heard but not seen? Devotional Commentary for June 14-20
This is the Word of God. May the Spirit of Truth give us Wisdom and Insight to receive what has been conveyed through His Word by His Inspiration.
2:14 What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?
As repeatedly noted in previous meditations, James' primary concern has been the nature, quality, and the manner in which we express our faith. Is our faith merely professed or real and practical? He definitively tells us that our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ must be alive, vibrant, and active.
Now, he gives us the conceptual basis for his specific teachings. James poses a practical question that closely examines the vibrancy and realness of our faith. He supposes a scenario in which a believer confesses faith in Christ but lives a life devoid of any evidence of faith.
In other words, one has faith that is heard but not seen. If faith is not fruitful, then it could not have any appreciable value toward a meaningful and coherent continuity of the Christian's new life. At best, it is a professed faith. Such an empty profession does not reflect the faith by which we are saved. Nothing good could come out of a fruitless faith.
15If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food,
16and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?
Continuing with his challenging supposition, James refers to a person of need desperately approaching a Christian for help. He then asks, what good would our well-intended words do if we do not extend a helping hand with what we can? Is our faith merely as good as the words we speak, or as sterile as our failure to take godly action?
However true and well-intended, heartfelt wishes or exquisitely worded utterances would not in any way ease the hardship of the destitute among us. The cry for help does not solicit our opinion. It calls for a meaningful action flowing out of true faith.
17Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.
18But someone may well say, "You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works."
19You believe that God is one You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.
James' conclusion is simple, profound, and clear. He says faith is as good as dead without works. Faith is neither nominal nor ideal. It is real. In other words, faith is not an empty conjecture or an abstract perception. It is a fruit of the Holy Spirit revealed through profession and action. Therefore, faith is lifeless without its fruit—that is, work done by faith and as a result of faith. Faith without works lacks vitality, vibrancy, and vigor. Faith stands alone and barren if it is not expressed through the works ordained by God to be done by Christians.
If faith stands without its natural fruit, then it is no longer functional. It is inert and devoid of life, and is therefore, as good as dead. Without its outcome, faith cannot be verified in one’s life. Its testimony is nonexistent, and is therefore, as good as dead. It cannot extend God’s grace to others, and is therefore, as good as dead. It cannot reflect the testimony of our Lord and Savior, and is therefore, as good as dead. Faith cannot give the reason for the hope we have in Christ unless it is proven by what it generates in the life of the believer.
How would we defend ourselves when our faith is questioned, if we have nothing to show for it? Empty professions do not prove anything worthwhile. Even demons acknowledge Who God is. They know and tremble in His presence. The upshot of James' admonition is that, if we have received God's Grace of salvation through faith, then we must obey His Word and act on its precepts by faith. True faith is demonstrable faith. True faith results in real obedience.
After presenting some poignant illustrations concerning faith, its expressions and the behavioral attitudes of Christians toward others, James outlines the conceptual foundation for his exhortations in the rest of this chapter. Some theologians hold a critical view of James' teachings of work-proven-faith, raising doubts about his position on salvation by Grace through faith. Such an unwarranted critique takes the text out of its context and misses the point of James' practical teachings.
An honest review of the opening section of his epistle clearly indicates that James is directly speaking to struggling Christians who are already secure in God's redemption. His questions and illustrations are designed to help stabilize our faltering faith. James does not question or contradict God's saving Grace applied through faith by the irresistible prompting of the Holy Spirit.
In fact, James contends that if one has genuinely received God's saving Grace through faith, then the new life of the redeemed person would be confirmed by a fruitful faith. True faith is both complete and demonstrable. True faith is functional, productive, fervent, and effective. True faith rejoices in sharing what has been received from God. True faith is motivated by the appreciation of life as a gift from God.
Jesus called us to believe in Him and commissioned us to work for Him—believe in Him, work for Him. Clear and unequivocal. Therefore, unless our profession is supported by an observable real-life outcome, our faith does not go much beyond the words used to express it. Professed faith that remains inactive is empty of tangible testimonials. It exists but it is hollow. It is devoid of any appreciable spiritual substance. Therefore, it is unstable and unsteady. It is hardly reliable.
Faith and its fruit are inseparable attributes of the child of God. To have faith is to live by faith. To live by faith is to work by faith. To live and work by faith is to glorify God by a fruitful faith.