Scripture: “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.” – James 2:26
A difficult passage for sure because it sounds like — or has been interpreted to sound like — man is justified by faith AND works. Yet this is not at all what the passage means. If it did, it would be a passage in conflict with the rest of the Scripture and thus we could not trust God or His Word. We must understand this passage differently.
What is faith? Faith is an active, living thing. So that men may not fall into the delusion of having faith when they actually do not, they are to examine their works, whether they love their neighbor and do good or they take great pleasure in harming and despising their neighbor. A sign of true faith is good works — a sign of true faith is love. Faith that can move mountains and understand all the mysteries of God, if not producing love, is not faith, but merely a sound of faith which quickly forgets what it is to be a child of God.
In this text, James is saying no more and no less than that a Christian’s life is one of faith and love. Love is being kind and useful to all — both friends and enemies. Love is everything the Scripture has to say: patient, kind, humble, selfless, not quarrelsome, not seeking its own way; it’s not resentful or easily irritated; it doesn’t applaud or affirm evil or wrongdoing but stands for and celebrates the truth. Love bears, believes, hopes and endures, and it never ends. Ultimately, love does to others as Christ has done to the Christian in faith. And where faith is right, it most certainly loves.
Every person should be aware of this lest he have in his heart a fantasy or dream of faith rather than true faith and living deceived. The best place to learn this is by doing works of love and in being in service to others. If you are living for yourself and care nothing for your neighbor, then your faith is certainly nothing, for it does not do what Christ has done for you. But if you seek to care for others and share the love of Christ with others through your service, however small or insignificant, then faith is there, if only but a flicker, and Christ Spirit is gently working to keep it alive and to grow it.
So, in the Christian life, faith AND love must be present, and the Christian must embrace this and never separate the two: faith and love. Works do not save, but works come from salvation and faith. One cannot believe and not love, but as we have seen, many try. They claim to have great faith, but they despise their neighbor. They claim to have Christ, but they refuse to love their enemy. This “faith” will lead to nothing.
In our modern age, there is also a confusion of love and affirming people’s behaviors. But as Paul writes, “Love abhors evil but rejoices in the truth.” Love NEVER affirms or supports or celebrates sinful living or lifestyles. One cannot love by telling a sinner it’s okay to live in sin. That’s not love. Love speaks the truth because Christ speaks the truth. Love says no more or no less than what Christ Jesus says. Where sinners sin, out of love Christ says, “repent.” Where sinners refuse to repent, out of love Christ says, “be warned, for I will return to judge, and if I do not see the fruits of faith, you will be cut off and burned.”
Faith is everything and fully saves us and nothing more is needed than faith. But faith is not idle, and it does not embrace the great evils called the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21). Instead, a person of faith repents of his sins and desires of the flesh and seeks after the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-26) and his faith labors much for the benefit of his neighbor and not for himself. He has no need for self-concern; He has sufficiency in Christ!
Dear Father in heaven, give me a faith that moves mountains, but more importantly, give me a faith that loves my neighbor as You have so loved me in Christ. In His name, amen.