Scripture: But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! James 2:18-19 ESV
Observation: As James transitions from persevering trials that produce steadfastness in Christ (that we might bear “firstfruits”), he shifts his focus to ungodly behavior that impedes our growth: talking over others, being quick-tempered, or any other manner of “rampant wickedness” (1:19-21). He associates such moral turpitude to superficial assent to Scripture (hearing but not applying the Word to our lives), which leads to a spiritual identity crisis (1:22-25). In contrast, James intermingles in this passage godly attributes: a meek disposition, quick to hear, slow to speak, caring for the afflicted, and abstaining from worldly vices (1:19, 21, 26-27). He then revisits another sinful and divisive disposition: partiality to the rich and powerful (2:1-7). Thus, being forewarned, James challenges his readers to follow the Great Commandment—specifically to love our neighbors as ourselves—which leads to his contention that the absence of such godly conduct demonstrates a dead faith (2:14-18).
Takeaway: So what constitutes a living faith? James is quick to respond that true faith yields good works (2:18). In contrast, our faith is worthless if we express sympathy but offer no help to alleviate others’ suffering (2:15-17). James then notes in verse 19 above, “Even the demons believe—and shudder,” implying that evil spirits know that Jesus is the Son of God but have refused to submit to him. Similarly, stating that Christ is Lord while ignoring his commands is nothing more than recognizing the reality of our Creator. But when we live by grace through faith, cooperating with the Holy Spirit who shows us how to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, our love and gratitude for our Savior will inspire us to do good works.
Finally, James adds to his argument the examples of two biblical characters: Abraham and Rahab (2:21-25). While God justified Abraham by his faith in the Lord, Abraham’s faith proved to be life-changing through trust and obedience—even to the point of being willing to sacrifice his son (his heir apparent to the covenant). And Rahab, a misfit of sorts (a foreigner and prostitute), submitted to the God of Israel by sending enemy spies on their way. Thus, we can understand from James’ reasoning that a living faith does not discriminate but moves us to action: to love all our neighbors as ourselves because we believe that the Father first loved us as revealed in his Son’s life, death, and resurrection.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for sending us your Son, who knew no sin but died a sinners death to birth a living faith in us. Would you please foster a growing love for you and your Son in us, that we might indiscriminately love our neighbors as ourselves? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling