By J.R. Miller
James was a practical man. He wanted a religion of deeds. "What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?" That is, faith without works, faith which is only of the intellect, having no influence on the life. We are saved by faith, because the faith unites us to Christ. There is no virtue in faith itself--except as it brings us into relations with the source of all blessing.
One of the figures James himself uses, is the vine and its branches. By faith we became branches in Christ. As the life of the vine flows into its branches, so the life of Christ flows into those who believe on Him. They are changed, born again. They do the same kind of works that Jesus did, because He lives in them.
It is made very plain in the Bible, that the faith which saves, produces a holy life, and obedience to the holy commands. Hence any faith that does not produce good works--is not saving faith. There are people whose creed is excellent--they believe all the important truths in the Bible. Yet they do not keep the commandments, do not live the Christian life. Can that faith save them? Nothing is more clearly taught, than that only those who are holy can enter into the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed are the pure in heart--for they shall see God"--they and they alone, shall see God.
James uses a very practical illustration: "Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?" This is about all that a good many people do for those who are in need. They speak courteously and kindly to them. They say: "I am very sorry you are having all this trouble--but I am sure you will find the help you need. I hope somebody will give you some clothes and something to eat." Sometimes they close their sympathetic little speech with a pious, "God bless you!" Perhaps they say, for the still greater encouragement of the needy one, "I am going to pray God to send you relief." Yet what does all this cheap sympathy amount to? It does not warm the shivering man, nor relieve his hunger. Such "love" is only an empty mockery. What a pity it is so common!
True love proves its genuineness, by works of mercy and kindness. Instead of saying, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," it brings out warm garments and bread, and the brother or sister goes away in comfort with hunger satisfied. That is the kind of love that profits. Love, as well as faith, without works is dead.
A little girl was overheard saying her evening prayer, and this is part of what she said: "Lord, I saw a little girl today. She seemed very poor. Her clothes were very thin, and she was shivering in the cold. She looked hungry, too. I felt very sorry for her. It seemed that I ought to do something for her. But it wasn't any of my business, was it, Lord?"
"I will show you my faith by what I do." That is the only way faith can be shown. Faith is not some mysterious thing which saves us by magic. It is not a charm which one may wear upon his bosom to ward off evil spirits and bring good fortune. There is no such thing as faith--apart from works. The belief that does not affect the life--is a dead belief. If a man says, "I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ," and then is dishonest, untruthful, selfish and envious--he proves that his faith in Christ is only an empty thing. On the other hand, if a man says, "I believe on Christ," and then lives a godly life, true, loving, unselfish, helpful, and is earnest in doing good in the name of Christ, he is showing his faith in his works.
Paul tells us that we are justified by faith--but in the same sentence he goes on to show that the faith which justifies us--works in us. We have peace with God, access unto the grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Paul's great doctrine is that of justification by faith--but no one insists more earnestly than does Paul upon good works, holy living, the fruits of the Spirit, a life full of Christ, as the outcome of this justifying faith.
We must not infer that all good works are pleasing to God, or that any man is justified by works alone. All the good works of the world put together, would not save one soul. It is only when one has true faith--that works count for anything. The good works which God approves are those which are inspired by faith in God and love for God. Abraham had strong faith, and his faith inspired noble life, obedience, holiness, and whatever things are true. So Abraham became known as the friend of God, because he trusted God so fully and because his trust was shown in his deeds--in his character, and in his whole life. We may become friends of God, too, if we will. A friend is one whom we have learned to trust, on whom we know from experience we may depend. When God can depend on us to trust Him, obey Him, and follow Him, then have we become God's friends.