4 February 2017James 2:8-26
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you?” (v. 14)
Psalm: Psalm 100
The Methodist Church's Bible Month this year focuses on the letter of James. It takes place in June, although churches and circuits may choose a different time if that is more convenient. For more information (including training and resources), go to www.methodist.org.uk/biblemonth.
That it matters what you do as much as what you believe is a theme in the Letter of James, which is spelt out clearly and underlined several times! In this passage the theme is underlined with the help of "the royal law according to the scripture, 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself'" (v. 8). If a fellow human being is without clothing or sustenance and we do nothing about it, what is the good of that? How is that loving your neighbour as yourself? If we neglect those in need we fail to fulfil the royal law and faith "is dead" (v. 17).
Examples are cited from Scripture of those who were "justified by works and not by faith alone" (v. 24). Even Abraham, father of the nation, father of faith, worked out his faith in obedient action and likewise Rahab is revered for her actions in aiding and abetting the spies sent out into the promised land by Joshua (Joshua 2).
The well-rehearsed debates about faith and works can be a little circular and sterile. Perhaps the Letter of James hints at a helpful distinction in speaking of belief and faith? "You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe - and shudder" (v. 19). Can this kind of belief (faith) save you? Clearly not, as it is empty and barren and dead. It is simply an assent to facts about God and 'our glorious Lord Jesus Christ' and not a living faith, which by definition will result in loving action.
Works and deeds are not the means by which we earn God's favour, but they do indicate that we have grasped what it means really to have faith - and who it is in whom we have faith. To have faith is to embody a commitment to the object of faith - in this instance a commitment to following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, who revealed God to us and showed us the way to life. The Letter of James recognises that things are always easier said than done; that the human condition is often prone to following the wider, gentler path; and that the way of faith is ultimately a costly and demanding one.
- Think of some very practical ways in which you could 'love your neighbour as yourself'.
- Reflect on the analogy of "the body without the spirit" being like "faith without works" (v. 26).
- In what ways do you find it costly and demanding to have faith in Jesus Christ?