What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? … faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. (Jms.2:14,17)
James was a “no nonsense” kind of guy. In this rather well-known passage, he gets right in our faces and tells us he does not want to hear a lot of words from us about our “faith” if it does not bear out in our actions. His message is basically, “Make sure that you walk the talk.” And that makes good sense.
Unfortunately, what many people take to be the remedy actually misses James’ point. What we tend to hear from this passage is, “I need to try harder to act on what I believe is true.” We think that if we start doing good stuff, it will prove that our faith is alive; or perhaps that doing stuff will make our faith come alive. But James is calling attention to a much deeper issue. He says “faith without works is a dead kind of faith.” Which means there is something wrong with our faith, not just that we lack the proper works. If we focus on the problem of works, we not only run the danger of viewing the Christian life as a list of things we “should” do, but we may also gloss over the opportunity to be changed from the inside out.
According to James, the lack of “works” points to a faith that is “dead” … at least in some dimension. So the answer does not lie in becoming more driven, but with regenerating our faith. What we need to understand is that a living faith will produce works by its very nature, just as a live branch will produce grapes. We don’t need to fabricate fruit to hang on the branch; it will grow if we have a live branch that is well connected to the vine and taken care of properly.
The truth is that we are all divided internally far more than we realize. I say that I believe in fostering community, but I actually live more like a hermit. I say I believe in blessing those who curse me, but then yell terrible things at the driver who “dissed” me. What I need to acknowledge is that parts of my soul are still broken and not living in the faith that I profess.
The true answer to my lack of “works” might be inner healing; or perhaps a new vision of what it means to be actively pursuing a life of loving others; or to see that giving is a joy and not a burden; or to let go of my belief in scarcity; or to face my fear of losing myself if I give an inch to what others need. Whatever the issue, it is my “faith” that needs to be revisited, not the works themselves.
The more my soul is realigned with God’s vision for life, and the more I trust Him with my life, the more it will become evident in my day-to-day life. Because living faith produces live fruit.