How to Demonstrate That Your Faith Is Alive
Biblical text is James 2:1–3:12
We are taking a further look at the Epistle of James, which is a handbook for Christian living. We will be relating the teachings of James to those of John, particularly those in John 15:1–17. As James indicates, Jesus will help us to strengthen and to expand our ministries as we improve our union with him. Jesus is the “vine”, we are the “branches”. As the “branches”, we are expected to produce and display “fruit” that will glorify God. When we clarify the most vital marks of our faith, we can increase our dedication to living in accord with them, and ask God to “prune” away everything that hampers the production of the “fruit” that he seeks.
Previously we examined how we can enable God to make our religion genuine. Now we will look at how a person can demonstrate that his/her faith is genuine. It can be done in these three ways: don’t show favoritism toward the rich, do it with deeds that display spiritual fruit and glorify God, and do it by keeping a “tight rein” on your tongue.
Don’t show favoritism toward the rich
“My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ while you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there,’ or, ‘Sit down at my feet,’ have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you are called?
“If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have come a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:1–13)
Favoritism comes from evil thoughts of pride and one’s assumed authority to make judgments. It is wrong, because it is inconsistent with Christ’s teachings. It goes against the biblical definition of love in 1 Corinthians chapter 13. It shows a lack of mercy and compassion for the poor. And it is wrong, because it insults people who are made in God’s image. It makes appearance more important than character. And it is wrong, because it is a by- product of selfish motives: pride in our own wealth, greed or desires for wealth like that of the rich, and seeking benefits that the rich may have for you or our church. And it is wrong, because it is hypocritical. How can we serve Jesus, each other in our Christian fellowship, or even others in the world if we are playing up to those with wealth, status, or fame? And it is wrong, because it is sin.
Do we have a dress code in our church? How do we respond to someone who comes into a service or even a social program who is dressed quite differently than most of us? A recent example was two young men that Terry brought with him to the ice cream social. Do we have “preferred” seats in our sanctuary; seats that would make you uncomfortable if someone who was “different” occupied them?
Although you may not have been abused by anyone who is rich, it is still evident from Scripture that God has special regard and blessing for “those who are poor”. (James 2:5)
“You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.
“If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor, you shall not be like a moneylender to him, and you shall not exact interest from him. If ever you take your neighbor’s cloak in pledge, you shall return it to him before the sun goes down, for that is his only covering, and it is his cloak for his body; in what else shall he sleep? And if he cries to me, I will hear him, for I am compassionate.” (Exodus 22:22–27)
“Whoever oppresses a poor man, insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.” (Proverbs 14:31)
Jesus said to a crowd of his followers and disciples, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20)
Since the poor may be more aware of their needs because of their poverty and powerlessness, they may be more open than the rich to God’s blessings and salvation! James cited some abuses of the rich in chapter 2, verses 6–7 of his letter that was previously quoted.
Don’t excuse yourself: favoritism is a serious sin, as James teaches in chapter 2, verses 8–13 of his letter. Observe the “royal law”, which is “you shall love your neighbor as yourself....” (Leviticus 19:18) And Jesus told his disciples and us to “love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)
If you show favoritism to the rich, you are breaking one of God’s important laws! According to James, judgment falls on those who break God’s laws (James 2:12) But James teaches that one who hears the law and doesn’t forget it but acts in accord with it “will be blessed in his doing”. (James 1:25)
Do it with deeds that display spiritual fruit and glorify God
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone say he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
“But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’—and he was a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.” (James 2:14–26)
Faith, just believing in God or even believing that Jesus is Lord, without deeds that display one’s commitment to obey God and Jesus is dead. For example: just giving someone with physical needs a good wish without doing anything to meet their needs, doesn’t do them any good. (as James indicates in verses 15–16 of the above passage of Scripture) And it doesn’t produce any “fruit” in your life that will glorify God! Even demons have some faith, believing that “there is one God”, yet they “shutter”, because such belief is not enough to save them. (see James 2:19 in the above Scripture) Frank Crane says, “Faith and works are like the light and heat of a candle—they cannot be separated.”
Note these examples showing the importance of deeds as demonstrations of genuine faith:
- Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice in obedience to God. (as mentioned by James in verses 21–22 in chapter 2 of his quoted letter)
- When Abraham took action to sacrifice Isaac to God, God blessed him with numerous descendants, and promised him that they would occupy the cities of their enemies, and that through his offspring “all the nations of the earth” would be blessed, because “you have obeyed my voice”. (see Genesis 22:15–18)
- When Abraham, who was childless, was previously told by God that he would have an heir and his offspring would be more numerous than the stars, he believed God, and God credited his belief “to him as righteousness”. (see Genesis 15:4–6) Paul acknowledges that Abraham was given credit as being righteous because he believed God, not because of any work that he did. (see Romans 4:2–3)
- So James says that Abraham’s “faith was completed by his works” (as quoted in chapter 2:22 of the above Scripture from James) We should understand that “Faith brings us salvation; active obedience demonstrates that our faith is genuine”1, or alive.
Jesus has chosen us, along with his disciples, to bear fruit that will last and glorify God. (see John 15:16) We can only do this as we remain in union with Jesus by obeying him! “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me....If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” (see John 14:4, 10)
James says that “faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26), and Jesus says that “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit, he (his Father) takes away…. (John 15:2) A fruitless branch may only be fit for burning, unless God prunes it so that it can again be fruitful. (see John 15:2)
It should be clear from these teachings that if this congregation wants to receive the blessings of Jesus and his Father, we must obey his command to “Go therefore and make disciples…baptizing them… and “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19–20) Evangelism and training in discipleship must become a priority of this congregation!
Do it by keeping a tight rein on your tongue
“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” (James 1:26)
“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodes as well. Look at ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.
“How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire. And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, or reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessings and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.” (James 3:1–12)
If you don’t keep a tight rein on your tongue, your “religion is worthless” (as stated above in James 1:26) The tongue may be “a small member (or part of the body, as stated in James 3:5), but like a bit for a horse’s mouth or a rudder for a ship, or a spark, it has great power for good or evil. (as James states in verses 3–6 of his quoted letter above)
Here is an illustration regarding the tongue’s value.
“The heathen philosopher Xanthus, expecting some friends to dine with him, ordered his servant Aesop to provide the best things the market could supply. Tongues only were provided; and these the cook was ordered to serve up with different sauces. Course after course was supplied, each consisting of tongue.
“‘Did I not order you,’ said Xanthus in a violent passion, ‘to buy the best victuals the market afforded?’ ‘And have I not obeyed your orders?’ said Aesop. ‘Is there any thing better than a tongue? Is not the tongue the bond of civil society, the organ of truth and reason, and the instrument of our praise and adoration of the gods?’
“Xanthus ordered him to go again to the market on the morrow, and buy the worse things that he could find. Aesop went, and again he purchased tongues, which the cook was ordered to serve as before. ‘What! tongues again?’ exclaimed Xanthus. ‘Most certainly,’ rejoined Aesop, ‘the tongue is surely the worst thing in the world. It is the instrument of all strife and contention, the inventor of lawsuits, and the source of division and wars: it is the orgin of error, or lies, calumny and blasphemies.’” 2
James makes it clear that it is very difficult to control one’s tongue. (see James 3:7–8) You each probably know someone who has a “vicious” or “sharp” tongue: who curses at the first hint of his or her being upset by something, or who is quick to report every rumor or share every piece of gossip and who is thus someone you would never trust with any really personal information, or who is always complaining and never has anything good to say about anything or anyone. Thomas Churchyard, an English writer, has said, “Sharp words make more wounds than surgeons can heal.”
During the trial of Jesus, Peter got into trouble with him through the strong denials that came off of his tongue when he was questioned by three individuals in the crowd as to whether or not he was one of Jesus̵ disciples. (see Mark 16:66–71)
Relationships, partnerships, families, careers, opportunities, and lives have all been ruined by untamed tongues! The career of Mark Furman, a LA police detective, was ruined by his use of the “N” word and the outcome of an important trial (the trial of O.J.Simpson) may have been affected by his lying about this under oath. A “hate crime” may be defined by what one says as well as what one does.
Each of us has probably had times when we would like to recall something we said, or we bite our tongue to keep from saying something that was about ready to spring out of our mouth. This test for genuine faith is very challenging and personal!
Controlling our tongues is extremely important to the demonstration that our faith is alive, because our most observed testimony is what people hear from our tongues and lips as we converse with them, share ideas and opinions, or make statements regarding any subject of interest or consideration. James Howell, and English essayist, has said, “Words are the soul’s ambassadors, who go Abroad upon her errands to and fro.” Many of the individuals that we would hope to introduce to Jesus and attract to our church will not initially hear the words of praise in the hymns that we sing during worship, or the helpful comments that we make in a Sunday School class, or the kind or encouraging words that we offer to a suffering friend or loved one, but they will evaluate our professed faith by what they hear from our tongue and lips in more personal conversations out in the world. This is why James considers the control of one’s tongue so important to one’s demonstration that his or her faith is alive. (see James 3:9–12) As he says, “blessing and cursing” should not come from the same mouth! (James 3:10)
Here is a poem about speech.
“Let it be fair.
Of good report; no taint
Of scandal’s breath
Should spoil the picture made of words
That you would paint.
“Let it be vibrant
As a deep toned bell;
That spills its notes
Like coins of gold for man to gather
For a spell.
“Let it be clean;
That no word soil the page
Or jar the ear
To mar the beauty of this gift;
If you want to demonstrate that your faith is alive and that you are not a fruitless “branch” on the “vine” of Jesus, then—
- Don’t show favoritism toward the rich. This attitude and behavior comes from sinful, selfish motives that go against God’s law of love. It shows a lack of regard for Jesus’ teachings and commandments for love.
- Do it with deeds that display spiritual fruit and glorify God: giving to the poor and actually helping those in need, and establishing ministries of evangelism and discipleship training that will week-by-week enable this congregation to make disciples, baptize them, and teach them how to live in union with Jesus.
- Do it by keeping a tight rein on your tongue. This is extremely important, because the words that come off of our tongues are “ambassadors” of our souls and the faith and values that are most important to us. Remember that you cannot swallow a word once it is spoken! Fill your talk with words of love, encouragement, grace, peace, and all of the virtues that are available in Jesus.
As we bring these basic essentials of our faith into focus and practice them in our work and worship for God, Jesus will enable us to produce spiritual fruit that will glorify the Father!
1. Life Application Bible (copywrite © 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991 by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, Wheaton, IL 60189), note for James 2:21–24, p. 2248.
2. Foster, “Market’s Best And Worse Things”, Paul Lee Tan, ThD.,Encyclopedia of 7,700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times, (Copyright © 1979, Bible Communications, Garland, Texas 75043), #6388, pp. 1422–23.
3. “Speech”, (Christian Herald, copywrite © December, 1948).
4. Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.