Grace Emerges

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Faith vs. Works, James 2

by Brad Duncan

Christians fundamentally believe in life change. Repentance means change on the inside, leading to change on the outside. But what needs to change? We’re under pressure to perfect ourselves both in the competitive world we live in, and in the religious framework many of us were raised in. If we’re not careful we become self-absorbed and introspective in the process of trying to be better: more disciplined, more well-behaved, more giving, more spiritual, more serious, more easy to get along with, more responsible, more submissive, more evangelistic, the list goes on... James Chapter 2 talks about the balance of faith and works. Verse 24 says
“So you see that a person is shown to be righteous through faithful actions and not through faith alone,”
and in verse 26 says:
"As the lifeless body is dead, so faith without actions is dead."
But is James talking about this type of introspective discipline, leading to personal perfection? No there’s not a word of that in this chapter. All of his examples are about outwardly visible fruits of kindness.
According to James, faith is made evident because people see that you care. People see that you act in a way that is above self-discipline and instead in the territory of unselfishness, actual concern, attempt to understand from the other person’s eyes. James struggles in this chapter against the issue of favoritism in the church, which is another word for prejudice, elitism and judgemental attitudes. Actually, favoritism is easy to trip up on when we are focused on self-disciplines. People that embody self-discipline and spirituality are our “favorites”. Sluggards and spiritual weaklings, seekers and sinners, actual poor people, actual hungry people, are NOT our favorites! Why? Because we hold up self-discipline and self-perfection as the goal. We like people that do NOT have problems, or at least are heavily focused on solving their personal issues so they can be more presentable. Sometimes, we are more like the people James was against, people that hold up their faith as their merit, and less like the people James wants us to be. Genuine, Christ-following lovers of humankind. Think about how you’ve challenged yourself in the past to be a better person. What were your New Year’s resolutions? What were your spiritual discipline commitments? Did that effort focus on kindness, or something else more internal and invisible? Do we let ourselves off the hook on finding new ways to be fruitful, helpful, kind members of society? Do we criticize ourselves for apathy and delayed action? Do we feel pain for those experiencing injustice? What about those that are sick or hungry? Do the top 3, or even top 10, issues of sin and self-discipline you are working on, include these challenges? I encourage us all to continue in the path of repentance and life change. Transformation by the knowledge of our Savior and through the help of the Holy Spirit. But open your eyes! Inside you is just the beginning. The fruit is something that looks from the outside like love, not perfection.

Personal admission: I'm not saying I'm good at this. Honestly I've struggled especially with apathy and elitism. I grew up in a privileged class in many ways. For me personally, it just means I've raised the priority of how I treat others, and pursue that as a way to seek God in my life. As a result, I've lowered the priority of being more spiritual for its own sake. Faith without fruit is not a very high goal.


  1. Excellent points, Brad! Many areas I need to work on!

  2. Thanks Ellen. Me too! In fact I added a personal note at the end of the post. My own struggles are part of why I'm writing about this topic, and I thought it would help if I mentioned that. - Brad