James 2: Doing Faith & Love

“Talk is cheap” is what they say, and today James enthusiastically agrees.

“Love” is a lot of things, but let there be no mistake, love is active.  Love is a verb.  Love is something you do.

So too is “faith.”  We may “believe” certain things to be true.  We might give “mental ascent” to a concept.  We can even intellectualize fine sounding arguments for why something is true (like a lot of things on this very blog, right?).  But until action is added into the mix, what we have isn’t “faith.”  Faith is something you do.

You keep the royal law, as it is written, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”; if you do this, you will do well. (2:8)

Supposing a brother or sister is without clothing, and is short even of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; be warm, be full!” — but doesn’t give them what their bodies need — what use is that?  In the same way, faith, all by itself and without works, is dead. (2:15-17)

Since the beginning of humanity’s relationship with God there have been people who have focused only on what one does.  This compartmentalization can be convenient.  We get to lay out the right way to live and once we have accomplished that we can pat ourselves on our self-assured backs.  There have also been people who have focused on what one believes.  One, therefore, does not have to worry about how those beliefs should shape one’s actions.  We get to go about life our way not getting too involved in other people’s problems nor letting our religious views interfere with the rest of our life.

Both of those extremes are problematic.  Focus on “doing” and it becomes easy to think you have done it all.  This becomes a religion of self-reliance and that which only God can do is forgotten.  Focus on “believing” and it becomes easy to think God has done it all.  That can easily become a religion of complacent “cheap grace” and our role is forgotten.

People have noted that the views of Paul and James seem to be at odds, especially when you talk about the role of faith and works in salvation.  But could the solution to this perception be this simple?  Paul was talking to people who overemphasized actions to the point where grace and the need for Jesus had been eliminated (like what we saw in Galatians).  James was addressing people on the other end of the spectrum who were quick to tell you about their great faith (2:18-19) but didn’t do much to show it (2:15-16).  When dealing with people holding extreme views, you play up the part they are neglecting in order that they may come back to the middle where all parts are present and appreciated.  Had we an opportunity to talk to Paul and James together and ask them about their own personal views on faith and works maybe we would find they actually held very similar views.  And both would likely remind us that over and above this whole conversation about faith and works we have to remember that the Spirit works through us, so without the Spirit our works don’t amount to much.

In today’s passage James describes “faith” as something that has to have belief (2:19) and works (2:18) in order to be alive (2:17, 20, 26), full (2:22), and justifying (2:24).  Belief by itself is not enough; works by themselves are not enough.  Maybe for too long our definition of faith has been too small.  Faith and works aren’t two separate things.  “Faith” only exists when works are present.  In other words faith is this larger idea that contains the smaller component we call works.  Belief would be another component as well.  Bottomline, James reminds us that faith is something we do.

Likewise, love is more than just a feeling that creates actions, as if love and actions are separate things.  “Love” has within it feelings, but also actions.  It is not enough to feel some sort of fellowship with people who calls themselves Christians.  One has to allow those feelings to shape our actions, for instance, in such a way that favoritism is banished from the way we deal with others (2:1-10).  We are loving when we do love to others.  Until we treat our neighbors like we would want to be treat we have no business claiming to be loving (2:8).  Love is something we do.

What do you think?  

Categories: James | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

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14 thoughts on “James 2: Doing Faith & Love

  1. Rhett

    Good post.

    It took me a lot longer than it should to realize that faith and love aren’t just feelings or just actions, they’re both. And then some. It’s the combination, it’s when they show up in every facet of your thoughts and words and deeds that you can grasp what kind of love Jesus and James and Paul talk about. Unfortunately, it makes loving your neighbor as yourself seem a lot harder sometimes, when you know what real love looks like. But reading these kinds of chapters gives me the encouragement to try.

    • with our kind of love, its impossible.
      but with God’s kind of love, we can.

      “We love because he first loved us”
      – 1 John 4:19

      the world can Love God.
      In fact, People will sacrifice themselves and die in the name of their love for God.

      but believers are not like that.

      Remember the conversation between Peter and Jesus?
      When Peter proclaim “I will never deny you” – Peter was merely in his love for Jesus

      Jesus said “If anyone denies me before man, I will also deny Him before the father”
      was peter denied of heaven then?

      look at what happen after the resurrection of Jesus

      Jesus asked peter

      Jesus : “do you love (agapáō) me?”
      Peter : “you know that I love (philéō)”
      Jesus : “do you love (agapáō) me?”
      Peter : “you know that I love (philéō)”

      Jesus : “do you love (philéō) me?”
      Peter : “You know that I love (philéō) you”

      see? peter learned that It is not His love for the God.

      so “we love (agapaó) because He first loved (agapaó) Us”
      – 1 John 4:19


      – grace and peace

  2. Eddy Efaw

    I couldn’t agree more with the fact that the audience to which Paul and James are addressing plays a significant role in which aspect of “faith and works” each decides to emphasize. Simple solution to a long debated issue. Simple is good in my view!

    “Love is something we do” this reminds me of a quote by a junior at my school. He said, in an interview with Fox 13 recently, “When I heard Trey had cancer, I just knew I had to do something.” That student acted on that feeling and talked to his baseball coach and they brainstormed a campaign to sell customized baseball hats to raise money for the family of his friend. To date they have sold 215+ hats.
    You can watch the full story here: http://www.myfoxmemphis.com/dpp/news/local/the-%22pray-for-trey%22-phenomenon-rpt-20120328

  3. This is great. Love never works just as a theory does it.

  4. Dean

    Hi Jason,

    I think that’s a very beautiful reconciliation, one which definitely strikes me very true from my Muslim background. Since I have a free morning, I’ll try to relate some of my own views on the matter, which may be a little lengthy – sorry for my verbosity.

    I do feel that although Paul may not have intended it, the exclusive focus by some people on his rhetoric on salvation “by faith alone” may have led to theologies that I feel are problematic, but that a holistic understanding of the New Testament leads to a position where Christians and Muslims can unite over. As you will remember from your Quran reading, the concepts of “having faith” and “doing good” are always coupled together – one cannot exist truthfully without the other.

    Paul is very right when he says that the outward actions of the law can never justify someone before God – something central may well be missing. The heart must also be in those actions. As a Muslim, I know that I cannot be assured salvation solely on testifying my faith, praying five times a day, giving charity, fasting, or going on pilgrimage. What you will find in the Islamic rhetoric is that all these so-called “righteous” actions are worthless to God without true sincerity – sincerity to truly seek God’s pleasure. Alone, without sincerity, the “five pillars” cannot save you.

    Because of the importance of this issue, the first statement of the Prophet that begins the major ‘hadith’ collections deals directly with this – “Actions are but in their intentions” – the worth of actions before God are only contingent on the sincere faith behind them. It’s a statement often drilled into us since childhood, for good reason. And among my Muslim social circle, I often find that we cannot start any collective matter without someone saying, “Let’s take a moment to check our intentions,” so as to make sure our intentions are sincere in seeking God’s pleasure. I admit I’ve found this tendency annoying at times, but it’s a very crucial reminder :).

    Yet as you say, it is another extreme to say that efforts are completely irrelevant in the eyes of God. Anyone reading James should conclude that deeds DO matter. How can we be certain we have true faith if that faith is not expressed in our deeds?! Having true faith requires having to put forth an honest, sincere effort. And if salvation is contingent on having true faith, salvation also thus requires some honest, sincere effort on our part.

    The idea that salvation requires some human effort may be difficult for some Christian ideologies to accept, because it may seem that one is prioritizing human effort over God’s grace or compassion. That’s not true though! God may call us to exert some small effort and judge us accordingly, but it is God’s own Compassion which is still the primary and undeniably crucial factor in salvation. God does not sit back and expect you to work up to Him – He, through His Compassion, plays the much greater, most active role in our salvation. As the Prophet related to us in the Sacred Saying (Hadith Qudsi), God says, “When My servant walks towards Me, I run towards him.”

    A Christian who reads James should question one’s “certainty” in one’s own salvation – “How do I know I have the true, living faith that will save me?” The question should stir up one’s efforts to do good. But this can lead to a problem. Suppose someone now starts successfully doing so many good deeds and refraining from all sins. At one point, the person may think, “Gee whiz, my actions are really good, that must mean my faith is true and that I will be saved.” From an Islamic standpoint, this is dangerous self-deception. James argues that “true faith” implies “good deeds” but not that “good deeds” implies “true faith.” The moment we forget that our deeds must be sincere for God’s pleasure alone, we can feed the poor and cloth the naked all we want, patting ourselves on the back, but our faith will still be corrupted. Jason, is this the “progressive legalism” you were talking about in a previous post? (Sorry if I misunderstood/am misunderstanding you.)

    Thus, from a Muslim perspective, I cannot be “certain” that I will be granted salvation. How can I be certain by faith if my faith doesn’t translate to righteousness? How can I be certain by deeds if my deeds may be insincere? Instead, what we all must be certain of is God’s promise that He will save those who “have faith” and “do good” and that He can forgive and purify us of our faults out of His Compassion alone. It’s that second type of certainty that breeds hope and the strength to put forth our best efforts and leave the rest to God.

    I’ll leave you with two stories from the Prophet about actions and their role in salvation. The first is about a martyr. Now unfortunately, the Muslim world today is expressing such a political frustration that has often led to unjustified violence against innocent people. Some people have encouraged methods like suicide bombings – regardless of the outcome – on the premise that “a martyr is assured salvation.” Not so says the Prophet, who told us about a martyr who would come before God having given his life, but God condemning him to hell because his intentions were not sincere. Actions alone cannot save anyone, even if it is in giving your life for the cause.

    By contrast, the Prophet told us the story of a prostitute who saw a thirsty dog and gave it water. For that act alone, God forgave her and saved her in the hereafter. We may think that that small action of giving water to a dog is nothing compared to her previous sins, but because it was motivated by true, sincere faith – the faith that James talks about – she was truly justified before God.

    I guess it’s not what you do, but how you do it. Act righteously with the sincerity of faith, and God will see it.

    Sorry for the long response – just my musings. Thanks for your posts again, they’re an enjoyable read.

    • “Let’s take a moment to check our intentions” — I love that practice! People from all walks of life would do well to start conversations that way!

      And I love this saying: “When My servant walks towards Me, I run towards him.”

      I think I agree with just about everything you have said in the first six paragraphs. We are entirely dependent upon the compassion of God, even while responding with obedience.

      I think you are absolutely right that true faith means good deeds but not necessarily the opposite. And, yes, this is the legalism I was talking about in a previous post, but not necessarily the “progressive” kind. (I don’t think I was very clear on the distinction in that post, so no wonder you are still struggling with it. Sorry.) That would be the “religious legalism.” “Progressive legalism” would be when we substitute a list of great sounding religious activities (like going to this conference or that soup kitchen) or a list of spiritual disciplines (like daily prayer or Bible reading or a silence retreat) for the old-fashioned list of ethical do’s and don’t (do drink or chew or go out with girls who do) that we were once told long ago made us a true Christian. This may be a concept only conservative Christians really get.

      A Christian, though, will tell you that the source of power for salvation and the believer’s confidence in salvation both come from the same thing: the atonement of Jesus, not our actions or even the sincerity of our faith. Yes, we must be sincere. Yes, faith is only sincere when it is active. But neither is what saves a person. The cross of Christ is what saves. Our actions are sincere responses to God’s grace through Jesus.

      Thanks for sharing as thoroughly with me as you do.

  5. I also feel intention is the hardest thing to master. Some time, we do deed to show off, to get praise, to show that I am better than you.

    “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. ”
    I see this verse in different way. First, it talking about “if you really keep” (it a strong word) “the royal law” (which I think God law/ Ten Commandment or Mark 12:30-32) in scripture. The faith that you hold will reflect to “Love your neighbor as yourself”. Then you are doing right.

    Why love the neighbor become an essence?
    The answer is easy, it was one of the hardest thing to do. It easy to love outsider, old friends because we seldom meet them. But the neighbor – we always meet. It easy to get in quarrel, some time if front of them- we smile, and at the back we talk bad/gossip about them. If you really keep all the law, inner beauty of your faith will reflect on the treatment you give to your neighbor/ society.

    “If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.”
    This verse show a very clear example that you can’t just say “I take half of the law, and another half I want break it.” In this verse, the author really emphasize that all law must be accept as whole, not portion.

    “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law”
    Take a good care of your tongue, and speak righteously as you see the hell in front of you. The verse not telling you to shun from people but to let you understand that you must really careful of what you talking about.

    “because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!”
    I like to bring one quote from one of 4 top Sunni Imam:
    He who practices tasawwuf (a knowledge of manner, mercy,etc) without learning Sacred Law (God Law) corrupts his faith, while he who learns Sacred Law without practicing tasawwuf corrupts himself. Only he who combines the two proves true. (Imam Malik)

    Why it was important, we all know God judgement is very strict and hard (we talking about blazing hell and it was eternal). The balance between mercy and Judgement is very crucial.
    We as human is weak creation, sometime people do mistake, don’t judge it directly. May be he not intentionally want to make a mistake. At at this point put more mercy, so we can always think good thing about them.

    In v19: James have put a very good example by saying : You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder.
    It really true: How many people that saying “I believe in God” but the action is not reflected to faith. In this verse, James do not hesitate to compare to Demons. OK, we are weak creation, but at least big sin should be avoided at all risk.

    The example of Abraham is always being teach in mosque.
    The example of man who do not hesitate to kill his son (a different version, Ismael) when God order him to kill his son. This command is for Abraham only, if he can do bigger command, why we can not do a simple command?

    the fundamental of Abraham offer his son is the essence of God judgement.
    During the judgement day, God will ask “Did you follow my commands”
    Human will answer “No, I do not follow”. God reply “Why”
    Human will reply, “You give me too much wealth to take care, (or others reason) so I become busy to follow you command”
    God will reply, “I just ask you to follow simple command Believe in me, worship me (as per Pillar of Islam), do good deed and avoid bad deed, etc.” “I don’t ask you to offer your son as what I ask Abraham did. As simple as that, you also can not do? If Abraham can offer his son, why you can not do. Then you deserve Hell.”
    The summary the conversation in Judgement Day.

    • Good comment.

      When God said to Abraham

      “Take your son, your ONLY SON, Isaac, WHOM YOU LOVE,
      and go to the region of Moriah.
      Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”

      – Genesis 22:2

      now, Abraham had 2 sons. right? so why say your only son?

      Actually God was telling Abraham about His only Son Jesus whom He loves.

      God spoke and said

      “This is my Son, WHOM I LOVE; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
      – Matthew 17:5

      John said
      “For God so loved the world that he gave HIS ONE AND ONLY SON,
      that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
      – John 3:16

      so Abraham was just showing us today about God’s love for us by giving up His One and ONLY Son Jesus.

      – grace and peace

    • Some interesting Muslim connections, Hifzan. Thanks for sharing those.

      I really like what you have to say about loving your neighbor being especially hard because you see that person all of the time. I think you are exactly right. Paul in Romans 13:8-10 adds too that love is the summary or foundation of all of the laws God ever gave. Why? Because love does no wrong to a person. Love strives to do what is best for a person and that is what all the specific laws were about.

  6. the Works are the result of the Faith.

    A Genuine pearl can be found in a Clams or Oysters.
    A Genuine Diamond can be found in the deep part of the earth.

    also, but a pearl can be found in laboratories too.
    also, but a diamond can be found in laboratories too.

    the laboratory stuff are fakes.

    Faith and Work are not two entities. they are the same.

    If the doing is not initiated by the faith, and that doing is our effort, its dead.

    the same manner.

    if faith is not initiated by the work, and that faith is our own conjure, its dead

    The work of God is “believe” in the one whom He sent. that is Jesus
    Faith is seeing or looking or hearing about Jesus. nothing more. nothing less

    the lepers, the sick, the lame, the blind. all received their miracles because they believe
    in Jesus. either they heard about Him, or seen…

    The works of faith is not our effort. It is faith working in us.

    – grace and peace

    there’s a good insight to James on faith and works here.


  7. Thanks all for the comments on this significant chapter!

    Rhett: If you are getting the unity of faith and works and love and actions at your age, I’d say you are ahead of the curve. No surprise to me, though. You are totally right that actually this unity makes the calling to love and have faith all the more demanding. So we keep praying for more grace and power!

    GodGirl: You are so right. It never does. And I for one like theories.

    Saved: Thanks for including 1 John 4:19. What a great reminder that while we are certainly called to action, those actions still remain a response to the primary grace of God.

    Eddy: Great example from (our) everyday life of exactly this point. Thanks for bringing us back to the street-level.

  8. “Talk and act like a person expecting to be judged by the Rule that sets us free.”

    A rule that gives us freedom? Judgment that frees? Both sound a little paradoxical. Aren’t rules and judgment supposed to oppress?

    Well, they can, but not this rule to love. Love sets us free. Lovers, when judged by love, are vindicated. Showing the love of God in all situations may just be the greatest freedom we can ever find.

  9. Eddy

    Wow . . that last sentence. Please write a book. I would love (see what I did there : ) to read it. Seriously though, please write a book.

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