The Book that Almost Wasn’t: Faith, Lists, and Works ~ James 2

a863e94cb599221a9adad7d2ac087581On Sunday we opened up probably the most famous verse of James in James 2 where he says, “Faith without works is dead”. This is a verse that is deservedly famous, but also does bring up a tension. Because this verse looks almost directly contradictory to some of the teaching of Paul. For example Paul says this:

Ephesians 2:8-9. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works”

Romans 3:27, “Can we boast then that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No because our acquittal is not based on our good deeds. It is based on our faith. So we are made right with God through faith and not by works”

Galatians 2:16, “And yet we Jewish Christians know that we become right with God, not by doing what the law commands, but by faith in Jesus Christ…for no one will ever be saved by obeying the law”.

This tension though is more in perspective than in reality. James is writing to people who are using their faith as an excuse to not do works. Paul is writing to people who are seeking to use their works as reason to be accepted. And the different contexts make all the difference.

James is not arguing that works  must be added to faith, but that genuine faith includes works.

Douglas Moo puts it this way,

The difference between the [teachings of James and Paul] is the context in which these works are done. Paul denies that works can have any value in brining us into a relationship with God; James is insisting that, once that relationships is established, works are essential”.

So works don’t save you, but show that you are saved.  

Or as Calvin puts it, “Paul contends that we are justified apart from the help of works, so James does not allow those who lack good works to be reckoned righteous”.

So we ended with James’ main point: Faith without works is dead. And we challenge people to actually put James’ point into practice.

At the beginning of the service we had everyone write down five needs they see around them. Which is a great practice, and one you should do right now actually.

But at the end of the sermon I called people to look at their lists, and remember faith without works is dead. And that they each had a list of needs they could meet. So I challenged them to meet some needs. Because if faith is about works, it’s time to get to work.

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: Faith without works is dead.

Teaching Points:

  • Faith leads to change.
  • James is arguing that genuine faith includes works.
  • Works don’t save you, but show that you are saved.

Adult Discussion Questions:

What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new? What were some of the needs on your list? Which ones are hardest to meet? Are there people who can help you meet them? Why do you think faith needs works? What happens when faith doesn’t include works?

Discussion Questions for Young Families

Talk to your kids about how when we follow Jesus we need to actually “do things”. Ask them the things that Jesus did, and then ask them which things they could do. Take time to do it then together.

Challenge for the Week: Put faith into action and meet a need.

Faith Without Works Is Dead

tumblr_lxl5bkweaC1qhmhdfo1_500On Sunday we are looking at the most well-known passage of James. The passage where James says “faith without works is dead”.

And we are going to wander into this world and statement of James and explore some of the tension with what he is teaching. And there is a tension because Paul says this in Romans, “So we are made right with God through faith and not by works”.

There is this tension that we want to explore theologically, but then also practically with our lives. So with that why not read all of James 2, to hear his arguments, and thoughts before Sunday. Let his words rattle around a little bit, because the beauty of James is that as he rattles around – he will shake things up. And that’s what we need.

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless? Don’t you remember that our ancestor Abraham was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete. And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” He was even called the friend of God. So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone. Rahab the prostitute is another example. She was shown to be right with God by her actions when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different road. Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works.