Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:17 NIV)
Action! Movement. Progress. Results matter in most of life’s arenas. James challenges us to consider the bottom line of our beliefs. What we believe impacts how we live. But do our actions make us “good enough for God?” Does the salvation of our souls depend upon how well we live out the commandments? In other words, must we work our way to heaven? Absolutely not!
James’ words have sparked controversy for centuries. But his exhortation here is not so much about defining how we get “saved.” Rather, what are the characteristics of saving faith?
Quite simply, if faith has no corresponding actions, it’s not real faith, James argues. Outward actions are merely evidence that our faith is “alive and kicking.”
Let me give you a practical illustration. I have two flower arrangements in my kitchen window. One is a beautiful array of freshly cut flowers. Beautiful, but dead. The flowers will never reproduce. The other container holds a lovely planted bloom, its roots surrounded by soil, ready for planting. It will live and produce new blooms…again and again. This flower is alive.
In a similar way, true faith, by its very nature, will produce actions that correspond to one’s inner beliefs. This kind of faith is alive.
If you’d like to expand your understanding of the entire passage, take a look at several versions of James 2:14-16. I especially like the Amplified Version’s wording of James 1:17:
So also faith, if it does not have works (deeds and actions of obedience to back it up), by itself is destitute of power (inoperative, dead).
Dear friend, if you have trusted Jesus for your salvation, accepting His death and resurrection as payment for your sins, you are “saved,” according to God’s Word. Your “righteousness” is settled. You are “justified,” or made perfect, in God’s sight by grace through faith. Period.
Such faith is alive, and will naturally produce actions. This does not mean you are perfect all at once or that you never fail. But you are alive, forever a member of God’s family.
Once that question is settled, then ask yourself: Since I believe, what is God asking me to do as a “corresponding act of obedience?” God’s Word is also called “living” (Hebrews 4:12). It provides inspiration and instruction for how to live out our beliefs. The Holy Spirit empowers us. Listen daily for your “marching orders” as you read and meditate upon God’s living Word.
Lord, let my faith be alive and active. I come to Your Word today for life, power, inspiration. Remind me of James’ admonitions to care for the poor. Give me Your eyes as I go about my business, and nudge me when to give a kind word, a helping hand, a few dollars. Prick my heart with an urgency for action. Break my heart for what breaks Yours -Amen.