I live in the South, where we are quick to affirm our faith in the lyrics of our music, in wearing gimmicky T-shirts, and by drinking from coffee mugs with catchy Christian slogans. Our day-to-day Bible belt conversations are laced with Christianese, but do we actually stop to examine whether our professions of faith are truly credible? James 2:19 reminds us that even the demons understand who God is and they know his great power. James’ concern here is that we who claim to be Christians take a long, hard look at ourselves. James writes that a profession of faith without deeds is the mark of counterfeit Christianity — A faith that is all about saying the right things, yet with no actual difference to how the person lives.
So there are three ways in the passage [2:17-20] that James talks about faith to show that the faith he says cannot justify is a faith that Paul would totally agree cannot justify – dead faith, devil faith, and useless faith – faith that has no vital life that works through love.”
– John Piper
A person merely stating they believe something is no real indication of whether they really do. James’ writing teaches us that it is their actions that reveal true evidence, and I believe from my studies that both Paul and James contended that genuine faith is not merely a verbal statement. And… faith is not merely an emotional response. James teaches us that such things may be something, but they are not Christianity and they do not save.
So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jas 2:17–20). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
James Chapter Two is a reminder that faith involves willful obedience and becomes evident in the fruit produced in Christian lives. James writes that this is faith, that if fruit is not evident, that we do not have faith. He says that Christians help fellow believers. Charles Spurgeon writes: “The saints fed the hungry and clothed the naked because it gave them much pleasure to do so. They did it because they could not help doing it, their new nature impelled them to it. They did it because it was their delight to do good…They did good for Christ’s sake because it was the sweetest thing in the world to do anything for Jesus.”
I urge you to take time today to examine your heart and life. We can read the Word, study the Word, and know the Word, but the Bible is transformational. God’s Word changes the lives of those who belong to Christ.
And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 25:40). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
“The truth that James emphasizes in this text and that the Word of God teaches throughout is that what we do reveals who we are. James is not speaking simply of beliefs and intentions in general but of the foundational belief of saving faith. The genuineness of a profession of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord is evidenced more by what a person does than by what he claims. A person who professes Christ but who does not live a Christ-honoring, Christ-obeying life is a fraud.” – MacArthur, J. (2001). James: Guildelines for a Happy Christian Life (p. 44). Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group.
Faith is not simply an intellectual decision; it’s an ongoing act. This is why Jesus emphasizes the need to love God with our whole being (Mark 12:29-31). Although friends and family may feel it foolish, are you willing to risk a great step of faith? In what ways does your faith not align with James’ view? Faith is connected to actions: When we believe in something, we act upon that belief. Otherwise, we are merely intellectually, not physically, engaged. Do you claim faith but have a life that is void of fruit? Does your faith act on the Word?
For further study: Read James Chapter Two.