Faith Without Works Is Dead
Adult Sunday School Lesson for February 4, 2018
To embody our faith in God through our actions
James 2:14-26 (CEB)
14 My brothers and sisters, what good is it if people say they have faith but do nothing to show it? Claiming to have faith can't save anyone, can it? 15 Imagine a brother or sister who is naked and never has enough food to eat. 16 What if one of you said, “Go in peace! Stay warm! Have a nice meal!”? What good is it if you don't actually give them what their body needs? 17 In the same way, faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity.
18 Someone might claim, “You have faith and I have action.” But how can I see your faith apart from your actions? Instead, I’ll show you my faith by putting it into practice in faithful action. 19 It’s good that you believe that God is one. Ha! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble with fear.
20 Are you so slow? Do you need to be shown that faith without actions has no value at all? 21 What about Abraham, our father? Wasn’t he shown to be righteous through his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 See, his faith was at work along with his actions. In fact, his faith was made complete by his faithful actions. 23 So the scripture was fulfilled that says, Abraham believed God, and God regarded him as righteous. What is more, Abraham was called God’s friend. 24 So you see that a person is shown to be righteous through faithful actions and not through faith alone. 25 In the same way, wasn’t Rahab the prostitute shown to be righteous when she received the messengers as her guests and then sent them on by another road? 26 As the lifeless body is dead, so faith without actions is dead.
In the same way, faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity. (James 2:17)
There has always seemed to be a conflict in what Paul had to say about works and what James had to say. Part of that conflict comes from the two audiences being addressed.”
Paul’s letters, written to an audience that included a large Gentile Christian population, addressed questions of whether a Gentile convert needed to follow the Jewish law in all respects in order to be Christian.
James wrote to “the twelve tribes who are scattered outside the land of Israel” (James 1:1), Jews who were scattered throughout the Roman Empire but still maintained a sense of Jewish identity even when they became Christians.
Some who read Paul and James see a conflict between salvation by faith and salvation by works. They argue that Paul preached salvation by faith alone, whereas James seems to argue for salvation that includes works. but, as we shall see, this passage in James is not a denial of salvation by faith but an explanation of the consequences of salvation by faith.
Another factor that needs to be taken into account is the style of writing. The Book of James is written in the Wisdom tradition, similar to “Proverbs,” “Ecclesiastes”, “Psalms,” “Song of Solomon” or even “Job”.
As out text begins James is writing to fellow believers “brothers and sisters.” But he seems to be talking about pretenders, who claim to believe but show no evidence of that belief. The other thing I noticed, this is about the brotherhood of believers. There will always be those outside that need help, but our resources are not without limit. The emphasis is on those brothers and sisters that need help, but are being ignored. (15 “Imagine a brother or sister who is naked and never has enough food to eat. 16 What if one of you said, “Go in peace! Stay warm! Have a nice meal!”? What good is it if you don't actually give them what their body needs?”)
While James’ says it is good to believe, but don’t brag about that, because guess who else believes? (19 It’s good that you believe that God is one. Ha! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble with fear.) The demons are as orthodox as they come, but they are not changed or saved by their belief. In fact, it causes them to shudder with fear.
Next James uses two contrasting examples of faith, Abraham and Rahab. One the father of all Jews and the other a prostitute. The account of Abraham in Genesis begins with faith, but that faith seems to weaken at times, as in his journey into Egypt when things got tough in Canaan, or when his wife convinced him to marry Hagar and bear a son. James points out that Abraham's faith was not complete until he willingly offered up Isaac. James points to that as completing Abraham's actions, as evidence of his faith.
In wisdom fashion all of these are ask as rhetorical questions and James's
answers his own questions with the final verse, 17: Faith without works, or “actions” that back it up, is dead.
My hymn for this week is “I'm Going To Live, So God Can Use Me”