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.
Young pastors are often told as they make their way from seminary to the pulpit that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Knowledge of theological concepts isn’t enough. Education by itself doesn’t equal fruitful ministry. What matters is putting knowledge to work, applying what we have learned to the everyday issues of life, and developing relationships with the people around us. What we know and how we care should go hand-in-hand, complementing each other in ministry, in family relationships and in every important part of our lives.
The same is true with faith and good deeds. One without the other leaves the job unfinished. James points us to two Old Testament examples of people who proved their faith and loyalty by what they did. Interestingly, the two people James chose to illustrate this truth come from opposite ends of the faith spectrum. First, there is Abraham, the Father of Faith, the ultimate example of pure devotion to God’s promises who was willing to risk the life of his son because he believed what God had told him. Then, there is Rahab, the prostitute of Jericho, a woman who didn’t know the Lord until she was faced with the life-changing decision to help the Israelites instead of her own people. Both Abraham and Rahab proved what was in their hearts by what they did. Their faith motivated their actions, and God blessed them.
Some people wonder if they are good enough, if they have done enough good things to make up for the bad things. All this talk of good deeds that prove our faith might lead us to imagine God balancing our lives on a scale, and if the good outweighs the bad, we win. That’s not what James or any other Biblical author teaches, and it’s certainly not what Jesus died for. We don’t believe in karma, nor does the Bible teach us to be self-righteous. Instead, we believe Jesus died and rose again to wash us clean from all the bad things so we will be free to join him in doing good things for God’s glory and to make the world a better place. There’s no reason to make it any more complicated than that. Go in faith to serve God. Go in faith to share Jesus’ love and message with those in need. That’s what our Lord wants from us, and that’s how our faith can be living, fruitful and Christ-honoring.
Jesus, You led a perfect life of faith and good deeds. Help me to follow Your example. Build up my faith and send me out to care for others, in Your wonderful name. Amen.
Pastor Mike Mirakian