What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
I previously wrote a post against the Hebrew Roots Movement on James’ argument that faith without works did not refer to works of the law, but the “perfect law of liberty.” I would like to revisit that same passage, but this time I want to approach it from the other end of the spectrum—the hyper-grace movement.
This is the “faith-alone” movement that has plagued modern Christianity. All too often I hear many, many Christians teaching and saying that faith is all you need to get to heaven and if you do works you are trying to merit your salvation. Unfortunately, this idea isn’t exactly right. But let me clarify before I go any further. I do not believe that works will save you, but it is a combination of faith and works.
While faith is the foundation, it is only the beginning of the process to achieve salvation. You see, with a true faith comes a true change—metanoia. And this true change is what will produce the work James is speaking of in his epistle. Just as Abraham’s faith in God drove him to offer his son, Isaac, on the altar. He loved God so much that he was willing to sacrifice his son (a very important son if you recall the story) to show God that love and trust. This is faith and works.
We are called as disciples to bear fruit and to be a light to the world. If you’re not producing fruit for people to see, how can you say you have faith? According to James you have a dead faith. Think about the parable of the vine dresser. All those branches (which we are) that aren’t bearing fruit are cut off and thrown into the fire.
Now I’m sure those branches believe in the root and the vine. They have faith that they are there to support them, otherwise they wouldn’t exist. However, if the branch isn’t doing what it is supposed to be doing, it is only taking up space and sucking up nutrients that could be going to other branches that are actually producing the fruit.
It is the same with Christians. They believe that God is there and is their life-force. They believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. But as James says, “even the demons believe.” It’s what you do after you place your faith in Them that determines the difference.
I would like to leave with a question to ask yourself. Are you producing fruit and “working out your salvation with fear and trembling” or are you living a dead faith?