What makes a person of genuine faith different from the rest of the people around him? How does he live his life daily? What is his lifestyle like?
Many people today have lots of discussions about genuine faith. For example, what is genuine faith? Where can you find it? Usually, these discussions end up being debates about the differences in doctrines among the different denominations instead of a serious discussion on genuine faith. First and foremost, genuine faith is manifested through actions, or works if we were to use the Biblical terminology. St. James affirms this truth in his epistle when he writes about the lifestyle of a man who has genuine faith in his heart:
14 What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works ? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? 17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. 18 But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works ; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” 19 You believe that God is one. You do well ; the demons also believe, and shudder. 20 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless ? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar ? 22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected ; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,” and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way ? 26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead. (James 2)
Faith without works is not saving faith
Can faith without works produce salvation? This is James’ question for those who say that they can have faith without works. The answer is “no way!”. A person who has faith without works is a religious person who has deceived himself and his faith is useless. (James 1:26) Because of this section of James’ letter, Martin Luther was tempted to say that James’ epistle was not inspired by God. He believed that St. Paul and St. James contradicted each other once he read what Paul had to teach on saving faith in his epistle to the Roman church.
20 because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight ; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. 21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe ; for there is no distinction; (Romans 3)
Paul expounds on this teaching in his epistle to the Ephesians when he writes:
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith ; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God ; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2)
Paul’s message is to those who have believed (placed their faith) in God in order to be saved by the grace of God. The message is that they were saved for good works, to walk in them. If a man claims to have faith yet does not walk in good works, then his faith is not saving faith. The lack of good works is the testimony that his faith is not genuine, saving faith.
Faith without works is useless
“What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works?” James opens us this section of his epistle with the rhetorical question that we just read. I wanted to get a better understanding of the word “use” so I looked it up in the original language, Koine Greek. The Greek word translated “use” in English is ὄφελος (ophelos). It is a derivative of the word ὀφέλλω (ophellō) and it means to gather in a pile, to pile and accumulate means, take advantage of or benefit from. When we put all of this together, genuine faith manifested through good works, saving faith brings about many benefits in your daily life. The benefits pile up for you in the kingdom of heaven. This is where you will have the greatest profit from these benefits. On the other hand, if your faith is not manifested in good works, then all of your efforts are done in vain. All of your “faith” is useless. James explains this in the form of a parable (like his brother Jesus).
15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? (James 2)
The brother or sister who is without clothing and in need of daily food attain no benefits from the brothers who talk about helping do nothing to help. Faith without works is the same. The man who claims to have faith and yet does not have works to manifest that faith has no advantage over the man who does not claim to have faith. The both miss the benefits.
Faith without works is dead in itself
As James closes the subject, he uses the following illustration to explain his point.
26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead (James 2)
When my wife and I were college students, she was preparing to take an exam, a very difficult one. I decided to walk with her to her class so that I could encourage her. As I waited outside for Nastica to take her exam, I ran across some of my TaeKwonDo disciples who were medical students at the time. They asked me to join them in their lab, which was near by, the lab where they kept the cadavers that they used for dissecting. I was very curious to see what they had and I was shown it all. There were barrels and barrels full of body parts soaked in formaldehyde which the students gladly showed me. The smell quickly got to me and I had to leave before vomiting. As I left the building, I met other med students as they were entering and a thought hit me, “those bodies and body parts were exactly like these students once but now they no longer have life in them and that is what makes the difference”.
It took a few days before I could eat once again. That is the type of impact that the experience had on me. As I reflected on my experience, I realized why James uses the example he uses about the body without the spirit. Just like the body without the spirit is dead, so is faith if it is not accompanied with works. Genuine faith is attractive for the people who are around a person who has it because they experience the works that come as a result of it. On the other hand, faith without works is repulsive to people because they hear of your “faith” but your actions demonstrate something totally different. I asked myself at the time, “Vasile, what impact does this genuine faith that you claim to live by, have others? Does your faith draw people to Christ or push them away from Christ? What do others say about my faith?” What do others say about your faith, dear friend? How does your faith manifest itself in your daily life? Does your faith manifest life or death? If it does not manifest life then it is like the body without the spirit. It is dead faith, not saving faith.
Faith without works has no evidence to justify itself
Eventually “someone will say, You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith without works, and I will show you faith by my works.” (James 2:18) What will you say then? Will you demonstrate “Pure and undefiled religion before God our Father” that you look after orphans and widows in their distress and have kept yourself undefiled by the world? Or will you have to admit how you only think that you are a religious person, but in fact, you do not restrain your tongue and have deceived your own heart and that your religion is worthless? Who wins the argument, the accuser or you? Who has the facts to back up the claim? Do you have dead faith or living faith?
When the first church was formed in Jerusalem, we find the following information about the first believers in the book of Acts:
46 Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2)
This was happening because people saw the difference in lifestyle between themeslves and the believers. The people knew what the former lifestyle of the believers was like and they saw the transforming power of God. That is why God was able to add to the number of believers every single day. God saved us and leads us through life so that we can be a light to the people around us. Jesus puts it this way:
14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden ; 15 nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5)
As you can see, we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. The questions we must ask ourselves are: What is the evidence of my faith? What is the impact of this faith, in my own life and the lives of those around me?
Genuine faith is not just an intellectual concept
Under Communism, it was shameful to admit that you believed in God. Those who still believed in God were considered backward thinkers who were not in step with the society of the times. Now, things are different. It is popular to claim that you believe in God and boast that you are a “Christian”. Believing in God and proclaiming that you are a “Christian” are not bad things. We have taken a great leap forward by finally admitting the fact that God exists. Especially since atheism was so strongly beat into our heads for so many years. I must say one thing though, in order to have saving faith, it is not enough just to accept intellectually that God exists. That is why James says:
19 You believe that God is one. You do well ; the demons also believe, and shudder. (James 2)
Accepting as fact the existence of God and that the Holy Bible contains absolute truth is not enough to satisfy God. These are just facts understood on an intellectual level. That is just step one. Step two is to live out or live by the teachings found in the Holy Bible. This is where the rubber meets the road. This is where our genuine faith is manifested. When we live by the teachings of the Word of God, then God is glorified.
According to this text, the demons accept the existence of God and tremble at what awaits them in the future because of their disobedience. Some people take this even farther. They know that God exists. They know that there is punishment for sin and disobedience and yet they live apathetically in regards to these truths. Some people even go to church week in and week out, maybe even sing in the choir yet they do not change their wicked ways.
Biblical examples of people of genuine faith
Since we understand theoretical ideas through practical examples, St. James uses examples of well known Old Testament personages to help his readers understand his message. His example is Abraham, the father of faith and the father of the recipients since he was the first Hebrew and they themselves were his descendants. I wanted to understand the meaning behind the idea that genuine faith “perfects” us so I looked up the meaning of the original words in Greek. Perfect or perfected is τελειόω (teleioō) and its meaning is “to make perfect, complete, to carry through completely, to accomplish, finish, bring to an end, to add what is yet wanting in order to render a thing full”.
When all of this is put together, we understand that Abraham’s faith was completed when it was accompanied by works. The author of the epistle to the Hebrews uses this same idea when he writes about Abraham:
17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; 18 it was he to whom it was said, “IN ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL BE CALLED.” 19 He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type. (Hebrews 11)
This text is very important because it teaches us that Abraham acted according to his faith in God’s promises and was not controlled by the impossibility of the situation. He was not led by the circumstance. He was led by God through the circumstance. He lived by his conviction in what God had already promised him. He lived in total obedience to God. The Word of God proclaims that “Abraham believed God, and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness” even before Isaac was born. No one would have been able to measure Abraham’s faith at the time, but, they could see his actions in the way that he responded to God Word. The fact that he was ready to sacrifice Isaac on the alter shows us:
18 In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, “SO SHALL YOUR DESCENDANTS BE.” 19 Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb ; 20 yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform. 22 Therefore IT WAS ALSO CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS. 23 Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, 24 but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification. (Romans 4)
Another example James gives us is the harlot Rahab, who was justified by works when she received the messengers and hid them on her roof.
8 Now before they lay down, she came up to them on the roof, 9 and said to the men, “I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before you. 10 “For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. 11 “When we heard it, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath . 12 “Now therefore, please swear to me by the LORD, since I have dealt kindly with you, that you also will deal kindly with my father’s household, and give me a pledge of truth, 13 and spare my father and my mother and my brothers and my sisters, with all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.” 14 So the men said to her, “Our life for yours if you do not tell this business of ours; and it shall come about when the LORD gives us the land that we will deal kindly and faithfully with you.” 15 Then she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was on the city wall, so that she was living on the wall. 16 She said to them, “Go to the hill country, so that the pursuers will not happen upon you, and hide yourselves there for three days until the pursuers return. Then afterward you may go on your way.” (Joshua 2)
Rahab demonstrated an act of great courage and bravery because of her genuine faith. It was very dangerous for her to do what she did but even more so, was to go and tell the members of her household so that they could be protected too. If word of her actions would have reached the king, she could have easily been executed. Genuine faith transformed her from a prostitute to a heroine who acted bravely at the right time, performing heroic deeds to save others.
What are the heroic deeds that gave me strength and urge me on in my faith? What are the heroic deeds that lead you on in your faith? Is your life full of good works that demonstrate living faith? May the Lord help us have genuine faith in our hearts, true faith that manifests itself to others in our good works.
Translation by: Erik Brewer