14 What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food,16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? 17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.
This passage speaks to the innermost workings of my heart. I believe this is James’ thesis of his letter. Notice, he is not claiming that works produce faith or that our salvation is through works. Rather, he is explaining what faith looks like. If our trust in God and following of Christ is true, then it will produce the fruit of the Spirit, the works that James is talking about in verse 14. In other words, it is evidence of our faith. Just like baptism is the evidence of our repentance.
Verses 15 and 16 capitulate one of the biggest problems that I see in Christianity today. We tell people we will pray for them, thinking this is how we are called to spread the gospel and love of Christ. If you were starving, without clothes or shelter and someone said, “God loves you, I’ll pray for your provision,” what does that tell them about God? Rather, if we help them with food, clothing, shelter and they ask us why we are helping them, THAT is when we say, “because God loves you.” THIS is the charge to “love your neighbor as you love yourself.” I’m reminded of a popular quote in our church: “nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” I don’t know about you, but if I’m suffering with something, I could care less about spirituality if my immediate survival needs are not being met. Even then, we shouldn’t use the aid as a way to impose the gospel upon those being helped, as if help to them is conditional on their belief. If we are truly trying to save people, we know that isn’t how it works. Such has been the unfortunate trend in past missionary strategy.
I love the message in verse 17. What is James saying here? I see that our faith is not a destination, but a journey. We don’t just accept Christ as our savior and then go on our merry way. No, rather it is the beginning of our relationship with Him and it is lived out daily through our action based on our new faith. Too often we want to be satisfied with “fast food religion” – eat it down quick and continue on the direction we were headed. Christ calls us to a revival in our lives.
If you claim to have faith, then you should have action to back it up. If we preach the gospel then we should be able to show it too. What is the fruit of your faith?