The Basic Christian Life: Dead Faith – Part 7

We are blessed to know many people who daily give evidence of their genuine faith through good works.

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James 1:22 – But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (NKJV)

I want to teach you about dead faith… stated in various ways as “faith without works”, “faith without action”, “faith without good deeds”, “faith without service”, “faith without ministry” or “faith without a physical manifestation of it” (faith in words only).

Many people say “I have faith” and they give evidence of it by stating their trust in God, belief in Christ and joy in salvation. All those are good things but there is more to faith… James tells us very plainly that living faith is active faith:

James 2:26 – For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. (NKJV)

There’s no wiggle room in that statement. Faith without works is dead, a very negative statement conveying a positive concept. Given such finality, it is to our best interest to find out what James means. Let’s back up a few verses and see:

James 2:14 – What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? (NKJV)

Huh? Doesn’t that contradict plain Scripture that says faith IS what saves you (Eph 2:8-9; Gal 3:24; Rom 11:26; Phil 3:9 among others)? This verse has been used to create “religions” (as opposed to Christianity which is a relationship with God) and confuse many people.

Remember, the Bible does not contradict itself and always plainly interprets itself.  So we know faith alone saves us, the Bible declares this beyond question. We know we do NOT earn our salvation by the merit of good works as every other religion teaches. In fact, this is the great chasm that divides Biblical Christianity from all other religions that teach “faith plus [something] = salvation”.

Christianity = Faith + Nothing Else
All Other Religions = Faith + [Something]

Again, we know from Scripture that faith alone saves. We know from Scripture that we cannot earn our salvation through good works. So what does it mean: “faith without works is dead”?

The key is the context (the rest of the Scripture that surrounds the verse in question). The Book of James is practical instruction about living the daily Christian life. Leading up to the passage about faith and works, we see James 2:1-7 instructing us to not show favoritism (see Part 6 of this series). The next five verses are about the Law, then verses 14-26 talk about faith and works. I’ll give you the answer first, and then I’ll show you the explanation. Here’s the answer:

“Faith without works” is a way to recognize faith that is FALSE because all true faith will be accompanied by good works.

It doesn’t mean that good works EARN salvation but that good works is demonstrable, authentic evidence that genuine faith (and thus genuine salvation) is present. More simply, James is saying that while the presence of good works is not proof positive of genuine faith (you can perform outward “good works” without faith), they are certainly a good indicator of genuine faith. On the flip side, the absence of good works IS proof positive of a dead or false faith. Let’s look:

James 2:15-17 – If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (NKJV)

It’s not rocket science. Which response reveals true faith in Christ: to physically help those in need? Or to say “God bless you” and send them on their way cold and hungry?  Faith without works is dead faith.

To make sure there is no confusion, James himself clarifies:

James 2:18 – But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. (NKJV; emphasis)

Good works are a tangible evidence (“show me”) of genuine faith. If a person declares their faith but manifests a life without good works they have a false faith. It is impossible to live the genuine Christian  life without good works because loving, serving, helping, ministering and giving are woven into the fabric of the faith-filled life.

To declare faith is possible without good works would be akin to declaring human life possible without breathing. Therefore, just as breathing is evidence of life, good works are evidence of genuine faith.

James goes on to call someone “foolish” in verse 20 who even questions the obvious point he is making. To prove the assertion in real life, James lists a couple of well known and accepted “faith” figures and proclaims it was their works that identified/substantiated their faith: Abraham and Rahab.

James final conclusion which leaves no room for an alternative was:

James 2:14 – What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? (NKJV)

James 2:26 – For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. (NKJV)

– – – – – – – – – –

You wonder why James has to even make the effort to clarify something so obvious. The answer to that is simple: the fickle, petty and immature nature of humans. We want the easy way out. We want to be part of the “club” with as little commitment, effort and sacrifice as possible. It is a by-product of our sin nature.

So like a good father reminding his children that good intentions are not enough, they must be accompanied with self-sacrificing and diligent action, James takes care to remind us that faith alone, without attending good works, is a dead faith.

On a deeper level, the mature Christian is COMPELLED to good works by his faith. How can a Christian sit by in the face of so much need, hurt and want… and do nothing? Yet, proclaim his “faith” to the world?

  • “Oh, you are hungry? Well, God will care for you. I’ll pray for you” without giving food? That’s not faith.
  • “Oh, you lost your job and your electricity is cut off and your kids are cold? God bless you. All will be well” without paying their electric bill? That’s not faith.
  • “Need to go to the doctor and no way to get there? I’ll pray God will provide a ride” without going and taking them? That’s not faith.
  • “Your wife left you and you need help with the kids? Have faith brother, God will see you through” without making time to help? That’s not faith.

Of course I’m talking about when it is within our power and ability to physically help but we send them on with a “God bless you” and don’t lift a finger. That’s not faith.  True faith is demonstrated by our actions, our commitment, our sacrifice, our ministry to others, our willingness to physically and tangibly HELP and bless.

James 2:14 – What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? (NKJV)

James 2:26 – For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. (NKJV)

We know so many faithful Christians who pour out their life through good works... it's a travesty to single any one person out knowing that I run the risk of not mentioning someone else equally deserving. I could easily name a hundred people off the top of my head whose faith is authenticated by their untiring good works. Within the circles of our close Christian family, my friend John Abernethy would be considered the spiritual ringleader of good works. I count him among my close spiritual friends and a shepherd. He is truly unwaivering in his willingness and alertness for opportunity to lead (and very often perform himself) good works within our community. I'm blessed to hold up John as an example of a living, authentic, active "James faith" (of course equally true of his wife, Lori).

In closing (my third “close”! Typical wannabee preacher…), I want to also pay tribute to a very special person in our life… Jim. Jim knows who he is. He is an example of living faith through good works. I have seen his good works first hand… amazing, extraordinary good works… and yet he is never seen, he never asks for (nor wants) any recognition. I have seen his good works literally make a LIFE CHANGING, life altering difference for a family.

While God calls some to be more public, some to be visible and “up front”, others do good works unnoticed by the world or even other Christians. Most mature Christians probably have a mix of both kinds of good works, seen and unseen. I believe these unseen good works (unseen to us) are a special blessing to God and will result in our greatest rewards throughout eternity.

I wanted to pay a special personal tribute to Jim and publicly thank him for his testimony of faith through good works.


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The Basic Christian Life: Evil Favoritism – Part 6


(Click here to search for all the posts in this series…)

James 1:22 – But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (NKJV)

It’s been over two months since I wrote a part of this series. Hope you didn’t give up on me…  let’s continue.

A basic principle of Christian living is to never play favorites. Never show partiality. Never.

What does that mean? Here’s what it doesn’t mean:

  • It doesn’t mean you can’t have some friends that are closer than others.
  • It doesn’t mean you can’t “like” someone more than someone else.
  • It doesn’t mean you can’t do something nice for someone that you can’t do for everyone.

It means that you do not count one person AS MORE VALUABLE IN GOD’S EYES that another. And more specifically, James tells us that we do not show favorable treatment to someone JUST BECAUSE they have money or because it may result in personal gain or advantage for us.

Favoritism in general is elevating the status of another person based on superficiality: looks, family, money, position or race. It is based in selfish ambition when we do it for personal advantage, and pride when we think we can judge someone on external appearances.

Let’s take a look at James 2:1-13 (NKJV;emphasis mine):

James 2:1 My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality.
Plain and simple… don’t practice your “faith” (refers to the Christian life as a whole) with partiality. Don’t let favoritism be part of your life. Ever.
James 2:2-4 For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?
Gold rings and fine clothes in that culture clearly announced someone of material success and social status. Unlike today, it was more uncommon and if a man walked in with those things, it would be instantly noticed.
Christians should never show favored treatment to the wealthy or powerful and ignore the poor or unimportant. That demonstrates the weakness of man’s perspective as God uses the outcasts of the world just as surely as He uses the talented and popular.
Favoritism can be blatant: giving a seat of honor or showing all the attention to the favored. It can also be VERY subtle where the favoritism is in your mind and heart but you are careful to not show it blatantly by your actions.
Favoritism starts with the attitude of your heart and thoughts in your mind regardless of how it is manifested. God is not fooled by mortal who harbor favoritism but disguise it outwardly through manipulation and schemes that our fellow humans don’t pick up on.  There’s “in your face” favoritism… then there’s secret favoritism that may fool other Christians but not God.
When we show favoritism we become “judges of the heart”.  Only God can see into the human heart and know the REAL person. For us to show favoritism is to claim to have the power of God to know the secret nature of another person.  We can judge external actions but never internal realities. The state of the human heart is God’s domain alone. To show partiality is to “play God”. That’s why it is forbidden.
James 2:5 Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?
James is not saying that God has chosen ONLY the poor, but ALSO the poor. It is human nature to think that poverty and low social status equates to uselessness and personal failure. We are reminded that externals are not trustworthy indicators. God sees pass that. The kingdom of God is promised to those WHO LOVE GOD… it is has nothing to do with the social standards of this world.
James 2:6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?
We are reminded that most often it is the rich and powerful who oppress and cheat us, not the poor. So why do we show partiality to the rich anyway? One word: greed. We hope that by doing so, we might end up with some of that money, power and privilege. C’mon, you know it’s true. That’s why we get a big smile on our face and become ultra-friendly with the beautiful, success people… but (often) impatient and matter-of-fact with the “losers”.  Let’s just tell it like it is.
On top of that, who in this world are the ones routinely denying and blaspheming God? The ones who are rich, popular and powerful. The poor can blaspheme and deny God too but we most often see the powerful and wealthy doing it because their success has caused them to elevate their opinion of themselves. Why would we honor someone who denies our Savior? For a chance at some personal attention from them? Please.
James 2:8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty.
Huh? What does all that law stuff have to do with anything?  James is saying this: you can’t be a “good Christian” in every other part of your life while showing favoritism… and pretend it does not taint your entire walk of faith.
It’s like I tell my kids, you can’t be a “liar” in certain situations. You are either a “liar” or not. If you tell lies at work or to your parents, YOU ARE A LIAR. You don’t get to pick and choose, or compartmentalize.  In the same manner, you can’t show favoritism and claim the rest of your Christian life is just fine and dandy. If you openly engage in any sin, that sin permeates and stains your entire Christian life.  We try to fool ourselves by thinking “well I’m a really good Christian except for this one little thing….”
James 2:13 For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
Another aspect of favoritism is that it often involves showing less mercy towards the unfavored, even if it is just a by-product of our attitude and not a malicious choice.  We are more patient, forgiving and understanding with those we favor.
We are more likely to be blunt and “tell it like it is” with the less favored while pretending it is just showing “tough love” and being realistic. Oh, the games we play in our minds.
– – – – – – – –
We should NEVER show favoritism, EVER. To accomplish this, you must continually evaluate both your attitudes and choices towards others. It is very easy to slip over into favoritism while justifying it with some holy motive.
Remember, we cannot see into the heart. We shouldn’t act like we can. Disregard material success, status, privilege and power as the means by which we regard others.
Favoritism is a proclamation that we are like God which is of course the first and most primary lie Satan would have us believe and is the foundation of all human pride and sin (Gen 3:4).


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