What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith without works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith without works is barren? Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness’, and he was called the friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.
There is a saying ‘walk the talk’, which some think is a quick way of saying ‘faith without works is dead’. However, that is not entirely true. Walking the talk implies that we should put into practice what we believe, but faith, without it being lived and embodied in our lives and living, says James, is dead. It is not a matter of not living up to what we profess but if faith does not include action on our part it is actually dead. It is not an optional ‘step further’. It is an imperative that we should do something with the faith we profess and just talking about it is not enough – or using it for easy platitudes as seen in the first few verses is not enough. The examples given however, can be slightly disturbing to say the least. Abraham’s ‘works’ was to offer his son as a sacrifice – which while it was prevented is not something to emulate. Rahab is not too much better, deceiving the messengers by sending them off in the wrong direction allowing Moses’ spies to escape. Such deception perhaps is necessary when seeking to save the lives of endangered individuals, as was seen in World War II, among other occasions; but it is not the usual behaviour of people of faith. Yet it is these very extremes which give this passage its challenge. Sometimes we have to go outside of what we are comfortable with, or others would deem sensible to really show we can ‘walk the talk’ – without crossing unacceptable boundaries. As we recall the death of Christ we see there the ultimate example of this. For Christ did not just declare his love for all but showed us how far that love was willing to go.
The faith Jesus showed in enduring the cross is the reason we look to his ‘works’, not just for confirmation of the way of love, but as our calling to follow his way of compassion, care and acceptance to those who he met. It is that call that shows that our faith is a caring compassionate, accepting faith if we put it into practice.
Gracious God, May we hear your call to be and do as your disciples May we prepare ourselves to step out of our own comfort zone to respond to those who need with compassion, care, and acceptance. Make us quick to act and slow to speak so that your love may be revealed. For the sake of Jesus Christ, in whose steps we walk. Amen
The Rev’d Hilary Collinson is the minister of the Tees and Swaledale Pastorate.