James 2:14-17 (NKJV)14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
This morning we return, after our Easter hiatus, to the book of James. And it will be helpful as we do so to remember what James has told us thus far in this chapter. He began by rebuking his readers for showing partiality to the rich and famous while embarrassing and demeaning the poor. In response to their hypothetical objection that they were simply treating the rich as they would themselves desire to be treated – James says, “Fine, if that’s what you’re doing then well and good. But if you are showing partiality you are convicted by the law as transgressors – indeed,” James declares, “you are murderers.”
In the text before us today, James counters a possible objection to his scathing analysis of their behavior from the law, an objection that is frequently raised in our culture today. “How dare you judge us James?” his audience will no doubt be tempted to ask. “We profess the same Jesus as you. We believe. We have been freed from the law by Jesus. How dare you judge us!”
And so James asks a series of common sense questions to drive home the distinction between the profession of saving faith and the possession of saving faith.
14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?
Using a different analogy than James’ to make the same point, I can claim to be a patriot all day, but if meanwhile I’m out selling secrets to the enemy I can hardly use my claim of patriotism in my defense. No patriot sells secrets to the enemy; and no Christian lives lawlessly. And so, James says, my judgment is simple common sense – I’m judging you because you are hypocrites. Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. James tells us that there is a distinction between professing to have saving faith in Jesus Christ and actually possessing that faith.
Such judgments are of course easy to make of our neighbors. But James would have us to turn the mirror toward ourselves – to look at ourselves in the perfect law, the law of liberty, and to note what kind of people we are. So what of us? What excuses have we made of late for our disobedience to God’s commands? What outbursts of anger have escaped our lips? What impatience has marred our homes? What hypocrisy has tainted our witness? Do we merely profess to believe in Jesus or do we demonstrate by our Spirit empowered works that we actually believe in Him?
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’” Look, Lord, at all these spiritual experiences we’ve had. I raised my hand, I prayed the sinner’s prayer, I signed the card. “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Mt 7:21-23)
Reminded of the distinction between professing saving faith and possessing saving faith, let us kneel and beseech the Lord that He would cultivate the latter in our hearts and forgive us for transgressing against Him.