What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.
Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?
Don’t you remember that our ancestor Abraham was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete. And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” He was even called the friend of God.So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone. Rahab the prostitute is another example. She was shown to be right with God by her actions when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different road. Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works. (James 2:14-26, NLT)
The remainder of chapter 2 highlights James’ argument for “pure religion” that vindicates itself in action. He is deeply troubled by those who define faith merely as a verbal assent to a series of doctrinal truths, such as the example in verse 19. He would be appalled by our modern statements of faith which serve as litmus tests for seminary professors all the way to volunteer lay leaders in local churches. James repeatedly drives home the same thing, pointing to familiar examples of his focus.
The reader does not need a profound explanation to the examples James offered. What we do need is the reminder that we are to be people of integrity whose beliefs, words and actions are whole. His call to put faith in action is a call to fully live out the gospel. There are three reasons why we should take the time to make sure we are actually walking the walk, and not just talking the talk.
First, when our faith is fully integrated and our beliefs and behaviors are one and the same, we bring glory to God. Some have famously pointed out that our lives are an act of worship for an audience of One. When we remember “the One” first and foremost, we’ll be more prone to consistency because we won’t be trying to impress our peers and seek glory for ourselves from an audience of many.
Next, consistently living our our faith will do more to benefit our growth and maturity that rare moments of exceptional behavior. When I was a kid there was a major league baseball player named Dave Kingman. Dave was a first baseman who was known for epic, towering, jaw dropping home runs. But while he was among league leaders in home runs, he was also among the league leaders in strike outs. He hit 442 home runs across a span of 16 seasons. But he also struck out 1,816 times and ended his career a lifetime .235 hitter. With Dave Kingman it was feast or famine. In the Kingdom of God, we can pursue those metaphorical towering shots of service. Those may make an occasional highlight reel, but they won’t grow and mature us into the disciples we need to become.
Finally, there is something compelling that those who are far from God will find in our lives when they’re lived with consistency. Each of us has a platform more important and influential than today’s celebrity preachers who speak to thousands each weekend across multiple campuses. We can be accessible. We can be vulnerable. We can be authentic. Every day our normal traffic patterns of life lead us to people and places filled with people who are watching and observing. They aren’t seeking perfection from us. They just want to know if faith works.