lost and dying world who is living on the ragged edge, even our most eloquent words fall flat if we don't actually do something tangible for them.
My challenge, as I travel this Crooked Path, is to look around me as much as I look up and forward. To recognize that my Father has entrusted me with a wonderful gift and I should not be stingy in sharing it. It doesn't mean that I can answer every call for assistance, but it does mean I need to constantly re-evaluate how I demonstrate my faith. I need to realize that, at times, I even need to "earn" the right to share that faith based on how I've demonstrated Love in very practical ways. I must remember that I am not on this path alone ... God placed me in a society where relating to others is not only necessary, it is part of the joy that fuels my faith in Him. That quiet, confident faith of my friend will speak more loudly than anything I have to say.
- How are you doing in the "cups of cold water" department? Do you even look for those opportunities so you are ready when they appear?
- How would those who know you best describe your faith? Better yet, what would somebody in need who you met have to say?
- Are you willing to make the commitment to shift from words into actions? Do you see how faith without it is dead and useless as James described it?