Faith without Works Is Dead
Faith is never a matter of mere mental ascent to doctrines or propositions. Though mental ascent is not excluded, faith is heartfelt trust and love for the one trusted—in this case, the Lord. But the measure of this love for the Lord is our willing obedience. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Faith is never divorced from obedience in the Scriptures in either Testament.
So, James preaches nothing other than the gospel delivered once for all unto the saints when he says, “Faith by itself, if it has not works, is dead.” And he does us the favor of providing us with an example to illustrate his point. (I once had a friend who told me that he “worked better off examples”; I think most people do.) And so James considers a person who is poorly clad and hungry. Surely to say to such a one, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without meeting his needs for food and clothing is a worthless sentiment, insulting, and grievous sin before our Lord! And so James challenges his hearers, “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” When comparing the Apostle Paul with James, it seems that whereas the Apostle mentions sins of commission (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Galatians 5:19-21), the Bishop mentions those of omission, or at least he does here.
James reminds us of an important truth that many of us in America need to hear. It is easy to lose oneself in good theology books, listening to the best preachers, the most recent contemporary Christian band, or even standing up for the most pressing moral causes such as protecting life and biblical marriage and family. But there are pressing needs around us if we will only look. Granted, we live in a welfare state that has, for good or ill, insinuated and asserted itself in places churches once filled. But such aid only serves the belly as it is done in the name of Caesar or whatever secular organization renders such service. By contrast, churches feed the poor and clothe the naked—and do so in the name of Christ. He is the one who gives our service eternal value. And the word must accompany the deed lest the receiver be confused concerning whom he is to thank.
And remember, the best works are those which are small: “And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward” (Matthew 10:42).