“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?”– James 2:14
A family is on a road trip to the Grand Canyon. Shortly before they arrive, a young man comes out from nowhere and tells them to pull over quickly. “Don’t go any further,” he exclaims. “At the end of this road, there is a cliff!”
What evidence will indicate the family really believes the young man? If they say, “we believe you,” but continues to go down the treacherous road, do they sincerely believe? Wouldn’t it make sense for the family to turn their vehicle around if they had faith in this man? Of course. Their action demonstrates their faith.
This is what James is arguing in his letter. If one truly has faith, their works will demonstrate it. Faith and works are inseparable. You can’t have one without the other. James makes it explicit in verses 19-23:
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. 19 You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! 20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?22 Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works, faith was made perfect? 23 And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. 24 You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.
The book of Hebrews also makes it clear that faith and works are two sides of the same coin. Every time faith is mentioned, a reason is given. For instance, by faith, Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain. By faith, Noah prepared an ark for the saving of his household. By faith, Sarah received strength to conceive and she bore a child when she was past the age (Heb. 11:1-11).
Does this mean our works save us? Not at all. Our works only demonstrate saving faith. Romans 5:1 makes this clear: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God throughout Lord Jesus Christ.”
But don’t fall into the trap of thinking faith is alone. There is no such thing as saying you believe in Jesus, but not doing what he commands. John 14:15 states, “If you love me, keep my commands. Furthermore, Jesus said to his disciples, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”
There is a false teaching going around that says faith doesn’t require obedience. I want to make it clear that our justification is a free gift and nothing we earn, but why would a believer want to continue in sin? Yes, we struggle with sin, but it’s not a pattern of Christian life. Paul says to those in Rome: “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? God forbid.”
1 Corinthians 6 warns us to flee from sin: “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor homosexuals nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
This is a serious verse. If sin is a constant pattern in your life, then don’t keep telling yourself: “I am saved by faith.” I am saved because God loves me.” While these are true statements, if they are used as an excuse to sin, then you are perverting them. I remember when I first became a Christian I would use God’s grace card all the time to comfort myself in sin.
But 1 John tells us, “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seem remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God.” Shouldn’t this bring holy fear to us? Let’s be real. I am a human too. I know what it’s like to lie to myself in order to satiate my sinful desires. Let’s just be frank. Don’t do it. Flee from it. Ask God to give you the strength to overcome. He will always provide a way of escape.
Remember the analogy at the beginning of this article? I told you about a family traveling to the Grand Canyon. If they don’t believe the young man, they may smile, act friendly, but tell him, “It’s okay. Don’t worry about us.”
If that’s you, then let me be the young man in the story, warning you to repent and trust in Jesus. Don’t be tempted to feel comfortable in your sin just because salvation is a free gift.
I was shocked to hear one preacher tell an entire audience. “Once you have eternal life, not even God can take it from you. Once he promises it, there is no way back. No matter what you do.” Really? You think that’s true?
God destroyed the entire world through a flood because of his hatred towards sin. God rained down fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah, annihilating everyone except Lot and his daughters. Even his own wife was turned into a pillar of salt.
God makes it clear in Romans 9:15 that He is sovereign over the fate of all of us: For he said to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
You can’t manipulate God. You can’t even use God’s own grace card to get you out for fire insurance. It has to be genuine. Is eternal life a free gift? Absolutely. Will it ever be earned? Of course not. Jesus paid it all. But just because he paid it all doesn’t mean you’re covered in his blood. If you are, then his holy spirit will convict you of sin and lead you to a life of holiness.
Whoever is reading this, I care for you. It may sound harsh, but I don’t want to be a nice doctor that makes you feel better. I want to be a doctor who may say, “You have cancer and if you don’t treat it now, you will die.” That’s true, right? But the cure is trusting in Jesus.
Are you willing to do that today? May God give you the strength to persevere until the end.