“But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.”
(James 2:18-19 NIV)
James continues his arguments about living vs. dead faith, and how to tell the difference.
In verses 14 through 17, James talked about hollow confessions of faith, and counterfeit compassion toward others. James now goes on to describe superficial faith.
In these verses, James sets up an argument, then offers a counter-argument to show the erroneous thinking.
Person one says, “I have faith”.
Person two says, “I have deeds”.
Person one is saying, “I believe; that is enough”.
Person two is saying, “I believe, and I have evidence that I believe, based on my actions”.
James says, “Show me your faith without deeds…”. James uses the word “show”; in the Greek language, this word is a verb, indicating action. It means “to give evidence or proof of a thing”. This term is not a legal term, but holds a similar concept. James says, “bring out your ‘Exhibit A’ – let me see evidence of your faith.”
The bottom line? You can’t prove your faith without some sort of actions that demonstrate your beliefs. James says faith without works (deeds) is an impossible argument, just empty words with no meaning unless accompanied by actions. Again, James is saying that salvation is by faith alone, in Christ alone, and that works are not a means to earn our way into heaven, but rather, evidence that our salvation is a genuine change of heart, changing how we live.
Going back to the beginning of verse 18, James starts out with “But someone will say…”. Who was this “someone”? Most likely it was James himself.
Remember how James opens this letter (chapter 1, verse 1): “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ…”. James was a humble man, even though he had every right to brag as Jesus’ half-brother, leader of the Jerusalem church, etc. James chose to phrase this as a common argument that you might hear on the street, rather than put the argument in first person. He goes on to refute the argument in first person without apology, which demonstrates the truth of God’s Word and James’ steadfastness in God’s Word.
James goes on to articulate the Jewish mantra, the Shemah, meaning “to hear, to listen intently”, named after the first Hebrew word in God’s command to the Israelites: “ Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” (Deuteronomy 6:4)
James says, “You believe that there is one God. Good!”. Compared to the Romans and other Gentile cultures all around them that believed in many gods, James says belief in one god, Israel’s God, was a good thing.
But James says that belief in God by itself is not enough. James says even the demons believe in God. They know He is real, and understand God’s power and authority. If that is the sole extent of our faith, saying that we believe in God, that He exists, then we are no better off than the demons.
James even point out the demons’ reaction to their belief – they shudder, they are horrified, and struck with extreme fear.
So what’s the point of today’s teaching?
James tells us to examine our lives – to practice what we believe, to show evidence of God’s work in our lives. Faith without accompanying actions is like steering a parked car – we turn the wheels, but we’re not going anywhere.
Time to put it in gear and enter the traffic…