Focus on verses 17-18
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
I went to college to become a Speech Pathologist. I spent four years in classes learning about anatomy, phonetics, audiology, psychology, and education. But mixed in with those classes were clinic placements, labs, practicums, and student teaching assignments. Successful completion of my educational training required a knowledge and understanding of the material my teachers offered AND practical application of all that I had learned. The college viewed both aspects of learning as necessary to reach my full potential as a speech pathologist. Having all the head knowledge in the world wouldn’t have done me any good if I couldn’t put it into action. Conversely, I could have spent all the time I wanted in therapy sessions, but without any real understanding to apply to my sessions, my client’s needs would have gone largely unmet leaving me with a false sense of accomplishment.
It makes sense that I would need to be able to show that I could use all that I had learned and apply it in helping others as a speech pathologist in order to graduate. That idea probably makes sense to most of us when it comes to our professions. No one wants a medical doctor who has no idea how to take your blood pressure…or even what your blood pressure is! But what about when it comes to our faith? How does that idea play out in regards to our faith?
In our passage for today, James tackles the idea that just having faith isn’t enough. He challenges us to understand that our faith is incomplete if it doesn’t move us into action. Real faith requires us to act – to love and serve others because of the love so generously shown to us…but at the same time good works alone can leave us with a false sense of who we are meant to be in Christ if they don’t stem from a place of faith. Both are needed if we are to live in the fullness of the life God has planned for us.