“Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works.” – James 2:26 NLT
A human body without breath is responseless, inanimate, and lifeless. Without breath, the blood stops flowing and the brain shuts down. In the same way, faith dies when it isn’t put to work. Faith, without works, is cold and dead.
Most people interpret James’ words to be a kind of litmus test for what real faith is, and I certainly think James had this nuance in mind as he wrote. But I also think he was going deeper than a mere test of legitimate faith. I think his words were ultimately a challenge to us to get moving. To act on what we say we believe on a daily basis.
While Paul, in Romans 5, points to the first moment of following that Abraham demonstrated as a time when he exercised faith, James in this chapter points to a time much later in Abraham’s life when his faith was seasoned but being put to a great test. Would Abraham, who had been a believer for so long, actually act to make an enormous sacrifice on the basis of what he claimed to believe?
That same question is before every believer today. Will we act on what we say we believe? Will we continually depend on the One we proclaim to be perfectly dependable? Will we serve the One to whom we believe all glory belongs? Without action, without works and deeds, is my faith really alive at all?
I paid a compliment to my friend Bobby once about the kind of husband and all-around good guy he was. His response never left me. “Let’s blame that on Jesus, okay?” It wasn’t false humility. He genuinely desire to recognize that any good work displayed in his life was a work of the grace of God deep within him.
Paul once said essentially the same thing to the Colossians, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (3:17 ESV) We don’t do good things because we’re good but because the gracious God who saves and empowers us is good. And the point of our good words and deeds is ultimately to point the world back to the source – to Jesus, the Author of the best words of all and the accomplisher of the best works of all.
Let’s start blaming the good stuff on Jesus.
Writing a check is easy. Perhaps the work of earning the money represented by the check is hard, but in terms of generosity and serving other people, writing a check is usually the easy part, especially for people with wealth. Time often feels much more costly to us in the developed world because money seems so replaceable, even in a slow economy.
Serving people, hands on and face-to-face, is hard. It requires that we get out of our comfort zone, risk rejection, do something inconvenient, and sacrifice the irreplaceable commodities of time and energy. But the Apostle Paul challenged us to expand our view of generosity to include our works and deeds. “Tell (the rich) to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others.” (1 Timothy 6:18 NLT
The phrase “good works” comes from a Greek root word from which we get our word “energy.” And energy, like money, is something we can spend and invest in a variety of ways for a return. When you give financially, you’re letting physical resources go for the sake of storing up eternal treasure. The same is true when you let go of the physical resource of your own energy. Generosity is partly about giving but also about doing. And often, it’s about doing little things that make a big impact in the lives of others.
What good can you DO today?
Men like Chuck Swindoll have a way of articulating profound truths in rather simple statements. In my own mind, I’ve struggled to figure out how to get the idea across that we need to serve people in order to serve God. In today’s insight for living Chuck had this to say…
We find it encouraging to think of ourselves as God’s servants. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be a servant of the King? But when it comes to serving other people, we begin to question the consequences. We feel noble when serving God; we feel humble when serving people. Serving God receives a favorable response; serving people (especially those who cannot repay) has no visible benefit or glory from anyone except from God!
Christ gave us the example: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). To be a servant of God, we must be a servant of people.
via Chuck Swindoll’s Daily Devotional: When You Grow Up.
If we talk too much about serving people, some get the idea that we’re substituting social service for the gospel. On the contrary, serving people paves the way for the gospel, expresses the results of the gospel, and is simply the right thing to do.
If you really want to serve God, serve people for God’s glory.