Living out our faith can be difficult at times. Sometimes people ridicule us for our faith or we see and live difficult events, and we become discouraged in our faith. Sometimes we are tired or exhausted from our day to day life that we forget to express and share our faith with others. It becomes easier to simply say the “right” thing or brush off the interaction, event, or request entirely. James prescribes to us two key things in living out our faith: don’t hand out empty words and take action in faith.
Empty Words (14-17)
James starts out by asking two questions. In these questions, he’s asking about saving faith. Faith founded in the gospel and saving grace of God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, he’s asking about somebody that claims to have such a faith, but does not express their faith with their actions.
Can you imagine if somebody told you that they love you, but none of their actions show their love for you? If I told my wife that I loved her but stopped kissing or hugging her and began to ignore her except for basic functionality within the house, then she would not feel loved by me. She expects me to express my love for her through my actions along with my words. She expects me to kiss her, to hug her, and to have real and intimate conversations with her. If I’m to truly love my wife, then I need to express my love for her through my actions along with my words.
These are the empty words that James is talking about. We may say that we have faith in Christ, but none of our actions show that we love and have faith in Christ. We stop going to church. We cuss and make sexual or racist jokes with our friends. We bully other people by making fun of them or beating up on them. Instead of doing these things, we need to express our love and faith in Christ by going to church, reading our Bible, praying, living a wholesome life, and loving and uplifting others. James’ most important work is that of taking care of the poor. This is why he gives the example of a poor person needing clothing and food. We don’t just give a poor person kind words. We do our best to meet their physical needs. It does them no good to say, “Have a nice day. Be warm and have your belly filled.,” without giving them clothes and food when they need clothes and food to do so. It does them good to follow our words with action. We cannot give empty words to people, and we cannot give empty words to God. Our words need to be backed by our actions.
Take Action in Faith (18-16)
We see that our faith is seen by our actions in this passage. A person can say that they have faith all they want, but we trust the person that lives out their faith to actually have faith over the person that doesn’t. It is not our jobs to judge someone’s salvation and faith, but Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits.” (Matt. 7:16-20). As we’ve seen with my love for my wife being known by my actions, our faith is known by our actions also.
James says, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe – and shudder!” (19). This is a reference to the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4-5 which reads:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
The Lord our God is one and not many gods. Therefore, we should love Him with our whole being and everything we have as one. This was a commandment from God through Moses. For anybody to believe that God is one, then they are doing well to remember that. But recognizing and believing this doesn’t mean anything unless it brings about a difference and action in our lives. James says that the demons even believe that God is one and all it does is cause them to shudder in fear. This is more than some of us can even say. We know that demons oppose God. Their belief in God as one did not bring about redemptive action in love of God. If our faith does not bring about redemptive action in love of God, then what good is our faith?
James gives two examples of people whose faith brought about redemptive action: Abraham and Rahab. God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac (Gen. 22). Isaac was the product of God’s promise and covenant with Abraham (Gen. 17:15-21). God promised to make Abraham a father of many nations, and when he and his wife finally have a son at an age way beyond the ability of childbearing, God asks him to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham obeys God and takes Isaac to be sacrificed, but before Abraham could use the knife to kill Isaac, God stops him. God says to Abraham, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” (Gen. 22:12). God was testing Abraham’s faith, and when He saw that Abraham would take action in faith, God blessed him and spared Isaac’s life.
Rahab was a prostitute in the city of Jericho. Joshua was leading the Israelites into the Promised Land, and he sent spies into Jericho (Joshua 2). The spies are found out by king and his guards, but Rahab hid them in her house and helped them escape. She tells the spies,
I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. (Joshua. 2:9-11)
She goes on to ask them to spare her and her family when the Israelites conquer the city. She recognized the power of God, and her faith caused her to take action in faith. She could have handed over the spies to the guards, but her faith in God caused her to hide them and help the Israelites conquer the city.
Faith alone cannot save us. Faith combined with our actions saves us. This is so because our actions are the fruits and proof of our faith in Christ. Empty words of confessing faith are meaningless. Recognizing who God is should bring about a difference in our lives. Just as a body cannot live without a soul, our faith cannot live without works. We live out our faith by our actions.