Steve Shepherd tells the story about a fellow leaving worship service one Sunday morning. The preacher was standing at the door shaking hands (You know that’s his job to shake ‘em in, then shake ‘em out).
Well, the preacher grabbed the guy by the hand and said, “Hey, friend, you need to join the Army of the Lord.”
“I’m already in the Army of the Lord,” the man replied.
“Then, why don’t I see you except at Christmas and Easter?” the preacher inquired.
The man whispered back, “I’m in the secret service.”
I think I’ve known a few folks who must have thought they were in the secret service.
Our text today reminds us that faith is active, not passive. Obvious not obscured. Engaged not apathetic.
Warren Wiersbe suggests that this text speaks to the issues of faith in three distinct ways.
#1 Dead Faith.
“People with dead faith substitute words for deeds,” Wiersbe writes. “They know the correct vocabulary for prayer and testimony, and can even quote the right verses from the Bible, but their walk does not measure up to their talk. They think that their words are as good as works, and they are wrong.”
The Bible is clear that Christians ought to help others in need. Jesus taught this principle in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:25-37). Both the Priest and Levite professed to be people of faith. Yet, they neglected a beaten, bloodied man on the side of the road who desperately needed aid.
The Samaritan, however, had compassion. He stopped and helped the man. He tended to his needs. His works demonstrated what true faith is about.
James argues that an intellectual faith that fails to do good, help the needy, and ignores the pitiable plight of his fellow man has a counterfeit faith. A fake faith. A dead faith.
#2 Demonic Faith.
It may sound shocking, as it probably was to James’ readers, that demons could possess faith. Yet, when Jesus encountered demons they bore witness to his Deity. And cried out, “You are the Son of God!” (Mk. 3:11). However, their recognition alone was not enough to save them.
James says one may “believe and tremble,” yet that’s not enough to save them. A mere mental ascent that is even affected emotionally, without God-ordained works is insufficient to save.
#3 Dynamic Faith.
Faith works. Literally.
Saving faith is active and effective. It produces a changed life. Faith issues itself in action that produces the fruit of righteousness.
James cites the example of Abraham. Some theologians try to pit Paul against James based on Romans 4:3 where he wrote, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”
James clearly teaches there is no contradiction between faith and works. Abraham’s faith led him to act decisively.
Hebrews 11:8 says, “By faith Abraham obeyed…”
Suppose Abraham said, “God, I believe you can do all of this, but I’m not going anywhere. This is my home. I’m staying. But I believe you can fulfill all these promises.” Would that have pleased God? Would his refusal to go where God commanded him be an expression of faith?
What if Abraham refused to offer Isaac? What if he decided to sacrifice a dog instead? Would that have been sufficient? Would God have been satisfied? Could his protection of and love for Isaac supersede God’s command? Would such dissent and defiance demonstrate his faith?
As one writer expressed it, “Paul and James are in perfect harmony in their teaching on this matter. Both make it clear that faith and obedience are not in opposition to each other. They are two sides of the same coin in God’s plan for the salvation of man.”
Even a woman like Rahab, who was a sinner, showed she believed the reports about God’s power and His people. She risked her life to hide and protect the spies. She identified with God’s people. And pleased God by proving her faith by her actions.
“You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only” (Jas. 2:24).
Talk is cheap.
Actions speak louder than words.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman