What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder. 20 You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. 25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
Why is it that 85-90% of churches in America are plateaued or declining? Why aren’t more people drawn to a personal relationship with Christ and getting connected and committed to a local church? Why is a personal faith no longer a priority of the majority?
Could it be that professing Christians are walking around with a dead faith? Could it be that churches are full of spiritually dead people? You know, “You can be a professor of the faith without being a possessor of the faith.” (Complete Book of Zingers) It stands to reason that non-Christians won’t be drawn to lifeless relationships. Who wants a dead religion? Who is inspired by something cold and powerless?
I’m wondering this morning about the many people who used to be Christians who are now just indifferent to a relationship with Christ. So many people that I meet tell me they have just gotten “out of the habit” of going to church. How does that happen? I believe people who “lose their faith” do so because they weren’t exercising it. To exercise faith is to grow more and more in love with Jesus and to be more and more engaged in a realm beyond the physical where there is life and power and blessing. No one would just want to walk away from that.
Yes, there are tough times in life that can cause a person to become jaded. Yes, there are pains that are deeper than words can express. Yes, there are disappointments that can knock us off our feet, but if we bring our faith to the table in those moments it will be our faith that sees us through. Our faith will connect us to the reality of God’s presence in crisis. Our faith fill connect us to the reality of God’s ongoing plan in that painful moment. That’s why the Apostle Paul could say even though his life was a series of blows and pains in II Cor. 4:16 “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
Paul got it. A trial without faith is a crushing experience. But bring faith to the trial and you’ll be renewed day by day. A trial without faith is devastating, but bring faith to the trial and something wonderful and lasting will be your reward. Those verses in II Corinthians don’t mention the word “faith,” but faith is all over Paul’s expression. I like the Living Bible’s rendering of Hebrews 11:1. It reads: What is faith? It is the confident assurance that something we want is going to happen. It is the certainty that what we hope for is waiting for us, even though we cannot see it up ahead.
Paul got that. He said, “I will fix my eyes on what I can’t see and believe that something wonderful, something that will bless me, something that will last forever will come out of all that I am enduring.” And he didn’t just believe it. He lived it. You see if you can’t bring faith to trying circumstances, you’ll quitting trying. You’ll quit moving forward. You won’t make spiritual progress. You only get stronger as a Christian by exercising faith—every day in every situation.
James tells us a dynamic faith is more than belief. James 2:19 says that even the demons believe in God. They obviously aren’t serving Him. They are slaves of Satan. An intellectual understanding of God won’t change your life. It won’t keep you from serving the wrong master. You can believe the right thing and still possess a dead faith. Yes, a dynamic faith is more than belief.
Faith is more than words. James 2:15 says, “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? You can say the right thing and still possess a dead faith. A dynamic faith is tuned in to the needs of people. It’s more than awareness of a need, but a commitment to add their faith and follow through to impact that person’s need in order to see the need be met.
If you believe it and speak it, but don’t act on it, you haven’t exercised faith. You have had an opinion and offered some advice, but you haven’t exercised faith. But when you act on a situation out of a determination to see God at work, your faith becomes displayed through your action. In other words, your faith is proven through your deeds. Dead faith stops at belief or maybe goes as far as to comment on a situation. Dynamic faith acts.
Now faith is only as good as its object. Picture a man in the jungle. He bows before an idol of stone and trusts it to help him, but he receives no help. It doesn’t matter how much faith a person musters. If it is not directed at the right object, it will accomplish nothing. Many sincere people may say, “I believe,” but the big question is, “In whom do you believe? What do you believe?” We are not saved by faith in faith; we are saved by faith in Christ as revealed in His Word. And Christ has unlimited knowledge and power and a perfect love for His people. Faith in Him is a solid faith. It sees results.
Before I talk about the two people James lists in this passage who were persons of dynamic faith, I want to point out the placement of this commentary on faith in the middle of chapter 2. What precedes this section of chapter two is a commentary on how we treat people. What comes after it in chapter three is a commentary on how we speak to people or how we speak about people. This treatise on faith tucked between these two passages leads me to the conclusion that how we treat people with our actions and words will prove how dead or dynamic our faith is.
It is time as the people of God to let love lead. That’s a way to exercise and display faith. We need to quit being scared of people who sin. They are just doing what sinners do. We need to quit labeling people that aren’t like us. Of course they’re not like you. They aren’t supposed to be like you. We need to quit minimizing people based on their race, socio economic status, education or family of origin. Celebrate diversity. God does. He set it up that way. You can learn something about God and something about yourself from everyone you meet.
I’m not saying we should go soft on sin. I just spent Wednesday night talking about how we need to make sure we don’t have any sin in the camp. But what I am saying is that our job isn’t to judge and condemn but to love and listen.
James 3 reminds us we need a tighter rein on our mouths. When it comes to talking, sometimes less is more. “Just because we have a right to express our opinion doesn’t mean it’s always right to do so.” (-Mandy Bohm) Do you know that what you say says an enormous amount about your faith? Negative talk indicates a lack of faith in the promises of God. If His Word says you will be delivered and that you are more than a conqueror, but you go around spewing out “woe is me” all of the time–that is an indication that somewhere you have quit exercising faith. Biting comments, caustic sarcasm, name calling, gossip-they all say lots about your faith. A person with dynamic faith recognizes that each person is uniquely created in the image of God, that we are all a work in progress, that people need encouragement and prayer rather than harsh words. When we exercise restraint with our words, we exercise faith in the fact that we believe that God can change people and that God’s Word about the power of words is true.
Alright. On to Abraham and Rahab. Look at James 2:21 again: Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend.
James pictures Abraham’s faith a little like a person who is in a row boat using both oars. If you’ve ever canoed or rowed a boat, you know the importance of having more than one oar in use. If you just paddle on the right side of the boat, you’ll go in circles. If you just paddle on the left side of the boat, you’ll go in circles. Only when you use both oars do you make forward progress. Faith and works are like the two oars of a boat. Using both is the only way to keep moving forward.
Paul referred to Abraham time and time again. Three times in Romans and once in Galatians, Paul celebrated Abraham’s faith. James commented on his faith. Abraham was listed in the “hall of faith” passage in Hebrews 11.
The first time we meet Abraham in Scripture in Genesis 12 Abraham was exercising faith. 1 The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. 2 “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” 4 So Abram left, as the Lord had told him.”
You see, people with dynamic faith recognize that God directs walking feet. You have to be willing to go somewhere if you want God to direct your steps. You have to be moving in some kind of direction in order for God to direct your steps. And Abraham showed off his dynamic faith when without knowing the plan or any details or what it would look like when he arrived, he simply trusted that God could do more for him and bless him more abundantly if he took God at His Word. So, Abraham exercised faith when he started walking. Listen, you won’t know what God can do in and through you unless you try something. If you start out and it flops, God will adjust your steps, but oh how delighted He’ll be in your heart’s desire to move out for Him! People with dynamic faith aren’t sitting still, spiritually speaking!
Abraham didn’t do everything perfectly. He didn’t always get everything right. He wasn’t just born with super faith. It grew in his life. There were times when his faith was weak. He asked Sarah, his wife, to tell a lie in order to save his life (Gen. 12:11-20 and 20:1-18). He questioned God when he and Sarah didn’t have children (Gen. 15:2-3). He suggested an alternative to God when he didn’t see any possible way he and Sarah could have children (Gen. 17:17-18).
But he continued to talk to God and listen to God and learned to trust God. He trusted God to the point that once his son, Isaac, the promised son that God gave to Abraham and Sarah in their old age, was born, he was willing to sacrifice him by killing him as a sacrifice at God’s request. We know God stopped Abraham to keep him from going through with it, but his obedience pointed us to a mature faith. In fact, Abraham’s faith was so fixed that he believed God could raise Isaac from the dead after he was sacrificed. You’ll remember that James called Abraham “God’s friend” in James 2:23. Abraham possessed the kind of faith that is possible when a person cultivates a friendship with God. You will exercise and build dynamic faith when you cultivate your friendship with Jesus.
Coming to church on Sunday morning is a great step, but it’s not enough. “Part-time faith, like a part-time job, will not fully support you.” (Complete Book of Zingers) People with a part-time faith will crumble in crisis when in reality, crises are supposed to be one of the vehicles God uses in our lives to help us grow even stronger.
Our faith is supposed to grow. Do you panic when you get bad news? Are you living in fear, worry and anxiety? You need to check to see how your friendship with Jesus is progressing.
You’ll recall the disciples were people of little faith when they first started to walk with Jesus. Remember how frightened they were in Matthew 8 when they were in a boat with Jesus and a storm arose? Jesus was asleep in the boat, sleeping peacefully as the storm raged. The disciples woke him up and said, “Lord, save us. We are going to drown!”
Do you see how they jumped to the worst possible scenario? They let fear take them to the most extreme outcome possible in their minds and then it came out of their mouths. We often do the same thing, don’t we? I’m sure the way they shook Jesus to wake Him, and the way they were using their bodies to convey their fear had just as much possibility of capsizing their boat as the storm itself. Do you know sometimes we contribute to our own drowning experience? Instead of exercising faith, we walk in fear and get shook up to the point where we shake up the things that are swirling around us even more.
I know the disciples lacked faith in that experience because after Jesus calmed the storm, do you remember what he said to them? “You of little faith. Why are you so afraid?” What’s the take away for us? If Jesus’ isn’t worried and upset about the storm going on in your life, you sure don’t need to be.
Those disciples went from men of little faith to being an unstoppable force for the Kingdom of God following the Resurrection. Why? Because they spent time cultivating their relationship, their friendship with Jesus.
Abraham’s faith grew through friendship with God. He was God’s friend. We’re told in Romans 4:12 to “Walk in the footsteps of faith” that Abraham did. Abraham’s faith involved a commitment to seeing what was unseen. Hebrews 11:10 tells us that Abraham “was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” People who exercise dynamic faith don’t get focused on the here and now. What are you looking at? Are you focused on things you can hold and possess through natural sight which will fade, spoil or break down, or are you focused on the unseen and eternal things that you can possess forever?
If you are focused on what is unseen or fixed on what is unseen, you won’t let the passing of time diminish the level of your faith when you are waiting for God to do something. You see, people who possess dynamic faith also have to exercise patience. Abraham had to. He didn’t have that promised son until well into his 90’s. Hebrews 6:12 highlights how patience plays into a dynamic faith. “We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.” It was a long time between the promise of a son and the fulfillment of that promise.
I know God has called us to develop the 64 acres we own one mile from here as a recreation, banquet, sports, and conference facility for the people of Putnam County. I’m the most unlikely person to lead a group of people to pursue such a big project. I’m a musician turned preacher. The only thing I’ve ever built was a Parcheesi game in junior high shop class and a house of cards. Doesn’t God have a sense of humor? I don’t know how it’s going to be done. I don’t know what the steps are to get from point “A” to point “B.” I don’t know how many steps there even are. I don’t know how it will get funded or how long it will take. But the beautiful thing about exercising faith is that as long as God knows the answers to all of those things, we don’t have to. All we have to do is be obedient. Just like Abraham. We walk in obedience. That’s how we exercise faith. It’s done through obeying God, one step at a time.
Now for the other person James mentions who is a great example of faith. Rahab. You couldn’t find two people more opposite than Abraham and Rahab. Abraham was a Jew. Rahab was a Gentile. Abraham was a godly man. Rahab was a prostitute. Abraham was the friend of God. Rahab belonged to the enemies of God.
Israel was about to invade the Promised Land and take the city of Jericho. Rahab and her family lived within the city walls. Rahab had heard about how God had been with the Israelites in miraculous ways, and she believed their God was the true God. She never saw any of those miraculous things take place with her own eyes, but after hearing about them, she believed they were true. Choosing to believe without seeing something firsthand-that’s dynamic faith.
Rahab risked hiding the spies that Joshua had sent into the city. She told them she would assist them. She confessed her belief in their God. Other people within the city heard about God’s mighty acts, but they didn’t react to those messages the same way Rahab did. In exchange for the help Rahab gave the spies, her life and the lives of all of her family were spared when the Israelites took Jericho.
Rahab shows us that people with a dynamic faith don’t play it safe. Rahab could have had dead faith. She could have had a mere intellectual experience. But she exercised dynamic faith. Her mind knew the truth. Her heart was stirred by the truth, and her will acted on the truth. She risked her life to hide and help the spies. She wasn’t just brave. She was exercising dynamic faith.
We see also from Rahab that people with a dynamic faith don’t keep it to themselves. Rahab shared what she believed with the spies. She told the spies she believed their God was the one true God under heaven. Her family knew about her faith, no doubt. They would witness how the expression of her faith led to their safety when everyone else in Jericho was killed when Israel invaded the city. You see, faith isn’t something we privately possess, but something we publicly confess. Who in your life knows you have faith because they have heard you express it?
People with dynamic faith live transformed lives. Rahab’s whole life changed because she believed in God. She got to escape a doomed city. She turned from worthless idols to worshiping God. Her whole lineage and posterity was transformed as she aligned herself with God’s people. She became the mother of Boaz who was the great-grandfather of King David. Do you remember who was born from the house and lineage of David? That’s right, Jesus. God literally rewrote her story. Her future was doomed and He gave her an amazing future that turned out to be an awesome legacy all because she possessed and expressed a dynamic faith.
So let’s recap.
People with a dead faith have head knowledge, but nothing to prove they really believe. But:
- People with a dynamic faith have actions to show they believe.
- People with dynamic faith aren’t sitting still.
- People with dynamic faith cultivate their friendship with God.
- People with dynamic faith are focused on seeing the unseen.
- People with dynamic faith exercise patience.
- People with dynamic faith walk in obedience.
- People with dynamic faith don’t play it safe.
- People with dynamic faith don’t keep it to themselves.
- People with dynamic faith live transformed lives.
How many of those nine expressions of dynamic faith can you check off in your own life? How alive is your faith?