But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
As a young boy I remember watching a martial arts demonstration at our local Christian camp. We were all amazed at the breaking of boards, the high-flying kicks and the power punches. That night in our cabin the talk was all about Karate. Those martial artists had become immediate celebrities among us boys, and it dawned on me that if I knew Karate, that celebrity status could be transferred to me. The fact that I did not know the first thing about Karate was but a minor obstacle in my mind.
My brilliant plan of telling my buddies I knew Karate was a spectacular success. The guys were duly impressed and I was the star of the show…right up until one of them asked for a demonstration. At that point the jig was up, the show was over, the circus had left town.
Not one of my prouder moments.
In today’s text, James is taking on the role of the kid who challenged me to prove my non-existent Karate skills. The language he uses here is powerful. The word translated “without” means “separated from” or “removed from”. It brings to my mind the image of someone who has compartmentalized their faith from the rest of their life. They affirm certain intellectual beliefs at church on Sunday, but then live quite another way the rest of the week.
Additionally, the preposition he uses in the phrase “by my works” is rich in meaning. It carries the idea of “as a natural outworking of”. For James, his works flow from his faith as easily as a river flows from its source.
So basically, he’s telling the person who claims that faith can be separated from works, “Okay then, big shot, you demonstrate your faith apart from works, and I’ll demonstrate my faith as an outworking of my works.” With nothing to show for his claim, the poser is left with something even more pathetic than my bad Ralph Macchio impersonation.
There are many reasons someone might want to fake their faith: community, status, profession, financial advantage, ego…the list goes on. But, as James has been insisting again and again, if faith is not accompanied by evidence, if it does not result in the good works it was made for, it cannot be considered real faith.
This portion of God’s Word should shake us up, just a little. It should cause us to look inward, to determine if our faith is truly genuine. It should make us isolate any sinful way we find within us, and extract it with a surgical precision. It should motivate us to look for areas where what we say we believe is not matched up with actual deeds…and to do something about them when we find them.
And if you think that James’s logic here is devastating, wait until next week!
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