In Part 2 I left our reading from Acts 2 by saying that one of the reasons to have a basic level of biblical teaching is to be able to listen discerningly to the preaching by others. But that is certainly not the only reason.
Paul wrote to Timothy, in 2 Timothy 3,
16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NIV)
Those words of Paul, “so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work”, echo what James wrote in his letter. They were probably both aware, just as we are still today, of the sort of person who likes to hear the words of God without “doing it”. James had already written in chapter 1, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (v22).
Faith in the Life of the Believer
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 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? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18 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. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.
20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 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. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
25 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? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
James 2:14-26 (NIV)
James now takes this further, in chapter 2, by explaining that, to him, faith is not just an acknowledgement of the living God, but rather it is the embodiment of that acknowledgement in the life of the believer. True faith transforms our lives, so a faith without works is dead. To simply believe that there is one God is little different to the demons, he says. And that doesn’t bring them any comfort at all! No, to be a true believer our faith needs to be expressed in Jesus-like lives. Indeed, Paul said much the same in his letter to the Galatians when he wrote, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Galatians 5:6).
Examples from the Old Testament
Sometimes it can be a lot easier to wish we could just sit back and believe. James mentions two characters from the Israelite’s past. First, he refers to Abraham, from Genesis 22. God called Abraham to make a sacrifice of his son Isaac, but nevertheless Abraham continues to believe in God’s promise that he would be the father of a large family. And that belief is shown in his actions when he takes Isaac up the mountain.
Second, James refers to Rahab, the prostitute in Jericho (see Joshua 2). Joshua sent two men on ahead of the other Israelites, as they were heading towards the promised land, to check out the land they were to occupy. When the enemy’s troops came searching for the spies Rahab hid them, and they stayed the night in her house. She told them that she had come to believe that Israel’s God was the only true God in heaven and earth. She didn’t just believe – like Abraham, she put that belief into action.
Wouldn’t Abraham have much preferred to stay at the bottom of the mountain with his son, rather than start to make the trek to his sacrifice? Or wouldn’t it have been much safer for Rahab not to have hidden the Israelite spies in her home? But, James tells his readers, the sign of a faith that is alive is the way in which the believer lives out that faith. Conversely, he says, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”
Living Bible-Based Faithful Lives
This doesn’t mean that we all have to be running up and down mountains or hiding spies in our homes! But it does mean that we need to live lives that follow the teaching of Jesus. So we need to combine the message of Acts 2 – that we need to put time and effort into reading and understanding what God has given us in the Bible – with the message of James 2 – that we then need to put our understanding into action.
I guess, you could say that we need “Ronseal faith” – faith that does exactly what it says on the tin!