James 2:14-26 – Part Three

We’re currently studying the letter of James, which is all about the temptation to be double-minded: trying to be friends with God and friends with the world. This is part three of a three-day look at James 2:14-26.

After our detour yesterday (watching the title bout between Paul and James) we come back to the question James raised at the start:

2:14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?

James, Paul, and Jesus would all say a resounding ‘no’. Faith without actions is dead. It might be the kind of faith that made the crowds follow Jesus early on. But when they heard about the cost of discipleship, many turned back, leaving only those with true faith. Faith which saves. Do you have that saving faith?

It’s a question we need to ask – to make sure we’re not fooling ourselves. Because we can’t fool God. Have we truly responded to the full gospel message – the message that not only proclaims salvation as a free gift, but demands obedience and loyalty?

Or have we responded to a one-sided gospel. To what German theologian Dietrich Boenhoffer dubbed ‘cheap grace’. This cheap grace means:

‘grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian conception of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins… Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance… Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross.’

Have we responded only to this cheap grace? Grace that doesn’t require repentance; or at least, doesn’t require us to be serious about it. Grace that encourages us to continue in sin, because we’ve got our ‘get out of hell free’ ticket.

The answer can be found in examining our actions. Not looking for perfection, of course. But direction. Are we pursuing single-mindedness in our obedience to God? Are we growing in love for God and others? Are we growing in our resolve to put sin to death in our lives? Are we living by demonstrably different values from the rest of the world?

Or are we choosing to continue in sin: to continue sleeping with someone we’re not married to; to continue behaving unethically at work; to continue to be unloving towards those who irritate us; to continue building up wealth & security for ourselves without thought for the poor, or giving sacrificially to the work of the gospel. Just to name a few. Is our faith matched by our actions?

If your answer is ‘I’m not sure’, it’s serious – but it isn’t a cause for despair. Instead, it should drive us back to the foot of the cross. To remember that it’s Jesus who has done it all for us. He lived a perfect life for us. He died to pay the penalty for our rebellion for us. After all, God even did it for a notorious prostitute who turned to God in faith, evidenced in her actions:

2:25  In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?

But that’s not all: he will continue to do it for us. If we genuinely turn to him, the fruit we bear, the actions that our faith produces will not be from us. It will be from God himself, as he works in us through his Spirit to change us, to transform us. All we have to do is say to God, I want you to come and not only forgive me, but change me, transform me into the person you want me to be. And mean it.

To think about

A shorter post today, to allow for some time to examine your life before God.

2:26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

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