6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 9 As it is written: “He has scattered abroad His gifts to the poor; His righteousness endures forever.”
10 Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that - and shudder.
20 You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God's friend. 24 You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
“Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
The Christian musician Rich Mullins once famously said “Faith without works is about as useful as a screen door on a submarine.”
This morning we see in the Church tangible evidence of faith in action. But before we go any further we need to be clear in our minds that the things we do for others does not in any way contribute to our salvation.
One of the distinctives of the Christian faith is that salvation comes through Jesus, and through Jesus alone. We have contributed nothing to our salvation, nor can we.
So when we do things for others, either corporately as the Church, or as individual believers, we do these things because we are saved, not in order to be saved. This whole issue of faith and deeds, or faith versus deeds has created much confusion in the minds of Christians, but the easiest means of dealing with this confusion is to remember this principle: We do good works because we are saved.
James makes it clear that faith and deeds are inseparable. What is faith without deeds? What kind of faith is deedless?
Or to put it another way, what is it to believe without that belief motivating what you do?
It is possible to have good deeds without faith. There are many non-Christians who do the most wonderful things for others. We are not disputing that, but as the Church we need to ask ourselves the question: Can you have faith without deeds?
The point is that the things we stand for, the things we believe, simply have to make a difference in our lives.
If our faith does not influence what we do, then it’s not really faith at all. It’s merely acknowledgment. You’ll remember an example we used during our series on the Apostles’ Creed last year. You can believe and have faith that that an aeroplane will get you to London, but until such time as you actually put your faith into action step onto the aircraft, you have not exercised your faith. You have just agreed with a vague principle and nothing more.
Our faith in Jesus Christ should redefine every aspect of our lives. There is no part of us that should remain untouched by God’s grace. One of the mistakes we make occasionally is to assume that faith and life are separate things, but we can’t separate them. One can’t really exist without the other. When they do, we have misunderstood and are not living out what Paul teaches in 2 Corinthians 5:17 – “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.”
Jesus, in Matthew 7 tells us how the world will identify those who follow Him: “By their fruits you shall know them.”
We cannot see the hearts of people. Only God can do that, but what we can see in people is the life that faith brings.
Unfortunately though, there are Churches all over the world that are full of people who, apart from attending weekly worship services are no different to those who do not believe.
Jesus goes on in Matthew 7:21 by saying, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father.”
What Jesus is doing here is He is connecting a saving relationship with obedience and doing good deeds - not impressive deeds that are done from time to time, but good deeds which are clear evidence of a changed life. And that is the key to understanding a faith that works.
Good deeds are evidence of faith – real faith. You can tell what is authentic faith by looking at what people do.
Putting our faith into action is a legitimate response to experiencing the saving grace of God.
Saving faith is an active faith. It’s all very well to have your heart moved with compassion for someone, but there needs to be a response to that movement of your heart. As James puts it, “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?”
Wishing someone well doesn’t really help them. So don’t just wish them well; help that person instead.
Faith is more than just agreeing that certain things are true. Faith, from the Biblical viewpoint, is staking your life on what you believe to be true. James also says that even satan knows the truths of Christianity, but he doesn’t have faith. Saving faith is more than getting the right things in your head. It is about allowing the Spirit of God to move you to a point where you are prepared to step out and actually do something for the Kingdom.
If we truly believe that Jesus is the way, we will follow Him. That is the same call He made to His disciples. True discipleship of Jesus Christ costs.
When we believe that Jesus is the only way, we give up everything in the way. When we reach the point where we completely believe that there is no other way to live, that’s how we live. If you believe it, live it!
We’re told consistently throughout the New Testament that salvation comes by faith alone. There are some people who say that what James says in chapter 2 contradicts much of what Paul teaches in his letters, but that is not true.
In Ephesians 2:8-9 Paul writes, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast.”
To the untrained eye these verses may at first appear to teach something different to what James writes, but look at the very next verse in Ephesians 2: “We are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Paul makes it very clear that we are to be involved in Kingdom work.
We’re not here to just enjoy the ride.
There are important phrases in this verse.
Firstly, we are God’s workmanship.
Workmanship implies something that is composed or constructed, something that is made. It occurs one other time in the New Testament, in Romans 1:20, which refers to God’s creation of the universe. God is an artisan if you like, with two works of which He is particularly proud - His universe and His people.
We are the pinnacle of His creation, and He is constantly perfecting us. Psalm 138:8 says “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not abandon the works of your hands.”
That’s another way of saying that God is not finished with us yet. Philippians 1:6 speaks of the same idea: “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
So the implication here is that God remains at work within us, reshaping and remoulding us. The Spirit draws us nearer to God, while transforming us into the image of Christ. The task is not complete – it is ongoing.
Secondly, we are created in Christ Jesus to do good works.
We should not underestimate the importance that God attaches to doing good works. The Bible speaks often about it.
1 Timothy 6:18 “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.”
Titus 2:14 “Jesus Christ who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good.”
Titus 3:14 “Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good.”
Hebrews 10:24 “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”
1 Peter 2:12 “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us.”
These (and many similar) verses teach us that good works include things like charitable deeds and acts of kindness, not merely going to Church on Sundays to listen to sermons and singing a few hymns.
Someone once said “I expect to pass through life but once. If therefore there be any kindness I can show or any good thing I can do to any fellow-being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”
I don’t think these words were written specifically with the Church in mind, but what a difference we could make if we applied them in the Church.
If we go back to the very beginning, we were given the task of being co-workers with God in the Garden of Eden. And there are responsibilities which go along with that.
In 1 Corinthians 3 Paul says “The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labour.” And if we attach the words of 2 Corinthians 5:10 to that, then the issue of good works takes on a whole new meaning: “We must all appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due to him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”
This has serious implications for us. Please understand that we will not have to give account for our sin. That was dealt with on the cross, but we will be asked what we did with the gift of salvation.
How did we impact the lives of others with the grace we received?
We must not make the mistake of thinking that Christian service and Christian action is the calling of a select few.
We were created in Christ Jesus to do good works.
Paul then defines those good works in the third phrase of verse 10.
Which God prepared in advance for us to do.
God prepared these good deeds in advance for us to do. Some Bible commentators believe that Paul is speaking here in a general way, telling us that God wants us to walk through life doing good works. There is certainly some truth in that, but in some translations it is more specific.
If we look at the lives of many of God’s people throughout history, it is clear that for some He has planned specific work in advance for them to do.
The prophet Jeremiah’s work was planned even before his birth. Jeremiah 1:4-5 says, “The word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
In the New Testament the apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 1:15 “God set me apart from birth and called me by His grace.”
Psalm 139 contains some wonderful promises. Verse 6 says, “your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
It may be a cliché, but it is absolutely true – the Lord has a specific purpose and a plan for our lives. We are all called to be involved somewhere and somehow in Christian ministry.
Remember that we aren’t saved by doing works, but we do works because we’re saved.
Now you might be saying to yourself “I don’t have a clue as to what God wants me to do. How do I find out?”
The answer might be a lot simpler than you think. It’s often the so-called little things than can make a difference in people’s lives. Just a simple, random act of kindness done in the name of Christ can have huge implications. Just look around for someone you can help or encourage, for an opportunity to do something kind for someone with no thought of being paid in return.
Opportunities like these are around us all the time. Be a blessing to someone today, and brighten the corner where you are.
Doing something relatively small or seemingly insignificant might have a huge impact on your life. The keys are availability, willingness and obedience to God.
Remember that the good works which we do as Christians are not for our benefit. You cannot earn God’s favour. The things you do are for the benefit of others, so that they can see the difference that Jesus Christ has made to your life.
Our tasks, as bearers of the light of Christ, is to shine that same light into other people’s lives.
We can bring peace into turmoil. We can bring hope to the hopeless, and we can bring light into the darkness.
In Ephesians 5 Paul says we are to “live as children of light.”
By living as children of light we will be setting an example to others. Children do what their parents do, and not what their parents tell them to do.
Likewise, one of the most effective ways of telling people about who Jesus is, is by living out a life of light.
The last verse of our reading from James today says, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”
There’s a story I’ve used before but it illustrates this principle so well. A man who owned a small rowing boat painted the word ‘faith’ on one oar, and ‘deeds’ on the other. Someone once asked him why he had done that, so the man showed him. He put down the oar marked faith and rowed only with the oar marked deeds. And all the boat did was go around in circles. He swapped the oars around and tried rowing with faith. Again the boat just went around in circles.
Finally he began rowing with both oars, and it made the world of difference to his boat.
John Wesley once wrote “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”
We serve Jesus, we serve His Church and we serve others out of gratitude for what He has done for us.
James 1:22 says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”
Philippians 2:13-14: “Therefore, my dear friends, continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.”
Homegroup Study Notes
Read James 2:14-17
On the surface these words seem unambiguous and would appear to leave little open to interpretation.
However, trying to understand how deeds fit into the life of a Christian has left many people confused.
Why do you think this is so?
Most Christians are prepared to do some kind of ministry or service ‘in the Church’, but many either do not or will not serve those who are not Christians. The number of homeless people we see even in our own town is a good example of the Church not doing as much as we should.
Is there a reluctance to impact the lives of those outside the Church, and if so, why?
What examples can you think of where people have shown random, seemingly small acts of kindness, only to have a larger impact later?
Read 1 Corinthians 3:10-15.
What do these verses mean to you?
What do you feel that a) you as an individual Christian, and b) we as a congregation can do in order to take these warnings seriously?
Close by praying for each other.
Ask that the Lord would prompt us personally and as a group of believers to make a concerted effort to bring the light of Christ into places and situations where He places us.