World English Bible translation
2:14What good is it, my brothers, if a man says he has faith, but has no works? Can that faith save him? 2:15 And if a brother or sister is naked and in lack of daily food, 2:16 and one of you tells them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled;" and yet you didn't give them the things the body needs, what good is it? 2:17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead in itself. 2:18 Yes, a man will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show me your faith from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.
James writes to the scattered believers of the twelve tribes of Israel, those Jews that have come to trust Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. James is a pious man, a man whose whole life is devoted toward righteousness. James is also a very concrete man. He does not write in broad theological ideas. James writes about practical things and concrete ideas. When a rich man comes to your assembly, do not show favoritism. Pure religion is to care for orphans and widows. It is not as though James is unfamiliar with less concrete, physical religious concepts. He writes about the Father of Lights and receiving a crown of life. But James more than any other writer in Scripture writes about what can be seen and touched.
Today's Scripture is a perfect example of this emphasis on the tangible. "What good is it, my brothers, if a man says he has faith, but has no works?" For James, evidence of the implanted word comes from what a man can be seen to do, not what a man professes to believe. James would say to the man that professes to believe in Christ, "What has changed in your life that men can see? Show us the life of the implanted word growing within you!" For James, the faith that does not have an impact in the outward expression of one's life is not really faith at all.
Then he gives a concrete example of exactly what he means. If a brother or sister in Christ is destitute and hungry, the person who has been touched by the Spirit of God will be moved with God's compassion to help that brother or sister. The implanted word would impel them to action. It would be a cruel man, unworthy to be called a child of God, who would say to such a one, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled;" and yet do nothing to alleviate such suffering. When we were helpless, God saved us. When we were enemies of God, defiant and in rebellion, Christ died for us. Christ offered His own life as our spiritual food and drink when we were hungry and thirsty and did not know where to turn. Those who belong to Christ will act with the heart of Christ.
James defies the man who claims to have faith but cannot demonstrate that faith through his deeds. Such a faith, that has no works, is dead. In this passage, James does not diverge with other Christian authors, not even Paul who wrote extensively about faith and works. Christian acts (works) flow from Christian attitudes and hearts (faith). James simply examines the other side of Paul's coin. When the word in implanted into our hearts (faith), the results will be demonstrated in the life of the believer (works). The word of God is alive and growing. The implanted word does not grow as camouflage. Everyone can see it. The light of Christ within us is not placed under a bushel. It shines for all to see.
If a man and woman marry and yet live as strangers, are they truly man and wife? If a woman gives birth to a child and then abandons it irresponsibly, is she truly the child's mother? When we accept Christ by faith, God adopts us into His own family. If a man claims to be a child of God and yet there is nothing of the Father in him, is he really a child of God?
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