James 2:14,17 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? …Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
I grew up knowing that I am saved, not by what I do, but rather by my faith (Galatians 2:16). I think I am not alone however in how I have misused or distorted the idea of faith. I have, in my defective interpretation, come to understand faith as simply knowledge of a thing. I know that God exists and believe that Jesus died on the cross. There, I said I believed, now I am saved. I can now live how I want because I’m saved by faith. When faith means just believing in God then faith becomes synonymous with doing nothing.
James comes along with a satirical pat the back, and says, You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! (James 2:19). He says that faith without works is actually dead. He says that though we claim to believe, spiritually we are just walking corpses. We are spiritual zombies.
Faith, if it is a real faith, has to have some impact on my actions and behavior. If it does not, I have a zombie faith. I have lived in this corpse-like state, insisting I believed, yet my behavior betrayed that I was following self, not God. I was going to church, saying the words, but I was just a walking dead man pursuing the destructive desires of the flesh.
I think there are many, even in our church, who can identify with me on this. Many of us have prayed a prayer and have never made it much further than that. We remain addicted to our flesh nature and thus cannot really follow God. We are still living enslaved to our pride, lust, anger, beauty, or chemical and thus cannot exercise a living faith. We cannot really live for God when we are consumed with self. James calls this a living death.
What am I to do when James says I am a spiritual corpse? If I have no works to show, I worry that maybe I am not saved at all. But I go to church and I even taught Sunday School that one time, so maybe I’m a little saved? Maybe I should go help some old lady to prove that I’m saved… The temptation is to either dismiss James’ teaching, or to go out and perform some deed to prove that I am saved.
What I need to do is to face the truth of James and allow my belief to affect my behavior. I need to choose everyday to follow that which I claim to believe. I do not earn my salvation, but God does breath life into my relationship with him when I insist that my actions follow my belief. As I’ve said previously, faith is keeping eyes on God and insisting that my behavior follow.
I daily have the choice to follow God or self. If I do whatever it takes to deny self and follow God, He breathes life into that relationship. If however, I continue to follow self, I am a corpse, wallowing in death and destruction. Faith starts with belief, but if it never moves beyond the mind and into action, it is dead.